Today’s Solutions: September 25, 2022

 

Establishing boundaries is an essential part of leading a healthy, satisfying, and fulfilling sex life. We’ve shared stories in the past about setting boundaries when it comes to personal relationships, and for work (a prevailing issue for many of us, especially as more and more people have the option to work from home). However, there are a set of boundaries that are incredibly important that we have not yet touched on: sexual boundaries.

In general, it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while, but ignoring what makes you feel safe during sex out of obligation, or just to please your partner could be a dangerously slippery slope. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try new and exciting things—it simply means that you do not have to engage in any activity that you’re not into or curious about, and the same goes for your partner. 

Navigating sensitive interactions during sex would be less confusing if all parties involved worked to establish their own boundaries and understand their partner’s. According to psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist Silva Neves, “A personal boundary is the line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in relationships with others, with romantic and sexual partners, and also with friends, family members, and peers.” Of course, determining and discussing boundaries is much easier said than done, so here’s some helpful advice to guide you.

What are boundaries?

“Boundaries that are healthy [and] are well communicated [can] shift over time,” says psychologist Dr. Kelly Donohoe. The dynamic nature of sexual boundaries means that it’s even more important to regularly check in with yourself to ensure that you’re still comfortable with the boundaries you and your partner previously set. 

When it comes to sex, there are two kinds of boundaries: explicit and implicit.

What’s the difference between explicit and implicit boundaries?

Explicit boundaries are about your personal preferences, and that have been clearly and directly communicated with your partner. An example would be, “doggy-style is off limits.” 

Implicit boundaries tend to have blurrier lines, because they are assumed boundaries that are based on the way we function within a society. “They are related to human rights, legal rights, and the accepted codes of socialization,” Neves explains. “For example, we all know that hitting someone is crossing a boundary, and this does not need to be explicitly indicated.” However, Lorrae Bradbury, a sex coach and founder of the sex-positive site, Slutty Girl Problems, points out that boundaries that someone thinks are obvious may not be so clearly defined to their partner, leading to their partner crossing an implicit boundary without meaning to or realizing it. 

Knowing the difference between implicit and explicit boundaries is crucial, “because if you’re confused about them, you may not recognize that you’re being abused,” says Neves. “For example, some people may say: ‘He’s making me feel bad, but I know he loves me,’ If someone makes you feel bad, they have breached an implicit boundary and manipulated you into making you believe it is for love.”

To determine what your boundaries are, you cannot ignore your discomfort. If you’re engaging in something that makes you feel uncomfortable, say: “I’m uncomfortable and I want to stop now.” Declaring boundaries can be difficult, so it’s also important to pay attention to your partner. If you notice that they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves then don’t just assume everything is alright. Check in with them.

Setting boundaries and reaffirming them

These days, it’s common to get to know someone by texting before meeting them in person. This is the perfect chance to set your expectations. “Where you meet, what you’re looking for, and how you think the night might end are all fair game. In sex we must set boundaries around what we expect, like, and how comfortable we are in order to have the best experience,” Donohoe explains.

Because boundaries can shift, it’s important to reaffirm the boundaries you have set in the past during and after interactions. These conversations can happen privately in your head as you rehash where you’re at, or with a partner if the situation calls for it. As Bradbury expresses, “you don’t need to explain your reasons or context for your boundaries. Your boundaries are valid and don’t require any further explanation, there’s no need to apologize for setting a boundary.”

If someone fails to adhere to your boundaries during sex, “don’t be afraid to stop it. It is essential,” says Neves. For these situations, here’s a statement to use as a guide: “I said it before, and I wanted you to hear it again and remember it: I don’t like doggy-style, so please do not ask me to do this. Are you clear that this must not happen again?”

If you have reaffirmed the boundary and your partner continues to disrespect it (or vice versa), then this constitutes rape. For a positive sexual encounter, whether they’re explicit or implicit, the only thing either party is obliged to do is to respect the boundaries they’ve set for themselves, and to adhere to the boundaries that their partner has set. 

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