It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, as someone who literally makes my living writing about (among other things) the ethics of consent, but I am frequently complicit in my own sexual boundaries being steamrolled. (And yes, content note: this essay will discuss sex that is technically consensual but definitely reluctant.)
This is something I’ve been working on in therapy recently. I had started to notice that there would be many situations in which I didn’t really feel like having sex but nonetheless offered a blowjob or somesuch to whoever I was with, because of a nebulous anxiety I felt throughout my body that seemed to insist this was the only workable solution to what seemed like a very pressing problem. Given that I obviously know I’m well within my rights to say no to sex for any reason at all, this was a bit perplexing to me.
Of course, a history of trauma can make a person generally more prone to behaviors like fawning, freezing and submitting, especially when they’re in situations that are emotionally reminiscent of their trauma(s). But upon digging deeper on this particular issue with my therapist, I discovered that there’s a bit more to it than that. What I learned is that I pre-emptively offer sexual favors to dates because, underneath my seemingly sexually confident exterior, I have such a deep and pervasive sense of shame and worthlessness that I worry these dates wouldn’t like me if not for sex. I’m so afraid of that moment – “Oh, you don’t want to blow me? Well, that’s all I wanted here, so fuck this, I’m leaving” – that I proactively take steps to avoid it, by offering to do things I only sorta want to do. The trauma logic goes: it’s easier (at least in theory) to give head than to be faced with the certainty of my own unlovability.
GIven that I’m actively working through issues like this one in therapy, I’ve realized that I’m not in a good place right now to have casual sex, or even sex with people I’m casually dating, because I simply don’t trust myself to uphold my own boundaries and keep myself safe in that arena right now. I’ve seen how succumbing to these trauma-borne impulses can ultimately just re-traumatize me, and I want to step outside of that behavioral loop for a while so I can hopefully put an end to it.