Published in partnership with Scarleteen.
I’m in an on again-off again type relationship with my “girlfriend.” We get along and everything, but on some things we don’t see eye to eye. We’ve had sex before, and that’s kind of the problem. She keeps pressuring me into having sex! You don’t really hear it this way with guys, but it’s the truth. She knows what she wants, and she wants it now! It’s not that I don’t want to have sex with her, or that I don’t LIKE having sex with her, but sometimes I just enjoy romance. Or just hanging out. Sex isn’t everything. And another thing: she wants a baby! She’s nineteen, and I’m eighteen. I’ve reminded her that neither of us drive or have jobs. I just graduated high school (at the time I was still IN school) but still, I can’t change her mind. So I don’t really know what to say. How can i get through to her that sex isn’t everything, and that we’re definitely not ready for a baby?
Heather Corinna replies:
I’m so sorry that you’ve found yourself in what sounds like some big time bad-news dynamics. There are some things where not being in agreement isn’t a big deal, or is problematic, but not massive. However, having conflict about sex and reproduction like this, especially if one person refuses to honor the other in what they do not want, usually is massive.
You know, we do hear about people of all genders, including guys, experiencing sexual pressure from partners. I’m well aware that this is by no means only something that happens to women or girls, and by no means is something only men or boys, do. I’d say that at least a few times a month, I enter into a discussion with a girl who is pressuring or coercing a boyfriend and need to explain to her that guys can not be ready for sex, too, that guys can not want to have sex sometimes, too, and that real consent isn’t just something it’s important guys get from girls: it’s something everyone always need to seek out from everyone, only moving forward with anything sexual if the other person does give full and enthusiastic consent, and not making a move or stopping if the other person isn’t doing that.
I’m also aware that a whole lot of guys who experience feeling pressured feel very alone in it, like they’re the only ones it’s happening to, or the only ones who aren’t delighted to be pushed into sex. I want to make sure that you know that you’re not alone. This does happen to other guys — probably more than you or are aware of — and very few people are ever happy to be pressured for sex they don’t want, don’t feel ready for or want in a balance with everything else, rather than to the exclusion of everything else. I think it’s also safe to say very few people are happy in an unhealthy relationship, which it sounds like you might be in.
Same goes with a partner pushing parenting or babymaking. You might not hear guys in your life talking about feeling like you are around that or sex, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. What that silence probably indicate isn’t that this isn’t happening, but that a lot of guys probably feel like it isn’t okay to voice it when it is, or that it isn’t okay to feel unhappy about it. Of course, with both of these issues, there can also always be masculinity issues to counter: some guys feel pretty strongly that they’re not “real men” or masculine enough, or other men aren’t, if and when a guy finds himself in the position of being manipulated, pressured, coerced or abused by a woman, or wants to decline sex or have it less frequently than it’s made available. Hopefully, you already know that’s not true. If not, please know that’s not true. And it’s also the kind of attitude which really hurts men instead of helping them.
We also hear more about reproductive coercion — when a partner pressures the other, through verbal threats, physical aggression, or birth-control sabotage, to become pregnant or co-create a pregnancy, which is what it sounds like has been happening here — when it’s women (usually the people who can become pregnant) being coerced. There’s one sound reason for that, which is that in those cases, it’s about all the kinds of things you could be pushed into here, but with the huge added issue of it being something that’s happening to your whole body and health. It also is, to my knowledge, more common that way, but really, we might not know, especially since study on reproductive coercion is still new as a whole. Hopefully, over time, it will address how anyone can experience this kind of coercion, and how very much no one should ever feel they have the right to involve someone in creating a pregnancy who does not consent to be involved and does not want to be. But no matter who it is happening to, this can be some really serious stuff that is pretty unhealthy, and can also potentially derail your life.
If your girlfriend is not accepting your no to sex and not accepting your no to co-creating a pregnancy or becoming a parent, my advice anytime anyone finds themselves in any kind of relationship or interaction where sexual pressuring, reproductive pressuring or both are going on is to get out of it. That is always the very best advice I can give, and the advice I know is most likely to elicit the best result for a person being pressured or coerced, including steering them towards a life and partnerships without those things in them. This is not the stuff healthy, happy relationships are made of.
