No is a Complete Sentence

Q. Is it bad to have friends with benefits? I am new to having sex as of a year or so ago, and I’ve only had sex with two people, many times. I’m only 18, but the two people I’ve had sex with were (and are — I’m having sex with someone presently) not my boyfriends. Is it bad if I’m just trying to learn? Should the guy always be the one to teach the girl?

A. Can I tell you the most magical phrase in the world?

“No” is a complete sentence.

Because that is the answer to most of your question. No. No, it is not wrong to have sex with people who are not your boyfriend; no, it is not the guy who should teach the girl; and no, it is not wrong to have casual sex.


It’s a magical, freeing word.

No does not require explanation or dissection. Nor justification. It just requires that you digest those syllables and the intention that follows, letting no ring off your tongue and settling in the fact that it is damn well enough. No. Say it over and over with me. No.

Of course, even with no, we don’t really have the why behind the power of no in your particular situation, which makes it worth exploring. Really. There is so much to filter through, to parse and explain the why and the how, to tell you that socialization is a mean, drunk bastard who takes no prisoners, requiring standards of “decency” that women are forced to try and live up to (and never, ever, ever able to). Only certain bodies receive these requirements while others never have to worry.

Do you know what bell hooks once said?

Men celebrated our sexual liberation — our willingness to freely give and enjoy blow jobs and group sex, our willingness to experiment with anal penetration — but ultimately many males revolted when we stated that our bodies were territories that they could not occupy at will. Men who were ready for female sexual liberation if it meant free pussy, no strings attached, were rarely ready for feminist female sexual agency. This agency gave us the right to say yes to sex, but it also empowered us to say no.

There it is again! That magical word that holds more power than any goddamn thing in this world. No. No. No.

So my love, is it bad to have friends with benefits? To have sex with someone or multiple someones to whom your heart is not completely wedded or committed to? Or to have sex at all?


That’s it. That’s all the explanation needed, all the justification you will ever need to give. You, of course, will be prodded and poked, implored for more, and asked to define and explain yourself because part of the bargain of being a woman is always having to explain yourself. It is a privilege to be able to speak with certainty and have it accepted as a hands-down truth, to have it accepted on the validity that it is good enough as is. Definitive. Immutable.

You do not have this. You must demand this.

You can do this on the basis of believing that no, in all its singular entirety is a complete sentence. That you owe no explanations to those who do not deserve them and more importantly, to yourself. You do not need a justification for your choices, only the confidence to believe that if you act in good faith, in kindness, and in what it is you believe to be true, that that is the only justification you will ever need. Not socially accepted norms that protect you from judgement (because you will be judged anyway). Not compromises that soften the blow of what you choose to do (because you will be judged anyway) and certainly not any magical mathematical equation of sex partners that will tell you you’re following the mean (because, well, you get the point).

And as much as you say your resolute no when you make your choices, remember to say yes to the things that make you alive. Say yes to pleasure, to fuck-ups, to learning and muddling, to all that it is that you are hoping for.

But until then, just remember that one magical word.



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