If someone close to you asked you to describe your ideal sexual experience, what kind of encounter would you describe? How would it begin? Who (and what) would be involved? Where would it take place? Most importantly, how would it feel?
For some, the answers to these questions may be easy to articulate. For others, not so much. Being able to voice our deepest personal needs and desires is not always an easy thing to do – especially when it comes to sex. Most will agree though, that identifying and expressing exactly what we want (and don’t want) in a sexual relationship with an intimate partner is crucial in establishing a healthy and fulfilling sex life- namely one characterized by consent and equal pleasure.
Identifying and setting personal boundaries in a sexual relationship gives both you and your partner the comfort and freedom to enter into sexual encounters without fear of making the other party uncomfortable. Working to understand both our partner’s and our own boundaries will ensure that any interactions in which you engage in the future will be both consensual and enjoyable. So, how do we go about setting sexual boundaries in a relationship?
Step 1: Identify What You Are (and Aren’t) Comfortable With
At the end of the day, no one knows you better than yourself. You know what you love – and what you hate. If you’re struggling to understand what exactly you’re comfortable with in the bedroom, one approach is to start by identifying those things you know you are NOT comfortable with. Think back on your past experiences. When has sex been good? When has it been great? On the other hand, when has sex left you feeling displeased? Unsatisfied? Has a partner ever done something or used particular language that didn’t sit well with you? What aspects of these encounters stood out to you- positive and negative? If it helps, make a list of what has felt good, and what hasn’t. This list doesn’t need to be overly extensive: the goal here is to help yourself identify where your boundaries lie – how far you are willing to go, and where you draw the line.
Step 2: Initiate a Conversation with Your Partner
You’ve heard it time and time again: when it comes to relationships, communication is key. Once you are able to identify your own personal wants and needs in relation to sex, the next step to setting sexual boundaries is clearly and candidly communicating those wants and needs to your partner. Sit down with your partner and open up a dialogue. Share your list, and ask your partner if he or she would be willing to create their own list and share it with you. Make sure to explain and discuss any points that seem ambiguous or confusing- you want to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page about what is and is not OK for you both.
If you are someone who is not in a long-term relationship or are worried about how exactly to begin a dialogue about setting sexual boundaries with your partner (whether it be a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, or a casual hookup), no need to fear. Here are a few examples of helpful starters and tips to build strong communication, courtesy of sex educator Cassandra Corrado:
- “What are some things you’ve always wanted to try?”
- “I’ve been wanting to try _____. Would you be interested in trying that with me?”
- “I really like it when you ____.”
- “____ is a firm “no” for me.”
- “I don’t like to be touched ____. You can touch me here/like this instead.”
- “Let’s set-up a safe word. How does ____ sound to you?”
- “We can try ____, but if I’m not into it, I’ll use our safe word.”
Conversations and communication such as this are paramount in establishing mutually consensual sex. Of course, the conversation should not stop here.
Step 3: Keep the Dialogue Going
Even after both you and your partner have expressed and discussed your likes, dislikes, wants, and needs pertaining to sex, it is imperative that you keep the conversation open. As humans we are constantly changing, and nothing- not even our sexual preferences- is exempt from this process of transformation. Perhaps you liked something in the past, but now, when you think about it, that something makes you uncomfortable. Truth be told, this is completely fine and totally normal. Just be sure to keep your partner informed and updated on what feels good to you, and vice-versa. What is important to remember is that we are all entitled to revoke consent at any time during any sexual relationship or encounter, no matter how long we’ve known someone or whether we said yes a million times before. Boundaries in a relationship change over time, but as long as we keep the dialogue with our partner going, we can be sure that consent and equal pleasure are present. After all, sex is only good if it is good for everyone.
Here at Good Clean Love, we believe that the best lives are fueled by loving relationships. Our Make It Good campaign is centered around three guiding pillars: consent, equal pleasure, and healthy ingredients, which we believe are vital to establishing positive, informed sexual relationships and conversations.
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