My freshman year in high school I was a part of my school’s debate team. We travel all around the country, so we stayed in hotels a lot without chaperones because our coach was pretty old and just didn’t care. During the end of that year I developed a crush on this older guy, let’s call him Steve, and it turned out he kind of liked me too! On the last overnight trip of the year Steve and I went back to the hotel room before everyone else so we could have time alone. I didn’t really want to do anything with him, but I just wanted him to like me, so when he pushed me on the bed and started kissing and touching me I went along with it. At some point he asked if he could take his pants off and I said no I wasn’t comfortable with that, but he kept asking and so finally I said okay.
Shortly after this he pulled me on top of him because he “likes it like that” and tried to take my shirt off. I wouldn’t let him but he still managed to grope my boobs over the bra I had on. I told him I wanted to stop and just cuddle and watch a movie or something so he stopped for a little bit. He kept trying to get me to give him a blow job or hand job and I kept saying no I didn’t want to, but while we were cuddling I had my eyes closed because I didn’t really want to be there, and he unbuttoned the top of his boxers and moved my hand onto his genitals. I tried to pull it away but he wouldn’t let me. Eventually my friend came in and laughed and said that “the party’s over love birds.” For months after that I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt dirty and kind of disgusting. I broke up with him shortly after that, but a few weeks later I tried to get back with him. Because I sought him out afterward I feel like what happened was okay.
So, Auntie SparkNotes, was it okay for Steve to make me touch him and touch me because we were dating and I liked him even though I really didn’t want to ?
And by no, I really mean something more along the lines of no no no no no nooooooooo. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Sparkler. Whining and wheedling and pressuring a person to do something they’ve explicitly, repeatedly told you they don’t want and aren’t comfortable with is the mark of a dyed-in-the-wool douchebag, full stop—and forcibly putting an unwilling person’s hand on your genitals isn’t just douchebaggery, but sexual assault. You may have consented to some of what happened between you and this guy, but nothing about the way he behaved was decent or respectful.
Or in other words: Not okay. Not even remotely okay.
But really, sweet pea, I think you know that. And unfortunately, that’s part of your problem: It’s not enough just to know that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable. It’s what you do with that information that makes all the difference. The one vitally important thing you learned from from this situation is not that you’re dirty or disgusting, or that you did something wrong (you’re not, and you didn’t!), but that staying in an uncomfortable situation and consenting to sexual activity that is not what you wanted makes you feel really, really bad. What this guy did was absolutely not your fault; he chose to act the way he did, and that’s on him. But how you react to that kind of behavior is your choice, and one you should take seriously, because it makes all the difference in how you feel about yourself when something like this happens. Even when the guy you’re with turns out to be a grade-A asshat, you have the power to respond to that in a way that makes you feel brave and strong and assertive.
Which is why, now that we’ve established that your then-boyfriend was a total jerk, the most useful thing you can do is to spend a few minutes thinking about what you’ll do when you encounter a similar jerk in the future. That might mean setting hard rules at the start of every hookup; it might mean stopping the cuddling for a serious talk about how uncool his behavior is (“The way you’re pressuring me is the opposite of sexy, and if you don’t stop, I’m out of here”); or of course, it might mean grabbing your coat and leaving when a guy keeps pushing your boundaries after being told three (or four or six or seventeen) times that you don’t want to do that.
And of course, learning to assert yourself isn’t going to happen overnight. Speaking up isn’t easy; in the (hopefully rare) event that you have reason to fear that your “no” might result in an angry or violent reaction, it can be downright scary. And even when you’re not looking at anything worse than hurt feelings as an outcome, developing the confidence to hold your own is a process—which is why you’ll want to get started now.
Because pressure, sexual or otherwise, is an unfortunate fact of life. There are always going to be people out there who see the word “no” as negotiable, and who will lean on you, sometimes heavily, in the hopes of getting you to change your mind. But you know now that giving in for the sake of being liked, or being pleasant, or for any other reason than that it is what you actually want, only results in a big ugly mess of bad feeling. So whatever else you do, please take this moment to promise yourself that in the future, you won’t do that—and to realize that the good opinion of a guy like this is not worth sacrificing a ding-dang thing for, but especially not your boundaries, your comfort, or your self-respect. You deserve better.
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If you’ve been sexually assaulted and need to speak to someone, call RAINN on800.656.HOPE now. Counselors are accessible 24/7 by phone and online (online.rainn.org) and offer confidential support services to survivors regardless of where they are in their recovery.