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This question comes from a situation that was quite a while ago. At the time I was 16, while I'm 22 now. I'm a guy and was at my girlfriend’s house while we were cuddling. She suggested that I touched her boobs while we were cuddling. I wasn't ready at the time to touch her boobs yet, however at the time I didn't know how to properly react. I said "I don't know", which made her respond by taking my hand and placing it on her boob.

While this case is relative simple, it could easily be extended to more. I would like to know how to properly react during a situation like this, since I still don't know how to properly reject the proposal.

The reason for declining is that I don't feel comfortable yet to do the action. For me this means slowing down is important, so there is no feeling of having it rushed. Enjoying each others company is central to this. The reason for declining then is the same as now.

Question

How to properly reject an intimate suggestion during intimate time?

Goals

  • I want to make sure the other person knows I'm not ready for it yet, but that I could want to do it in the future.
  • Be respectful to the other person while making sure not to ignore myself.
  • Avoid being rude, since the proposal was well timed and placed.
  • Avoid (if possible) stopping the intimate time.

Notes

  • The case is from a while ago, however I think this will help me in the future (focus on being 22 instead of 16 is okay).
  • I had a similar relationship 3 years ago; however, there were still issues with setting boundaries.
  • There were situations similar to this, where I would have preferred a simple rejection of the proposal and to get back to it later. My reasons are the same, although I've matured a bit.
  • Comments deleted. Please keep comments on-topic; they should be used only for asking for more information and suggesting improvements to the question. Additionally, answers should be posted as answers, not comments. Thanks. – HDE 226868 Feb 19 '18 at 18:12
10

Rejecting an intimate suggestion appropriately is difficult because it is natural for a partner to want to escalate the intimacy from one level to the next. Moreover the communication is often through body language rather than the spoken word. What complicates things is that she can't be expected to know what you are thinking:

I wasn't ready at the time (...) I said "I don't know", which made her respond by taking my hand and placing it (...) The reason for declining is that I don't feel comfortable yet to do the action (...) Slowing down is important, so there is no feeling of having it rushed. Enjoying each others company is central to this.

With due respect to both parties, it is clear from your narrative that your GF of that incident decided to ignore your brief and inconclusive "I don't know" response (which actually expresses none of your justified sentiments, and without which explanation, "I don't know" can easily be misinterpreted as simply your lack of initial confidence) and went right ahead to implement her 'intimate suggestion.'

That was a positive action on her part in the context of your mutually acknowledged intimacy, and only serves to emphasise her original invitation, but you would need to decide how to react to her bold and decisive move. These are the 4 options I can think of, which seem to cover the range of possible reactions to this situation:

  1. Option A (not recommended because of your justified reasons for declining, as articulated in the question): you can go along and do what she wants. Your hesitancy might be apparent in your body language. Doing something you are not convinced about, just to please another person, is not usually recommended but it might possibly be good in such situations if you were simply lacking the confidence to make your move. The result can be known only by carrying out the experiment.

[Statutory warning: If it is a socially/ legally/ ethically controversial situation, you shall have to take the sole or joint responsibility (depending on the circumstances) for following through on your partner's intimate suggestion, and shall be considered liable for the consequences of that decision.]

  1. Option B: you firmly but gently take back your hand and say, "sorry but I am not ready for that yet; I don't feel comfortable yet to do the action. Slowing down is important, so there is no feeling of having it rushed: enjoying each others company is central to this," which is basically your explanation in the question here.

This approach was recommended by our highly respected member @apaul in his earlier answer. What is good about this approach is that you clearly express your sentiments in a way that is explicit and difficult to misinterpret. What is possibly not good is that the emotional momentum can get broken and GF may not like it one bit! You are basically taking a certain amount of risk by verbalizing in an intimate situation, when not speech but body language predominates, and emotions can run high. However, if your partner understands and appreciates your position then it is an excellent result.

  1. Option C: you firmly but gently take back your hand and say nothing. Your body language expresses your sentiment. This is not very likely to be misunderstood in an intimate situation. Ideally your partner understands you and is not discouraged by your decision, but if the other person persists in getting 'more intimate' then you may need to physically disengage (firmly but gently) to demonstrate your position. You can express yourself verbally and fully communicate your sentiments later.

I see this is the sort of thing you would prefer yourself, based on your observation in the question:

I would have preferred a simple rejection of the proposal and get back to it later.

To avoid any misunderstanding, and in the interests of keeping the relationship healthy, you should clearly communicate your reasons to your partner soon after the incident, and emphasise that despite your preference to "take it slowly" you really appreciate and care for the person, and value the relationship. You would benefit from learning to discuss such sensitive topics with your partner as your interactions progress, as pointed out by @ShadSterling in comments.

