Andrew Smiler, Ph.D.

America's leading expert on the masculine self

A Guy’s Guide on When To Refuse Sex

SexualityAndrew Smiler

If you’re like most American guys, you’ve probably never been told that you can refuse sex. In fact, you may have a hard time imagining that a guy would ever turn down sex unless he was in the middle of a massive heart attack.

Let me be clear about one thing. Guys are allowed to refuse sex by saying “not now” or just “no,” and their partners need to respect that decision.

Our cultural assumptions about male sexuality don’t allow for the possibility that a guy would ever choose to say “no.” Most parents don’t discuss the possibility either. Of course, only about half of boys, but three-quarters of their parents, say they had The Talk. And both sides agree that The Talk typically lasts less than 10 minutes and tends to focus on the “3 Don’ts;” don’t have sex, don’t get anyone pregnant, and don’t get a disease. That’s not much of a conversation.

Girls and women get a different message. In American culture, they’re positioned as the decision-makers, deciding how “far” the guy—and thus the couple–can go. They’re more likely to have The Talk and, on average, it lasts longer and covers more topics, including how to decide when it’s OK to have sex. Seventeen and other magazines for girls also discuss this piece of decision making, providing yet more information and perspective. I’ve never seen that conversation in magazines teen boys read, like Sports Illustrated and WWE Magazine, even though those magazines have plenty of half-naked women. I know Maxim and it’s ilk don’t talk about it either.

This lack of discussion means that guys need to develop their own standards with little to no input from others that might help them figure it out. This becomes very apparent when reading the academic research on first sex. Indiana University researcher Mary Ott reviewed that literature and discovered that boys routinely tell researchers they lost their virginity when “they were ready,” but most boys couldn’t meaningfully say why they were ready; they just were. As far as I can tell, that’s how dudes approach sex with the rest of their partners too; they somehow just know they’re ready.

So, here are 6 questions a guy can ask himself to help figure out if he’s ready to have sex with a new partner. Parents can use these questions to help boys think about sex in a more detailed manner than they otherwise might. And I want to be clear that these are questions about the first time with a new partner; the decision to have sex, or not, with an ongoing partner raises other questions.

I’m writing based on my knowledge of guys who have female partners. I think the questions still work for guys with male partners, but I’m less clear how those dyads make decisions, so I might be missing something.

Before answering these questions, there’s one other thing it’s important to consider: is this sexual experience part of an ongoing relationship or a one-time hookup?

  1. You’re buzzed, drunk, high, or otherwise under the influence. If yes, then it sounds like this probably isn’t–or shouldn’t–be your night. If you need to be drunk or high, then it’s rarely a good idea. And if you’re not capable of operating a motor vehicle, then you should keep your hands off the stick shift.
  2. Your partner is buzzed, drunk, high or otherwise under the influence. If it’s not a good idea for you when you’re impaired, then it’s not a good idea for your partner either. And as we learned in Steubenville, having sex with someone who is unable to give consent meets the legal definition of rape, as it should. (And yes, I believe that should be true regardless of gender.)
  3. You’re trying to impress your friends. If the sex is about someone that’s not in the room, then you shouldn’t be having sex. This isn’t about morality. If you’re having sex with A because you want to impress B, then B’s the person you should be having sex with, not A.
  4. Your best reason is “why not?” If that’s all you’ve got, then you’re not ready. Why not go home and jerk off? Let me be clear: I think “I just want to get laid” is a fine reason, as long as you’re honest and up front about it and your partner is OK with it. But there’s a difference between “I want to get laid” and “why not?”
  5. You’re not sure you want to. If you have any doubt about having sex with a new partner, then wait. And I really mean doubt here, not just nervousness about being with someone new, worries about someone seeing your naked body, or performance anxiety. If it’s someone who you hope to have an ongoing relationship with, then the odds are good that you’ll have another chance. If your partner isn’t cool with waiting or threatens to end the relationship because you won’t have sex, that’s a sign you’re not being respected and that you might need to reconsider the relationship. If this is just a hookup, take your doubts seriously. You can probably hook up with someone else when you’re ready; odds are your decision about who to hook up with was mostly spontaneous, based on availability and physical attractiveness with little or no consideration of personality.
  6. The last time you were alone with this person, did you kiss or fool around with them? If you did and it was good, you may well be ready to take the next step and have sex. If no one is stoned, it’s not about your friends, you’ve got a better reason than “why not,” and you don’t have any doubts, then I think you’re ready.

Once you’re sure you want to have sex, go for it. Respect your self and your partner, be safe, use condoms, and have a good time.

-image by jenjoaquin