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How to Deal When Your Boo Wants to Have Sex and You Don’t

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Saying no isn’t always easy or fun—but you always have a right to say it. Here are tips and tricks for how.

Maybe it’s a new relationship and you want to take your time. Maybe you’re just too tired tonight. Maybe you only have one condom left and you want to save it for a special occasion. (Side note: if you’re running out of your method of contraception, head to your nearest The Right Time health center, which offers free or low-cost birth control to those who need it.)

Whatever the circumstance, you both can decline sex when you’re not up for it (or for ANY OTHER REASON). Here are some ideas on how to do it. However, if you’re in a position where you feel scared to say no, there are resources to help you sort through why you’re not feeling safe.

Understand their feelings.

Saying no is hard—and hearing no can be hard too. When turning down sex, let your partner know that this isn’t about you rejecting them. You can do this by making sure your partner knows you appreciate their desires (and still find them attractive). Here are a few approaches you could try.

  • I love our sex life and I can tell you’re excited, but it’s been a crazy day and I’m just not feeling up to it tonight.
  • I know you’re in the mood right now, but I’m just not.
  • You know how much you turn me on, but I’m loving how things are now and don’t feel ready to take it to the next level yet.

Be confident, clear, and firm.

Sometimes we put our partner’s needs before our own, but over time this can lead to unhealthy dynamics in your relationship. You don’t need to apologize for not wanting sex and you don’t need to explain yourself. But sharing why you don’t want to can help your partner understand where you’re coming from. It might even strengthen the emotional connection between the two of you. Consider using statements like these.

  • I know you want to have sex right now, but I’m way too sleepy and really need to be on point tomorrow.
  • You know I love our sex life but staying safe is important to me and I want to get more condoms before the next time we have sex.

Don’t argue—and don’t give in.

Differences of opinion are natural, and they don’t have to turn into dramatic blowouts. A good partner might be disappointed, but they’ll ultimately respect your “no.” If your partner tries to insult, guilt, or shame you into changing your mind, don’t take the bait. Instead of arguing or defending yourself, calmly restate your position. You can say something like:

  • I understand how you’re feeling, but I’m not willing to have sex right now.

If your partner is being aggressive, consider putting some physical distance between you until things cool off. Head home if you’re at your partner’s house or ask them to leave if you’re at your place. If you live together, consider spending the night at a friend or family member’s place. If your partner gets violent or seems like they won’t take no for any answer, don’t risk your safety—leave immediately if you can, or call 911.

BTW, if you notice your partner insulting, guilting, or shaming you on the regular, it could be time to think about whether they’re right for you.

Suggest an alternative.

A firm no can be easier for your partner to hear when you suggest an alternative, e.g., if your partner doesn’t want to use condoms, suggest trying an internal (a.k.a. female) condom instead. If you’re not in the mood, raincheck for a night when you’ll have a little more energy. Important caveat: alternatives are awesome, but only if you feel comfortable. Never feel like you have to offer one in order to say “no.”

Setting boundaries with people we care about can be hard, but it’s worth it. Though it might seem easier to just “go with the flow,” doing what we truly want is better for everyone in the long run.

Updated January 2020

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