Note: whether you choose option B or option C, which are the "recommended" options, you should be prepared for your position to not be appreciated, and for the relationship to cool down quickly as a result, as someone noted in an earlier answer or comment. But if the other person understands, appreciates and agrees with your point of view, it can really strengthen your relationship.

  1. Option D: melodrama. Especially a girl from certain Asian cultures might shout and scream that she is being taken advantage of against her will in an intimate situation, though men in your position can make the same accusation.

But creating a scene is bad IPS and never recommended on Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange.

  • Really thorough answer with different points. As you've guessed, option C is the option I like the most because it keeps you from saying very long sentences while being intimate. – Peter Feb 19 '18 at 8:08
  • Yes indeed @Peter. Good communication is always considered important in relationships, but the detailed discussion of your reasons can be done later when both parties are in a frame of mind to understand each other. – English Student Feb 19 '18 at 8:49
  • Option C has a high risk of being misunderstood, as the difference between "I don't want to do that with you right now" and "I don't want to do that with you ever" is not expressed at all. You could do that nonverbally, and that might be better in the moment, but IME it's even better to establish a pattern of talking about things that are uncomfortable or unclear - not to interrupt for that, but to have a time where you can clear up any uncertainty through one of those good-if-difficult conversations. – ShadSterling Feb 19 '18 at 15:08
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    Now edited my answer to make that point very clear: "To avoid any misunderstanding, and in the interests of keeping the relationship healthy, you should clearly communicate your reasons to your partner soon after the incident, and emphasise that (...) you really appreciate and care for the person, and value the relationship. You would benefit from learning to discuss such sensitive topics with your partner as your interactions progress, as noted by @ ShadSterling in comments." Thanks for the helpful comment @ShadSterling. – English Student Feb 19 '18 at 16:34
  • While I understand the meaning of Option D I'm not sure the "certain Asian cultures" is relevant - anyone from any culture can make a scene, and the aforementioned comes across a little bluntly. – Tim Feb 22 '18 at 20:29
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Sounds like the truth would work just fine here.

I don't feel fully comfortable being that intimate yet. Can we slow things down, so that they don't feel rushed? Enjoying each other's company, and growing comfortable with each other, is central to this.

I massaged the wording a little, but tried to preserve the core message. Your reasons are your reasons and people should respect them. Particularly in situations where they want you to be comfortable and enjoy being intimate with them.

That's not saying that everyone will understand and respond well to this sort of thing, but do you really want to be with someone who doesn't?

Admittedly some people may feel somewhat rejected, it takes some courage to make the first move and some people will feel slightly put off when asked to slow down. That's their problem, not your's, but continuing with the level of intimacy that you're comfortable with may mitigate that. Try to be clear that you're rejecting the specific activity, not the person who offered/asked.

Following up with some kind words about how you feel about them and, if you anticipate being comfortable with what they're suggesting, mentioning that it's not a flat "no" just a "not yet" may soften the blow.

  • Answer to your question: no, I would like to be with someone who understands me. I like the fact that being direct is a good way to go, since I'm not really great in wording my own feelings. – Peter Feb 18 '18 at 16:18
  • @Peter it was a rhetorical question, everyone wants to be understood in their intimate relationships ;) Glad to help. – apaul Feb 18 '18 at 16:29
6

The vital piece of information that you tried to communicate but couldn't actually consists of two parts:

  1. I am not against the idea per se
  2. I do not feel this is the right moment

Once you deconstruct your feelings into their parts, it becomes easy to communicate exactly these parts. The important decision here is that you should usually communicate the positive (non-rejective) part first. Whenever you communicate two partially contradictory facts, the second one will be seen as qualifying the first.

For example: "I'd love to, just not now" and "Not now, I'd love to later" - do you feel the difference?

  • The difference is really clear and for some reason I didn't really think about this wording. This is something I need to look into further. – Peter Feb 19 '18 at 12:26
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Let's start by trying to understand what expectations your partner might have:

Intimacy in a relationship is given. A male being particularly eager for sex is pretty common. Your partner makes her assumptions based on her personal, an other people's experience with guys other than you. This is the basis on which partners judge eg. if the tempo is ok. Of course, driven by their own needs - but an atypically fast or slow person realizes that his/her needs are exception rather than "norm" and the other side cannot be expected to know that. Whenever someone wants to go slower or faster than the "norm", that's an issue that needs clarification. I'm writing "norm" in quotes, because actual norm is not important here, neither even existence of an actual norm. Perception is all that matters, therefore in a culture of horny teens (even if it exists only in Hollywood movies) it is expectable that a 16-year boy would dream about coitus. Our culture appreciates and celebrates sex as important part of our lives, so the pressure to sex doesn't get easier with age. Grownups are expected to be less reckless, but still horny. I'm not writing this to encourage you to fulfill popular expectations, but to establish that the expectations of your partner are most likely different than your needs, to identify the cause of the described situation.