In sexual relationships and interactions which are healthy and equitable, anytime someone says no to something, or “not yet,” “not now,” or “not so often please,” the other person respects that, rather than stepping all over it, dismissing it, or trying to argue or otherwise steamroll over that person to get what they want for themselves. When it comes to sex and consent, no always needs to trump yes, and that just shouldn’t be that big of a deal. You’re right: sex isn’t everything. No one will die if they don’t have sex with somebody, for crying out loud. For sure, sex with a partner can be really nice, even awesome, but it’s not food, air or water. It’s a privilege, not a necessity or a right.
If and when we want to have sex in such a way where we only need to think of our needs, any of us can always have that very easily. If we are able to engage in sex with a partner, we are also able to masturbate. But if there is anyone else directly involved, we don’t get to have our wants be the only ones that matter or which always come first. Once more than one person is involved in sex, more than one person needs to be seen, heard and considered. Hopefully, that’s a gimme in a relationship or sexual interaction, because emotionally healthy people aren’t going to want to engage in sex with someone who also doesn’t want to.
But it sounds to me like the person you’ve been with might not be very emotionally healthy, and isn’t understanding or accepting that in these things that involve you, they can’t just be about her and what she wants.
What I want for you — what I want for everyone — is a partner who respects you and who cares for you. Honoring our feelings about when and if to have sex and make babies is pretty ground-zero stuff as far as both those things go. It looks like you’re with someone who either wants things you just don’t and can’t see anyone in the picture besides herself or who can see you, and hear your objections, but doesn’t care. Either way, that’s not good. It’s also potentially dangerous for you when it comes to your feelings and the arc of the life that you want.
Reproductive coercion is considered a serious abuse, and I think that’s sound. Our right, whatever our gender, to decide if and when, to the degree we can control it, we want to become pregnant or co-create a pregnancy and to become parents is a vital, essential human right. This is also an issue where another tiny person can potentially come into play who doesn’t get any choices.
If she becomes pregnant, you, as the person who isn’t yourself pregnant, cannot dictate what she does with her pregnancy outside giving or withholding your consent for an adoption. If she chooses to remain pregnant and parent, then that’s just going to be how it is, including financial support of some level and then whatever else you would feel you wanted to do, or felt was right to do, when it comes to parenting. And that would mean with her, by the way, in some way. In other words, the way this person is behaving now? In one way or another, you’d be stuck dealing with her as a co-parent. If you had a kid you really cared about, and her behavior with them was similar to the way she’s behaving with you, that could equal a lot of full-time heartbreak for you. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that someone who can’t respect a partner’s no with something this huge is probably not going to be a great parent. This is a kind of behavior that really has legs in terms of how many people’s lives it can potentially really screw up.
I don’t mean to be all Doomsday here, I just want to impress some very possible scenarios and very probably risks you’d be taking if you stay involved sexually with this person who I hear you saying, very clearly, is pretty hell-bent on getting what she wants regardless of what you do. There are a lot of reasons to make our sexual decisions carefully, and this is a biggie. Choosing to be with someone sexually where pregnancy can happen who you know is in profound disagreement with you about what to do should a pregnancy happen, or worse still, who might aim to co-create a pregnancy against your will is a very risky situation to put yourself in, whether you’re someone who can become pregnant or you’re not.
I think being pushed into sex is a very serious abuse, too, one which is often a crime. Somebody pushing a boundary they didn’t know was there, then totally getting it and backing off when you state it is one thing. But when someone has a pattern of coercion, then we need to know we’re likely dealing with a pattern of abuse, which, like abuse tends to, will probably also escalate over time. All very serious, which is why I’m giving you very serious advice.
So, my very, very best advice if this sounds like those things? Get outta this. Pronto.
If you have already tried to get through to her with these things and have not been able to, you’re probably not going to be able to. It’s not that complicated, after all, and really, any of us should only need to hear this stuff once. If someone keeps hearing your no’s again and again and again and isn’t responding, you have to know they’re not going to. And in the meantime, not only does trying to stand up for yourself again and again keep wearing you and how you feel about yourself down, it keeps putting you at risk of some major hazards. It’s kind of like standing outside when there’s a tornado and telling it to go away instead of getting yourself to a shelter. You can’t compel a tornado to chill out with logic or emotional appeals. The same goes for emotionally unhealthy, manipulative, controlling or abusive people, the kind of people who push others into sex or reproduction. You can’t magically change them or get them to behave differently: the best you can do, the best any of us can do, is to stop enabling them and get away from them, focusing on keeping ourselves safe and sound.
