Against caution

According to her

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Recently, I took one of my procrastination plunges into YouTube and watched the latest video from my favourite channel, Oh Stephco!

In it, Stephanie, a Black woman in her late 30s, gives frank and funny anecdotes about navigating a world that does not always value her.

In this video, she speaks about a recent casual encounter that had left a bad taste in her mouth. She slept with a man she knew was uninterested in a long-term connection. She had just been in a period of unintentional celibacy and craved release.

Her expectations were not high. They would share a night and then part ways, perhaps staying casual acquaintances in the future.

What Stephanie did not expect was that the moment this man left her apartment the next morning, he blocked her everywhere. She was shocked and hurt.

To my annoyance, Stephanie’s comment section was filled with viewers admonishing her for having casual sex. If she felt so hurt by being discarded, she should have waited for several dates till the man proved himself worthy to “give her body” to.

I detest advice like this. I really do. It has a logic that is merely surface-level.

Many commenters spoke of not being “built” for one-night-stands or prolonged casual arrangements. They got attached and incredibly hurt when their interest wasn’t reciprocated. Stephanie herself spoke of having thoughts of intense self-hatred in response to the rejection.

So, if you know that rejection brings you immense pain, you should do your best to avoid it, right?

I don’t think so. I think this is a band-aid solution to a deeper emotional problem.

Sexual conservatism can minimize incidences of quick rejection, but it is not a foolproof plan against being discarded. Spouses can also disrespect partners or leave without a word.

But this argument doesn’t get to the heart of what I dislike about warnings to approach sex with emotional caution to avoid hurt. What this advice fails to account for is the reason behind the devastation.

When rejection triggers self-hatred, as it did with Stephanie, this is an indication that one’s foundation for self-love is quite shaky.

Of course, rejection can hurt for even the most self-adoring, especially when it is done as callously as immediate blocking after sex. But the difference between this leaving a sting and a gaping wound is whether one’s source of selfworth is outward assessment or internal belief.

To the commenters who preached emotional caution, I counter by preaching emotional strength.

The internal work of building a strong foundation of self-love is much like building a strong fortress. It takes time. It takes effort. But once the fortress is up, nothing can harm someone to the point of destruction.

Cautionary measures, like the arbitrary five-date-till-sex rule that one commenter suggested, sidestep this difficult internal work. This rule can also act as a restriction of one’s sexual agency, so that when one spontaneously follows their desires, the potential pain of rejection is accompanied by toxic shame.

Of course, casual sex can bring physical harm, as well as emotional. For this, a safety protocol, such as sharing your location or pictures of a potential partner with a friend, is necessary.

But for guarding one’s heart, it is my opinion and lived experience that building selflove brings more long-term, holistic wellness than the short-term avoidance of pain.

Ciku Gitonga is a third-year political-science student at the University of Ottawa. She moved from Nairobi, Kenya to Winnipeg with her family in 2016. Although her first love is fiction writing, she also dabbles in nonfiction.

Published in Volume 76, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 31, 2022)

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