If your needs are unexpected, eg you want to take things unusually slow, you need to communicate them. Of course, one can say, that's the question you're asking! But is it? You ask how to reject a move when it happens. I answer that what you need is to prevent it from happening in the first place. By talking about it before things get physical. This advice may be viewed as a poor one, because talking about your feelings and limitations can be as uncomfortable as having to reject a suggestion for more intimacy. However, this is what a relationship is about: intimacy and communication (including your feelings). If you believe you have a problem with either, I suggest you seek a professional help. (Rather than looking for someone who's "broken in a same way". Nobody is, we're all broken in unique ways : ) Not to "fix" you or bring you "in line with others", but to understand yourself and learn how to work with other people. As Tom said, you grow by stepping outside of your comfort zone. But usually we need help in doing that, from a person we trust, be it a close one or a professional.

I also want to address your remark about objectifying girls. Objectifying doesn't only mean "to treat someone in a sexual way". Objectifying is refusing to acknowledge someone as a person and part of it is ignoring their needs while making that person satisfy your needs. That means that forcing a girl who needs a sexual relation into a nonsexual one, only because you want it that way, can be objectification. Sometimes, we are so afraid of doing a wrong thing that we do equally wrong, just in an opposite direction.

Relationship is about satisfying each other's needs, keep that in mind. Communicating those needs is absolutely necessary and a compromise that follows. You have (or rather, you predict you will have): your aversion to intimacy now, your partner's need for intimacy now and maintaining the relationship of you two. One of those will go, carefully decide which one.

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    "Relationship is about satisfying each other's needs (...) Communicating those needs is absolutely necessary and a compromise that follows." __ Really insightful answer @Agent_L! I upvote and hope this excellent answer gets many more upvotes. – English Student Feb 19 '18 at 16:56
  • Nice frame challange! I don't think its a poor advice, since your advice addresses the key point of the question. – Peter Feb 19 '18 at 17:04
  • @Peter I meant "poor" as "replacing one uncomfortable situation with another uncomfortable situation, not actually making it any easier" – Agent_L Feb 19 '18 at 17:08
3

The very best situation would be if you had a chance to talk about taking it slow before you get intimate, because "in the act" it is usually much harder to refuse without breaking the atmosphere (at least if the relationship is very new). But if you are in the situation, I could think of multiple options.

  1. Do it I am not trying to talk you into something, but sometimes a spur of moment decision to just do it breaks the circle of (over)thinking. If you feel comfortable enough with that person to do it once and not again if you did not like it, then this might be an option. If you think, refusing to do it again (anytime soon) might be worse than never trying it in the first place, this is not an option.
  2. Softly refuse, but offer alternatives. In this case, you could go for something like I would like to take it slow with your precious boobs, but what about I give you a nice back rub instead? This will hopefully not end the intimate time, but defer the talk about taking it slow to a later time point. In my opinion, you should still actually bring it up later, though.
  3. Refuse, but explain. If there is a chance to explain yourself a little while cuddling, then go for it. I honestly would not rely on body language completely, as this can easily be read as a refusal because of her part. You do not want your partner to ponder what the hell they did wrong for the rest of the evening. They might feel like they are ugly to you, that you are actually not interested in them,... there are hundreds of options. No explanation is likely to lead to a backslash of the situation in the long run.
  • I like this addition to the already existing answers, since it provides more insight to make sure the other person doesn't feel rejected. – Peter Feb 19 '18 at 8:55
  • I think your note on 1) is really important. If it's about being apprehensive in case you do it "wrong" etc. but do actually want to - then this is fine to do. But if it's because you actually don't want to for any reason (i.e. OPs situation) - it shouldn't be considered. – Bilkokuya Feb 19 '18 at 11:40
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First, say

Let's take it slow.

Next, take the initiative to move things in a different direction, either verbally or with your actions.

If the other person doesn't get it, you can say

I'm not ready yet.

Edit

Thought process behind this answer: Consent is important. But a lot of talking can get both parties out of the focus of the sensory experience. So the key is to find a concise formulation. At the same time, it needs to be honest, and it needs to be an I-message. In other words, it shouldn't suggest that the other person is doing anything wrong.

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