To all the well-intentioned boys and men out there—if you are being physical with a girl or woman and she slows down, stops engaging, doesn’t look you in the eye, hesitates when you ask her if she wants something, or exhibits any other sign of nervousness or apprehension, STOP what you are doing.
It doesn’t have to be awkward. Just gently stop, pull your body away from hers respectfully so that she sees you are not pressuring her, and ask her in a supportive tone if she is OK. This is true for a first date or a partner of many years.
Be present with her and with your own emotions. You may feel rejected, anxious, unfulfilled, or any number of other uncomfortable feelings that are making it difficult to face the issue. We tend to want to ignore or cover up our uncomfortable sensations—which is probably why she isn’t being direct with you about her own discomfort. Maybe she wants you to like her. Maybe she doesn’t want you (or her) to feel rejected or disappointed. Maybe she is traumatized from a past sexual assault. So the best thing you can do in that moment for yourself, for her, and for ALL men and women is to face the uncomfortable sensations with maturity and gentle immediacy.
True intimacy is not about sex. It’s about being nonjudgmental, curious and brave in the face of uncomfortable feelings—yours AND hers.
That being said, women: have you ever pushed past your own uncomfortable sensations and “faked it” to get through a physical experience you weren’t really present for?
I am not proud to admit that I have “acted” my way through encounters with men more times than I can count. Maybe I wasn’t that “into it” but didn’t want to hurt his feelings or disappoint him. Maybe I felt sorry for him because he admitted to a lack of closeness or physical contact in his life. Maybe he did me a favor and I felt like I owed him something. Maybe I wanted to feel like I was in control. Maybe I wanted him to like or even love me. Or maybe my own ego attachment to being a sexually liberated woman interfered with my ability to say, “I’m not really into this right now.”
Maybe you’ve been there, too.
But when we mask or try to override our uncomfortable sensations during a physical encounter, we can’t expect our partner to sense that what we actually need in that moment is nurturance or self-care. By stifling our truths, we are snuffing out an opportunity for him to grow through his own discomfort in order to support us. We are doing a disservice to ourselves and to all our sisters.
Women’s boundaries are often crossed because of the ignorance of well-intentioned boys and men. And yet women blatantly disregard our OWN boundaries to “protect” men’s emotions, to repress our own pain, or to prove or gain something. Women: I challenge myself and all of us to practice being more vulnerable and honest, even in the face of uncomfortable feelings (unless it is physically unsafe to do so). Men: I challenge you to hold space for women’s “uncomfortable” truths with bravery and curiosity, and commit to setting aside your ego to listen deeply.
Only by honoring truth can we together elevate the relationship between women and men to a new level of understanding.
* * *
Note: I speak from my own experiences and observations as a cis-gendered, female-bodied person who most frequently physically engages with male-bodied/identified people. I cannot speak for non-binary or transgendered folks.