Learning to Speak Up

The Tools For Self-Advocacy

Last month’s article was about how it can be hard for some of us to say no or ask for something different when it comes to sex and pleasure. To be clear, a no is always a no, a request for less or different touch must always be respected. But even those of us who can stand up for ourselves when it comes to our jobs, chores around the house or family relationships can at times feel less empowered to do so in our intimate connections. For those of us who recognize this challenge in ourselves, how can we be better prepared for self-advocacy around our bodies and pleasure? It might be hard to know and/or feel confident to ask for what we want, whether it is the first or the thousandth encounter.  Like many aspects of life, listening to ourselves and communicating with another are skills that come with practice.


The saying goes that practice makes perfect. In this case though, improvement may be a more realistic goal. Sometimes we need to take baby steps along the way, being gentle with ourselves and our progress. Practice can happen in real life, or as a kind of role play in our minds, in a journal, with a friend or therapist or even out loud to ourselves (the shower is a great time for that).  If you can remember an encounter where you feel like you did not stand up for yourself, play it again with the intention of a different outcome. Rather than beating yourself up for what you did not do, transform the moment into what you might have said or done. What did the other person say or do that you did not respond honestly to? What could you have said or done in that instance that would be truer to yourself? Be honest with yourself about why you have not spoken up in the past and how you can commit to changing that pattern one step at a time. Practice saying things like

  • I’m not really into that, but how about we _________?

  • I don’t think that this is working for me. What about _____________?

  • I prefer my hand here or (Please) don’t move my head/ hand.

  • Can we slow down? It is going too fast for me to know what I want.

  • I am feeling uncomfortable and I am not sure why. Can we stop and talk?

  • I know we have done this before, but it does not seem to be working for me anymore. Let’s try something different.

Pay Attention

Some of us have developed a knack for not paying attention to what our gut is telling us. Unfortunately, our gut sometimes yells at us later for not listening and we might then feel regret, anger, sadness, and/or abandonment among other emotions. Start paying attention to what you are feeling. Think about how you will know if you feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. Check in with yourself more regularly during the day and of course during erotic encounters. Once you pay more attention, you will likely feel more in general, including pleasure.  

Notice any internal conflicts about what you want and what you think you should want or like. Notice if you freeze, a common stress reaction. Those of us with a history of violence can become “spectators”. This is a coping strategy where we mentally leave our bodies and watch ourselves having sex in the third person while we have an internal anxious dialogue about what is going on or should happen. This is an important phenomenon to become aware of in order to work towards remaining more present to the experience.

Long-Term Relationships

Sometimes changing the dynamic in a long-term relationship can feel especially daunting. When you have kids and/or a shared living space and/or joint finances at stake, it can feel like a real risk to speak up. Chances are though, unless your partner really does not care about you, speaking up and changing things would likely improve the relationship for both of you. There is nothing sexier than knowing that your partner is having a great time. If you are holding back or enduring, your partner likely knows and also may not be sure what to do. Check out the article on communication and try bringing up the topic outside of sex.

An Escape Plan

If you are connecting with someone new or with whom you sometimes feel unsafe, decide on an escape plan ahead of time. How are you going to get out? What is your strategy if you are being pressured, the other uses a slur against you, or blames you for starting something you won’t finish? Will you call 911? A friend?  Just leave? Ensure you have money to pay for a ride home. Know what your choices are before you start.

Draw up some boundaries ahead of time

We can always change our minds, but it can still be helpful to anticipate what we might be interested in doing ahead of time. There are many gray areas in between no touch and intercourse. Be as specific as you can be with your desires. Besides, it can be really sexy to approach a sexual encounter with an idea as to what you want to do. And not doing everything can add some great erotic tension with a partner who is respectful of your needs.

Be Realistic

Set a goal for yourself, such as asking for one thing or redirecting one request per sexual encounter. Or decide that you will check in with your gut and feelings at least twice over the course of each sexual interaction.  Commit to evaluating your progress and celebrating small victories of change. Your sexual patterns are likely not going to completely change overnight, especially with a regular partner. But with some conviction, effort and bravery, finding a new no or a request for something different can result in huge changes in pleasure, connection and self-confidence.  

Carlyle Jansen is the founder of Good For Her, a sexuality shop and workshop centre in Toronto. If you have questions or comments, email carlyle@goodforher.com or go online to goodforher.com


Categories: Sexual Health & Wellness