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The power of opting-in 

Why not saying “no” doesn’t mean “yes,” and the best way to make a sexually active BFF

Q I'm a 17-year-old girl and, in most aspects, I'm confident with myself, my identity and my body. Earlier this year, I met a girl. She had some serious drama at home and needed to get out of her house, so I let her stay at mine. Things went a LOT further than I was ready for. I had just had my first kiss the month before and I didn't feel like our relationship was ready for sex, but I went along with it because she never gave me a chance to slow things down or say no.

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My feelings for her are gone; she is attractive, but we don't connect. But she has feelings for me. How can I get her to understand, or at least respect, how I feel if she doesn't understand why this was a big deal for me? --Growing Older Youth

A There's a movement in sex-ed circles to replace the old opt-out consent mantra, "No means no," with a new, improved opt-in consent mantra, "Yes means yes." YMY says it's not good enough to wait for the other person to stop the action with a "no," which many people---particularly young people, particularly young girl people---have a hard time doing. You have to get a "yes."

But the kind of person who doesn't give you a chance to say "no," GOY, is unlikely to solicit a "yes." Which is why we all need to advocate for ourselves in the moment.

And you failed to do that, GOY---you failed to advocate for yourself in the moment.

I don't say that to make you feel bad or to shift the blame onto your shoulders, GOY, I say it because we've all been there. Most confident, sexually active adults can point to an early experience that went too far, too fast, a sexual encounter that left us feeling the way you did after you had sex with this girl. And it's possible to walk away from an experience like that---one that left you feeling shitty and powerless---feeling empowered to advocate for yourself in uncomfortable sexual situations in the future, GOY, provided you learn the right lesson.

Here's the wrong lesson: "I'm a total fuckup who can't speak up for myself when I'm having sex, so I'd better not have sex again. Ever." That's bullshit, GOY, and what's worse, that kind of thinking can make a person more vulnerable the next time she winds up in bed with an insensitive jerk. Here's the right lesson: "I don't have to wait for someone to give me a 'chance' to say no. I can and will say no whenever I want to. I'm not going to let this happen to me again because I never want to feel this way again. Ever."

As for the girl, GOY, tell her straight up that you don't have feelings for her. And tell her why: Things went too far, too fast, and the sex ruined it for you. Don't sugarcoat things to avoid hurting her feelings, GOY, because she's got a lesson to learn, too.

Hers goes like this: "I didn't ask the person I was with---someone I really liked---if she was cool with what we were doing, and I totally fucked myself out of what could've been a really great relationship. I'm not going to do that to anyone again. Ever."

Q I'm a 16-year-old bisexual guy. I have been in a long-distance relationship since September. My girlfriend---call her "Selena"---and I have a good relationship, but, both of us being bisexual, we have discussed the possibility of having relationships with same-gender partners on the side.

I recently attended my city's LGBTQ prom. There, I met a 17-year-old guy who I found somewhat attractive. I gave him my number, and he has been texting me often, which makes me feel both uncomfortable and enthralled.

Some of the texts that "Dave" has sent me were sexual in nature. He lives very close to where I do. I am a virgin---both genders considered---and the idea of sex right now makes me uneasy. But I am interested. Still, sex scares me at this point, and I don't think I'm ready. As such, this afternoon, I told Dave that I felt we were moving too fast. He agreed.

I suppose I have two questions: 1. I am worried about the outcome should I tell Selena about my "crush." I feel inhibited. How do I bring it up? 2. How can I have a good relationship with Dave in a nonsexual way? I like him a lot, but is friendship too much to ask since he is sexually active and I am not? --Not Agreeable Intervals

A 1. Openly, honestly, directly and without hesitation. It might help if you remind yourself---again and again---that while the stakes may feel high right now, NAI, they're actually quite low. It sounds like your relationship with Selena has allowed you to explore the emotional and social aspects of dating without any sexual pressures or expectations. That's been good for you, NAI, and you'll be bummed when your relationship with Selena ends. But you shouldn't be too bummed: There just aren't a lot of adults out there who are still dating---or who are married to---the folks they were dating in high school. (There are some, of course, just as there are some 90-year-old pack-a-day smokers.) And if a conversation about Dave prompts Selena to end things, well, your relationship was destined to end at some point, right?

Tell her this: "I met this boy, and he's been texting me. I don't want to date him---I'm only somewhat attracted to him---but I'm enjoying the attention. But we should talk about that same-gender-partners-on-the-side arrangement. Not because I'm going to jump into bed with this guy. I'm not ready for sex. But we should talk about this stuff before I meet a boy I do want to have sex with." If Selena flips and dumps you, then she wasn't open to you exploring your same-sex attractions. Which means your relationship with her wasn't just destined to end, NAI, it needed to end.

2. Don't assume that Dave couldn't possibly be interested in a friendship because he's sexually active. Lots of sexually active people have friends, and most of us are capable of forming new friendships. If a friendship is "too much to ask" of Dave---if he's only interested in your dick---he'll let you know by disappearing on you or by accepting your friendship under false pretenses. If he disappears on you, well, he wasn't a very nice guy and you didn't lose much. If he accepts your friendship only so he can continue pressuring you for sex, well, then he's not a very nice guy and you won't lose much when you disappear on him. But he might be up for a friendship. Lots of sexually active people are. So ask.


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