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I Can’t Say No …

January 18, 2010

… and other realizations.

I just finished reading Clarisse Thorn’s account of her developing relationship in South Africa with a Baha’i sex educator, who is for religious reasons abstinent. She doesn’t yet know what the parameters of that are, and Clarisse being Clarisse, she’ll probably write some interesting things about it as she finds out. (These Carnal Nation bloggers make my life easy. They have all this smart stuff to say, and I just bulk-paste it and comment on it.)

So far, she says, she’s told him: “I promise not to push you- though I confess I’m curious about the vow’s limits. ” Clarisse, as she communicates clearly in this piece and at her own blog, is a BDSMer, and a BDSM educator. For her (and for me), eliminating any one act from the palette of sexual intimacy is not really all that critical. She muses, for instance:

And maybe, just maybe, his vow allows him to practice BDSM … a girl can dream, right? But seriously, if we can do BDSM together, then I just might be his dream partner. I’d be happy to focus our sexual time on BDSM and foreplay, and to ignore “actual” sex indefinitely.


I bristle at the “foreplay/actual sex” construction. I think that’s part of the problem. But that’s a minor point.

BDSM, depending on the BDSMer you ask, may be sex, or not sex but sexual, or not sexual but sensual, or not sexual at all, depending on the participants and the particular scene. It makes perfect sense to me that this guy would be able to do a lot of varied and very heavy BDSM with heavily erotic components without feeling he’s in violation of his vows, but I don’t know enough about Baha’i religious thinking, or about him, to know if that’s how it actually works for him. And apparently neither does Clarisse. Yet.

At a minimum, Clarisse is thinking here about embarking on a relationship without PIV for the forseeable future. She notes the irony, but that should be entirely workable. I’ve been in a long relationship that involved BDSM but no PIV (though it was an open relationship). It wasn’t a problem. I can and do negotiate my sexuality around my partners’ needs and limits. We all do; it is only a view of sexual conduct that places PIV on a particular pedestal that makes this limitation any more problematic than many others. Speaking for myself, I certainly could not have a relationship without BDSM unless I had another outlet for it; while no PIV in my primary relationship would be a relatively less significant issue for me. I’m not the only person to say that; Patrick Califia said some time back when the earth was cooling (and before he transitioned) that he’d rather be stuck on a desert island with a leatherman than a vanilla dyke.

But I realized that the flexibility that I adopt for my partners’ needs may sometimes be at the expense of flexibility for my own needs. Clarisse said,

I think a man who wants to abstain has a far trickier journey ahead of him than a woman: America’s sexual assumptions may be formed around stereotypical male sexuality—which really sucks for women—but it’s a very narrow stereotype that limits men too. Men are expected to be insatiable, and preferring not to have sex casts a man’s entire masculinity into question. His abstinence can cause anxiety for the female partner, too: after all, given an assumption that men are nigh-indiscriminate sex machines, a woman might feel that there’s something terribly wrong with her if a man won’t bang her.

[Emphasis supplied.]

I’ll cop to this being hard to write.

I can’t say no to my spouse. In thirteen years together, I have not turned her down for sex; not once, not ever. If she wants me to top, I’ll top. If I’d rather bottom, I’ll ask. If she wants to be eaten, I go down on her, and if she wants to be fucked, we fuck. If I’d prefer to get fucked or to get a handjob, I’ll say so; she’s flexible about how she and I get off. I have no problem communicating a preference in how we’re sexually intimate, but … I can’t say no. I can’t just say I’m not interested.

It’s not like she hasn’t noticed. She has said outright that she knows I’ve never turned her down. And that if I ever did, she would know something was seriously wrong. And that’s true. I wouldn’t turn her down just because I’m too tired or I have my mind on other things. I can always get my head in the right place at least for a quickie; I always have.

In a way, it’s a moot point. The reason that’s the pattern is in part because I’m so hypersexual. Even as my body ages and finds its limits, my preference for frequency is much higher than what our lives allow. I pretty much am good to go all the time. And yet, it has occurred to me that our dynamics have evolved so that it’s not really an unconstrained choice.

This is not a two-way street. She can be, and frequently is, too tired, or unwilling to give up the extra sleep, or just plain not in the mood. I don’t nag; if she says “no”, it’s a complete answer. Not that she ignores when I say no. I just … don’t say it. Not ever.

The reason I bring this up is that I don’t know how much of this is my need to keep my partner happy; and how much of it is Thomas the self-described hypersexual kinkster. A certain amount of “anywhere, anytime” is important to my self-definition. And I don’t know how much of the rest is me playing out just the gender role Clarisse points out, and reacting to that role as my spouse projects it on me. But it’s not right to just let these assumptions hang around unexamined. So there it is.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Eva permalink
    January 18, 2010 12:59 pm

    Christ, I just jealous so much of your partner right now.=)

  2. January 19, 2010 6:01 am

    I bristle at the “foreplay/actual sex” construction.

    That’s why I put it in quote marks! I meant it to be ironic and to implicitly question the stereotype, but I guess that wasn’t obvious.

