Ever had sex with someone just because it seemed rude not to?

Ever had polite sex?

I have.

I grew up in the sexually liberated 80s. I worked for Cosmopolitan magazine and was heavily influenced by the ‘Women can do anything men can’ feminist mantra of the time. Having casual sex was what you did. Women had the contraceptive pill and we’d fought for the right to have no-strings sex. It felt empowering to have sex with random men you didn’t care about.

That was the theory anyway. A lot of the time, my friends and I would find ourselves in a situation we didn’t really want to be in – but go ahead and have sex anyway. Call it politics sex or polite sex: we all ticked that box on more than a few occasions in our 20s. Some of the encounters were great. Some of them were OK. A lot were disappointing, sad, awful.

Having sex you don’t really want can leave you feeling sad, confused and ashamed of yourself. Even if you did fight for the right to have it.

Thank God young women today are woke, consent savvy and not doing stuff like that anymore, I’ve often thought over the years.

But women are still doing it.

In droves.

The topic came up with a couple of female friends: five of the six single women admitted to still having polite sex. I asked other friends, their daughters, their daughter’s friends. I asked my social media followers, ‘Have you ever had sex, just to be polite?’.

Yes, was the answer. God yes.

A UK Cosmopolitan magazine survey found 55 per cent of readers had recently had sex because they didn’t want to be rude.

‘Sometimes, it’s just easier to get it over with than to have to have that awkward conversation’ was a common comment.

Dating educator and author, Lalalaletmeexplain, has 250,000 Instagram followers and champions women’s sexual rights and the importance of clear consent.

She grimly agrees polite sex is still happening.

‘I feel sad knowing while we have come a long way, women are still just going along with sex at alarming rates. It really hasn’t come far enough,” she told me.

While we are far more empowered and educated now about consent and our right to say no, “it’s extremely complicated and in some ways on the rise because women and girls feel that they need to fulfil a man’s sexual needs in order to keep him.”

Polite sex is a hot topic

Films and TV shows hold a mirror up to real life and this is no exception.

‘How to Have Sex’ – the Bafta winning movie – tells the story of a young woman on holiday who is the last of her friends to still be a virgin. She goes along with sex for societal reasons and because she just doesn’t know how to say no. ‘Cat Person’ is another film that explores the disquieting nature of sexual politics.

Increased discussion and awareness around consent, boundaries, and respectful relationships, mean there is hope for positive change.

But we need to make change happen

Do it by keeping the conversation going – talk to other women, talk to the men in your life, join the debate on social media and in the comments section of articles like this.

If you have kids, lobby your school to offer sex education that includes talk about consent. In Holland, sex education starts at four-years-old and doesn’t just talk about the basics. Most Dutch teens are comfortable navigating sexual situations involving coercion or abuse and have positive first sex experiences.

Teach your son, male friends, boss and brother to look for ‘enthusiastic consent’. They shouldn’t just be on the alert for ‘no’ but check she is excited and proactive and wants sex as much as he does.

These are some of the stories women and men told me when I asked if they’d ever had sex and didn’t really want to.

Uncomfortable but necessary reading.


“I went on a holiday solo to a Greek island after a bad break-up. I wanted time to process what had happened and some ‘me time’.

I was in my 20s and a couple in their mid 30s befriended me. They listened to my sob story and said all the right things: I’d meet someone new, I was ‘hot’ and any guy in his right mind would love to go out with me. As the holiday went on, the conversation got a lot more personal. The compliments got more specific (‘Hasn’t she got beautiful breasts?’, the woman said to her husband, like I wasn’t in the room) and they started asking me about my sex life, what I’d tried and what I hadn’t.

I’m not stupid and on one level, I must have guessed where this might be leading, but I wanted the company and they were boosting my very battered ego.

On the second to last night, we’d all been drinking by the pool, and they suggested coming up to their room for a ‘special’ bottle of champagne. It was all such a cliché and I should have spotted what was going on a mile away. I was drunk when she started kissing me and then he did also. I didn’t fancy either of them, but they’d been nice to me and I’d never had a threesome and always wanted to have one. So, I went along with it – even when I sobered up and realised I hated what was happening. I didn’t want to be rude. I felt naive for not clocking what was going on and figured I’d look stupid if I stopped things at this stage. It wasn’t unpleasant: they were both good lovers and the sex was surprisingly vanilla. I doubt they had any idea of how violated and traumatised I felt afterwards. But I was vulnerable and they’d taken advantage of me.”


“Every female I know has what you’re calling polite sex. I’m 21 and for my generation sex isn’t a big deal. It almost feels childish to suddenly back out if sex was clearly something you were obviously going to have.

This is especially true if there are drugs involved, which there often are in my friendship group. If you’ve been doing lines of coke with a guy all night, you know the expectation is that you’ll end up having sex together. You’d be stupid not to know this. The drugs are free for a reason.

I know all about consent and ‘no means no’ but this is different. I’d never let some guy force me into having sex I really didn’t want – especially sober. But we all know the real rules. You don’t have to say yes to agree to sex. It can be promised and implied by behaviour. If you go back to some guy’s room and you’ve been kissing all night, of course you’ll be expected to put out. I think the guy would find it really confusing if you didn’t.”


“This happened when I was in my late 20s and I’d like to think I’d respond differently now (I’m 52). I’d gone on a date with a girl who was a close friend of a good female friend of mine. The pressure was on for both of us.

We’d met before a few times and had a bit of lively banter: I think we both found each other attractive but had big egos and neither wanted to admit it.

We went out for dinner and ended up back at my place, kissing on the bed. I didn’t expect things to progress so fast but went along with it, as blokes do. She seemed to be enjoying herself and although she didn’t verbally give consent (you didn’t back then), helped guide me inside me.

A few minutes later, she said, ‘I’m not doing this. I’m just not enjoying it. Sorry’. She climbed off me (she was on top), put her clothes on and left without saying another word. I was stunned. What just happened? Was I a terrible lover? Was she put off by the size of my penis? What went wrong for her?

I rang my friend the next day and she said her reason was, ‘She just wasn’t feeling it’. My answer was ‘How rude! No-one does that: stops having sex right in the middle of it’. I was furious and insulted. Now, I look back and think what guts that took, to stop it – literally – mid thrust. I wish I still knew her to tell her how proud she should be that she did that: didn’t continue just to please me. Women didn’t do that back then. I have a daughter so hope like hell they do now.”


“This happened when I was young and using swinging sites. The woman I was chatting to asked if I wanted to see a picture and said not to worry if she wasn’t my type as she was overweight. Her picture was perfectly fine so I agreed to go around to see her.

When I got there, she looked a lot older and I didn’t fancy her at all. Her lips felt dry and wrinkly and she had a bit of stubble. It was off-putting to say the least, but I didn’t want to turn around and say I had to go because it would have been obvious and I might have hurt her feelings. So I had what you would call ‘polite’ sex.

I’m pretty sure this happened in reverse when I was using the sites: people went along with it rather than offend me by saying no.”


Photo by Persnickety Prints on Unsplash