When saying yes is easier than saying no

For years, my female friends and I have spoken, with knowing nods, about a sexual interaction we call “the place of no return.” It is a kind of sexual nuance that most women instinctively understand: the situation you thought you wanted, or maybe you actually never wanted, but somehow here you are and it’s happening and you desperately want out, but you know that at this point exiting the situation would be more difficult than simply lying there and waiting for it to be over. In other words: saying yes when we really mean no.

In my own life, I’ve had plenty of “no return” encounters, but there is one in particular that still makes me cringe. I was 19 and he was in his 30s, the older brother of a childhood classmate my friends and I fawned over as teenagers. I was home from college, old enough for him to notice, and he did, and then it was happening, and by then I was absolutely sure I didn’t want it to happen, but in some combination of fear (that I wasn’t as mature as he thought), shame (that I had let it get this far), and guilt (would I hurt his feelings?) I let it.

There are other names for this kind of sex: gray zone sex, in reference to that murky gray area of consent; begrudgingly consensual sex, because, you know, you don’t really want to do it but it’s probably easier to just get it over with; lukewarm sex, because you’re kind of “meh” about it; and, of course, bad sex, where the “bad” refers not to the perceived pleasure of it, but to the way you feel in the aftermath.