To boot? You just don’t sound happy. That’s hardly a shocker, but there’s just no reason to stay in a relationship like this that’s making you unhappy, that has these kinds of conflicts in it, and where it sounds like it’s pretty much a one-man show that’s not about you.
If you don’t feel able to leave right now, or aren’t sure you need to — like maybe she’s not pushing these things as much as it sounds to me like she is — then alternately, I’d suggest a few things. For one, I’d make it very, very clear that you do NOT want to reproduce any time soon, and if that’s what she wants with someone right now, she needs to choose someone else who wants that, and that isn’t you. Period. No negotiating, that’s just your bottom line. Next? You set another hard limit where you make clear you have felt sexually pressured, explain how, and that those behaviors need to stop, like yesterday. If and when she asks for something sexual and you say anything but yes — and because you want to — she needs to back the heck off and stay backed off. If she just “wants what she wants now” and can’t deal with that, she needs to know that is not the way it works in relationships with other people. She has the option to only think about her own wants, but not if she’s going to be in a relationship with you and want those things from you.
If you continue to be sexual with this person, I can’t say enough how important it obviously is that you either nix the kinds of sex which can create a pregnancy, or if you are going to do that, that you are religiously compliant with the methods of birth control you can use. While your choice in methods is limited, you can at least double up by both using condoms and practicing withdrawal, two methods you can be in charge of. Combining those two would bring the risk of pregnancy down to awfully close to zero. But frankly, were I in your shoes, I wouldn’t be taking any risks at all with the way it sounds like she’s been talking. Instead, I’d be keeping my body far away from this person.
I’d also suggest you find someone in your life you trust to tell about all of this, someone you know cares about you, is supportive of you, and who will respect the fact that no, it’s not okay for anyone to pressure you, no matter what your gender is. You’ve got my feedback, but having someone who knows you in-person to give theirs and also just have your back would be even better. If you do leave this person, and they go off the rails about it, then you also have someone to help you deal with that.
I think just getting away from this is your best choice, though. I’d see anything else as a concession, and one that not only puts you at risk of some unwanted consequences, but which also is likely to make sure you remain as unhappy as you are, or become even more unhappy.
If this person wants a partner where the relationship is mostly sexual, and not with the level of other things, including romance, that you want, she can find someone else who wants that same dynamic. If this person wants a partner who also wants to create a pregnancy with her right now, she can find someone like that, too. But that person is not you, obviously. And that’s something she needs to respect and accept, not try to change or dismiss. The same stuff goes for you, too, though: if you want a partner who does NOT do the things she’s doing, and who does consider what you want — and to whom that’s really important — you can have that, too.
Of course, you’re much more likely to find someone who wants a relationship where both of you matter than she is to find someone who only wants a relationship where she does. And no matter how you slice it, you’d be getting the better deal then whoever signs on to this kind of thing with her or than she would. Nobody wins in one-sided relationships: everybody gets cheated, because that just doesn’t offer anyone the really good stuff we can share with someone else.
If you need some motivation for getting gone, know that this relationship is likely keeping you from interactions and openness which could open the door to a much healthier, happier relationship without these dynamics. One where the other person wanted the same kinds of things you do, or when they didn’t, totally honored the fact that you don’t. One where no one is pressuring anyone for anything, including sex or babies. One where when you said you really did not want something or were not ready for something, rather than the other person walking all over you, they’d take that seriously and do their dardnest to make sure they were not putting you in the position of ever having to do anything you didn’t want to do or didn’t feel ready for. One where the other person may want what they want, but they care a whole lot about what you want — and don’t want — too.
Wouldn’t that be awesome? You bet it would. Wouldn’t it suck to miss out on something so awesome because you chose to stay in something so miserable? Hells, yes.
So, no you probably can’t change her mind, and probably can’t change her behavior, either. But you can certainly change how much you’re impacted by it, or if you are at all by opting out. That is something that you have the power and ability to do. You said this has been off-again, on-again. I think it’s past time to turn it off and leave it off.
Along with my very best wishes, I’m going to leave you a few links I think might help you evaluate all of this, make some positive moves that really are best for you, and know more of what to look for in healthy interactions and relationships:
- Hello, Sailor! How to Build, Board and Navigate a Healthy Relationship
- Does Your Relationship Need a Checkup?
- Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent
- Hey, Boyfriend! Male Reproductive Choices
- Safer Sex…for Your Heart
- I Want It NOW!