Illustration by Steven D’Arbenzio
I’m a bisexual, sex-positive, feminist woman. I’m in college right now. As part of some of the work I’m doing with my school, I’ve been speaking at other colleges about sex, sexuality, and consent, often sharing my personal stories about those things as part of the presentation. I’m surprised how many people come up to me afterward and ask if I want to hook up. I like sex, but I’m not going to just drop everything and go make out. A surprising number of these people get really offended when I say no, in a polite but not necessarily “nice” way, sometimes to the point that I feel slightly unsafe. So that’s question one: How do I deal with people who don’t take “no” well? Two is that my parents are saying this work is going to ruin my career and/or define who I am to potential employers. I think I would like to continue some kind of this work after I graduate, and maybe as a job? But they swear at some point I will deeply regret the doors this has closed. Should I be worried?
I might not be the most qualified person to answer question two, since I do not have the kind of job your parents clearly envision being “ruined” based on talking publicly about your sex life. But I’m willing to bet that it’s not the kind of job you’re looking at either. But also, a) it sounds like what you’re doing is actually prestigious and so an employer may well see it as a positive, and b) with social media and the Internet being what it is, no candidate is going to be completely “clean.”
I think your parents are just being parents and would worry no matter what you did to some extent. Tell them I said everything’s going to be okay.
The first question is a lot harder. As I’m sure you know, culturally we have a huge problem with women who say no to sex.
I guess I would have hoped after hearing your talk, these people might’ve come away with a more enlightened understanding. But I do think that some people hear “sex-positive” and think “great, she wants to have sex with anyone, any time” and
get all upset and yell “false advertising” when you turn them down.
I mean, again, it seems obvious to me that there’s a vast ocean of difference between “I’m sex-positive and I enjoy sex” and “it is my solemn oath that I will drop to the ground and fuck anyone who asks me right that second,” but lots of things that seem obvious to me in this arena are not to others, so.
Taking a polite-but-firm “no” badly is one of the worst qualities a person can have.
Women get accused of “playing games” when really they’re afraid of what will happen if they give a firm “no.” And rightly so; there have been several recent cases of women being attacked for declining to give men sexual access. It’s particularly treacherous for women of color.
I’m afraid there’s no easy answer for what to do, since I don’t think your unease about your safety is unwarranted. All you can do is go with your gut about whether you can ignore them safely or not.
Humans reading this, though, please note: Your ability to gracefully accept the word “no” is a basic requirement for non-assholery. Cultivate it.