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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Sexplanations: Abstinence and how to politely decline

Sexplanations is an anonymous Q&A column to increase access to information regarding sex, sexual health, sexuality, relationships and the promotion of sexual respect at Grinnell College. Questions are answered collaboratively by the Sexual Health Information Center (SHIC), the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) and the Office of Wellness and Prevention. Submit questions at

Will I be limited in my relationships if I choose not to have sex? 

— Abstinent and Admiring

This is an important question. Personal choices about our bodies, including sexual choices, can sometimes feel limiting in any relationship, so we’re glad you asked! Sex is just one of many ways to feel intimate with someone, and what’s most important in a relationship, regardless of whether or not you’re having sex, are boundaries, comfort, respect and consent. This should be true for every aspect of a relationship beyond sex, even in non-romantic relationships.

For some, having sex seems to be the absolute pinnacle of intimacy and release, romantic relationship or not. Others have no or little sexual desire or choose celibacy. Ultimately, the story of sex as a defining component of any “true” relationship is bogus. Relationships take infinitely many beautiful and fulfilling forms where sex either has no place, or comes and goes.

You can always talk about this explicitly with your partner. “I’m not comfortable with [insert sexual act].” Or, “I don’t want to do [sexual act] right now.” Even if talking explicitly seems uncomfortable, it’ll be the best way to communicate and ensure your wishes are being accepted. It’s totally okay if you change your mind or feel differently about anything at any point in time — a good partner will respect that (and you should respect their boundaries and choices they make about their body too!)

A relationship without sex is not a denial of closeness or connection. It just means that you get to pursue intimacy in ways that go beyond popular understandings of what intimacy looks like, and that is some good shit! Ultimately, it is your body and your choice and those you hold the most valuable relationships with will respect that. 

How do you tell someone you just want to be friends without saying it outright?

— Flustered Friend

Hi Flustered Friend! It can be hard to not feel the same way about someone! You want to respect the other person’s feelings and be true to your own — it’s an awkward situation and can be hard to handle.

But it’s important to remember that not everyone communicates in the same way, and if you’re interested in maintaining a friendship, communication is key. You could avoid saying things that would convey interest (or alternatively, say or do things that would subtly communicate disinterest), but their communication style, personality, feelings, experiences or a million other factors could further muddy their understanding of the situation. 

If you want them to know you’re just interested in being friends, being direct might be the quickest and easiest way to do it. As your friend, they should appreciate that you’re being clear about your feelings and acknowledging theirs. Telling them doesn’t have to be a big thing! They may have already expressed their feelings to you — in that case, you can definitely just emphasize how much you value their friendship, but that you aren’t interested in any other type of relationship. 

If you’re just picking up vibes, or have heard rumors from other people, you could wait for your friend to bring it up (rumors aren’t always true!). Or, if you’re feeling like it’s hanging over your friendship, preemptively (but casually) bring it up. I’d try something like:

“Hey! I’ve heard/felt like you might be interested in something other than friendship (be straight up!) — I love A, B and C about you/our relationship (emphasize that friendship), and I could be totally off base here (1. give them an out and 2. you could actually be wrong!), but I wanted to let you know that I’m just interested in maintaining our friendship because I care about you, and don’t want things to be awkward between us (let them know why you’re bringing it up).”

This week someone asked about fun on and off campus date ideas in Grinnell. We thought we should ask YOU! Submit your answers via the link provided in the column description, and a 40 dollar gift card to Prairie Canary will be given to the best or most creative idea the first week after fall break!

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