    I’m planning to have CB write a guest post or two, sometime. I actually wrote “Abstinence” a few months ago, so our relationship has somewhat evolved, though not incredibly fast because we live so far apart from each other. The BDSM thing … I’m starting to think that won’t ever be a major ingredient for us. Sometimes he surprises me, but I’ve dated vanilla-but-questioning guys before who would surprise me … and then go right back to being vanilla afterwards. On the other hand, he’s new, and he has no real idea what his own preferences are yet; there are a lot of directions we could go. Fortunately he’s fine with it if I go and do BDSM with someone else, so there’s that. Not that I get many chances in Africa :P

    I worry sometimes that we’re going to end up in a situation where we are together for a long time here, and become comfortable/in love, then end up back in the States where the differences between us are suddenly much more obvious. I tell myself we can cross that bridge later, but it nags at me all the same.

  3. bumerry permalink
    January 19, 2010 11:38 pm

    I’ve always been hypersexual too. When I was asked to sing “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” for an audition as a young adult, everyone who knew me was writhing in laughter.

    Then I took medication that suppressed my libido WHILE I had baby/toddler/preschool twins. So I said no plenty. Now I’m on a medicine that doesn’t do that, and I’m hypersexual again. My partner thinks I’m just back to my normal self, but I feel…okay, please excuse the horrible expression, like a “nympho”. Complete with slut shame.

    I love my partner. I love the life we’ve made together. I love sex with him. But my identity as a BDSM oriented person sexually is only increasing as I age and grow into myself, and also as I get to know more people who identify that way. I fantasized about being tied up before I knew what sex even was. My first orgasm happened while I fantasized that Han Solo kidnapped me and tied me up. Even though we’ve been together for about 16 years, this is news to him because I was too reluctant – perhaps too ashamed – to talk about it before now. He’s accepting – indeed, fairly excited – about the possibilities this raises, but not a dom. And I live in the midwest – not exactly a hotbed of BDSM community.

    • January 22, 2010 9:40 am

      Clarisse Thorn is having access problems and asked me to put up this response on her behalf:

      “The midwest isn’t so bad — try Googling the “Chicago pansexual BDSM calendar” if you’re ever near Chicago; it’s a fantastic resource. Of course small towns in general tend to be worse for alt sex than large ones, but you might try just aggressively Googling for different terms, or using social networking sites such as Fetlife.com to search for other kinksters, or even contacting a large national group like the NCSF or Woodhull Freedom Foundation to ask if they know of anything in your area. “

  4. January 20, 2010 4:21 pm

    I’ve had the same experience of never saying no, with any of my partners, and I’m not really sure I’m hyper-sexual. There have been experiences where I was borderline too tired to even be a functional PIV partner, but I tried anyway because it is a huge part of my self-image to be a “good” partner, to constantly and intentionally put my female partners’ desires in a place that is at least as prominent as my own. It’s also a behavior I’ve used to ward off against any accusations that I’m not ‘masculine’ enough, because I’m not always sure I live up to society’s expectations for men. I’m not so sure that in my case, this pattern has been such a good idea or helpful in creating real intimacy with my partners.

  5. ggg_girl permalink
    January 22, 2010 6:42 am

    I’ve never said no either… Not sure why, haven’t really thought about that too much. I guess my thought process is that orgasms always make me feel better if I have a headache or are tired so it’s always good. Actually, I did say no once when I was so tired I was falling asleep and couldn’t even open my eyes. My male partner has said no many more times than me, and two of those times in particular it really did hurt my feelings. I felt crushed.. I wanted to surprise him but he was too tired after a long day.. I’m not sure how I process it either

  6. Maggie permalink
    January 24, 2010 5:53 pm

    I’ve almost never said no. My libido too is more than most people’s and I get profoundly unhappy if I don’t get enough. With me, it makes me feel bad to always be the instigator; not that I think that I shouldn’t as a woman, but always does make it start to feel like your desire is a burden.

    In order to feel like less of a burden, I’m able to look for other partners. So that’s helpful (though not so much since I haven’t actually found anyone yet).

  7. SecondBeach permalink
    January 27, 2010 2:20 pm

    I’ve only said no when I thought I was supposed to say no, when my first boyfriend (I was in my teens) would obviously want to have sex and, even though we were sexually active, I was often too self-conscious to admit that I wanted it too, or thought it would look bad if I said an enthusiastic ‘yes’ every time he asked. I’m sure he would have loved if I had been more comfortable with my sexuality; he wasn’t a guy for slutshaming and was really progressive in terms of sex and gender. My self-consciousness was all due to my own enculturation – all in my head.

    After we broke up, I quickly shed a lot of those purity/”libido-less woman” notions and have a much higher sex drive then my current partner (male), who loves that I know how to say what I want and say yes with enthusiasm. I can also say that the feminist blogosphere was a huge part of my transforming my relationship with sex. So thank you, contributors to Yes Means Yes and all the other wonderful blogs like it.

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