created at: 2014-02-24

As Judy is on her way out of the party, she’s asked to drive someone home. She stammers, blushes and starts to giggle out a response, repeating, “I don’t know,” and breaking eye contact. I think she’s trying to go hook up with someone and doesn’t want to tell us her plans. Saying “no” can be a valuable sexual skill, in many different ways!

I tell her, “You are allowed to just say, ‘Actually, that doesn’t work for me right now,’ and you don’t have to give a reason.”

“Yeah, that!” Judy giggles, still blushing. “What you said!” But I want her to repeat it. I want her to say it out loud herself. Sometimes it’s so hard to just say no.

What’s your favorite way to say no? Here are some favorites I’ve heard so far:

No, thanks.
No, thank you.
Thanks, but no thanks.

“No” is a complete sentence.
Absolutely not.
No, never.

No, I don’t want that.
It’s great that you want that, but I don’t want it, so you can’t have it.

Leave me alone.
Back the hell off.
#&*$ off.

I’d rather not.
I’d really rather not.
I’d really prefer not to.
No, thank you, I prefer not to.
Thanks so much, but I think I’d rather not.

I can’t.
I’m not comfortable with that.
I don’t think that will work for me.
That’s not something I’m really into.

Nope. I know my reasons. I’ll tell you if you want to know, but otherwise I don’t need to justify it.

Not now.
I know it was OK that time, but I am saying no now.
I can’t be involved in this anymore.
Thanks for considering me, but that’s not something I can do right now.

I don’t have time for this.
I’m finding it difficult to have time for this.

I need to think about it.
Let me think about that.
I’m probably not going to, but thanks.

I’m really exhausted from the week, so I’m just gonna stay in, but I’ll be thinking about you!
I don’t feel good.
I have too much work to do.

No, but I would like to some other time.
Sounds great, but not tonight.
Maybe next time!

How about ice cream instead?

I also like Phoebe’s line: “Oh, I wish I could, but I don’t want to.”

Instead of specific lines, some people shared strategies they use in the moment:

“I try to be honest about why I’m saying no.”

“I offer a reason for why I’m saying no.”

“I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings! I usually don’t just give a cold no.”

“I might lie to avoid saying no.”

“If I don’t know them that well, I don’t offer them an explanation because I don’t want to lie.”

“Generally, my degree of tact and the amount of detail/explanation I provide is proportional to the closeness of my relationship with the person.”

“My favorite way to say no outside of a consensual relationship is to be super clear and super final.”

“If they were being obnoxious, rude, drunk, presumptuous, etc., then I give them a look, a stern face, or I avoid them.”

“I explain the conditions: If I’m going to do that with you, I need this from you.”

“I suggest an alternative.”

“I suggest what I want to do instead; I redirect.”

“I make it about what I do want instead.”

“I say things like, ‘Please don’t flirt with me; I might enjoy it.’ In my previous bohemian life, I was a huge fan of the palm on the chest, a gentle push, and if they’ve been polite, a smile and ‘No.’ If they haven’t been polite, same thing, with no smile and ‘Don’t push your luck.’”

“After traveling as a college student, I learned to say no, and directly. You are not doing anyone a favor by being nice, especially yourself. ‘Deja me’ is the Spanish command for ‘leave me.’”

“I always remember I owe men nothing. Not a drink, not a smile, not conversation.”

Saying “no” also happens in the context of an ongoing sexual relationship:

“I start by giving myself the room to say no, and not feeling bad for taking up that space.”

“Having a conversation about enthusiastic consent is a good start. It sets the tone for being able to say/hear a no.”

“For me, my favorite way in a consensual relationship is having a clear understanding about what each other’s yeses sound like so we can also be clear about each other’s nos.”

And, of course, there are many challenges involved with giving a direct “no”:

“Sometimes I get caught by surprise and say nothing—there’s a person out there I really need to inform that he is not allowed to surprise back rub me.”

“My first thought is to say ‘I’ll try,’ but I’m thinking about work and friends and stuff, and that’s not OK in the context of a sexual relationship, I guess.”

“I’d rather be nice. I think it’s more important to not hurt someone’s feelings than to not be uncomfortable myself. That’s a value that I have.”

“If I am uncomfortable hanging out one-on-one, I use a policy I’ve called ‘dilute by group.’ Instead of declining the invitation, I will suggest doing a group activity with mutual friends. Usually I will do this with a person who is a good friend of other friends or in a community with me so that my personal rejection does not come across as a rejection from others as well.”

And then there’s the person who responded to my question with a demonstration of his great nay-saying skills:

“I’m not telling.”

OK, that’s your prerogative!

Remember Stoya’s advice: “You always have the right to say no, and you do not have to defend or explain your choice. ‘I don’t want to’ is a perfectly good reason for saying no.”

And that also goes for all the other people around you. They have the right to say no too, without defending or explaining themselves.

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