Think about some of the key ingredients for good sex. Being comfortable and feeling safe are probably two we can all agree on. A way to create a sexual environment that feels comfortable and safe is by having sexual boundaries in place. And no, boundaries aren’t just for mental health, you can have them during sexy time too. Boundaries can help ensure sex is consensual and enjoyable for both you and your partner.
To throw in a definition, sexual boundaries are essentially when you set limits on what you’re willing to do sexually. There are two main types—implicit and explicit sexual boundaries.
Explicit boundaries are when you state your needs or communicate them clearly. On the other hand, implicit boundaries have more gray areas. They may be based on assumptions or social norms. We’re going to focus on the importance of setting explicit sexual boundaries and hear examples of ones you can share with your partner straight from the experts.
Examples of Sexual Boundaries
STIs and Family Planning
One important explicit boundary, and perhaps the first you should consider setting is around sexually transmitted diseases, family planning, and reproductive health, says Chanta Blue, a sexuality & relationship therapist based in Montclair, New Jersey.
“Discussions about past sexual history (not body counts) and future family planning goals (if any) will help you determine how often you want to go get tested for STIs and whether or not you want to use barrier methods during sex,” she explains.
Discussing STIs, in particular, can be an awkward conversation to have and according to a poll by the Women’s Health Policy, one in eight respondents said they were uncomfortable talking about STIs with a sexual partner, while one in seven didn’t want to discuss them with a doctor. Although the conversation may be difficult, it’s certainly worth having. The repercussions of getting pregnant before you’re ready during this time of economic instability and nationwide abortion bans is also a reason to enforce boundaries around using contraception.
Autonomy and Individuality
It’s easy to feel like you have to try sexual activities that your partner wants to engage in. Yes, it’s good to be open-minded and want to please your partner, but don’t forget that your needs matter too. Autonomy and individuality are another example of sexual boundaries to set, Blue tells ESSENCE.
“We still need to maintain our own sense of identity and not only operate in a symbiotic dynamic, which is great at the beginning of a relationship, but isn’t sustainable,” Blue explains. “Your partner is not going to be into all of the freaky things you’re into and vice versa. And that’s OK. You can respect their wants and desires without always having to engage in them yourself.”
Consent looks different for every person, but the common denominator is clearly and explicitly agreeing to any form of sexual activity taking place. Whether you’re in a committed relationship or having casual sex, consent is still essential says Eliza Boquin, a licensed relationship and sex therapist and owner of The Flow & Ease Healing Center based in Houston.
“There is this idea that committed relationships equate to having full access to our partner’s body whenever we want,” says Boquin. “The truth is, your partner is still allowed to say ‘no’ when they don’t want to be sexual and they shouldn’t be coerced into having it.”
She advises sexual partners to talk about acts they want to explore beforehand. “Springing a new toy, position, or kink activity onto your partner during sex without previous discussion is a big mistake.”
Enforcing Boundaries in The Bedroom
What happens when a sexual partner doesn’t respect your boundaries? That’s when it’s time to strongly enforce them. “Your well-being is non-negotiable,” says Boquin. “If your partner isn’t as invested in your sexual health as you are, then this is a big red flag. Always take full control of your health and unapologetically set and enforce boundaries that will protect it.” She says that it may be time to reevaluate the relationship or seek the help of a therapist.
A way to enforce a boundary someone isn’t respecting is to refuse to engage in sexual behaviors. For instance, if a partner wants to have sex without a condom and you’re uncomfortable with that, stand on your no and be ready to end the sexual encounter if they don’t budge. It can be hard to say no, especially when you feel guilt or don’t want to let the other person down.
“Remember that boundaries aren’t a form of punishment. They are designed to keep you safe from emotional or physical harm,” says Blue.
Keeping the Conversation Going
Boundaries should be an ongoing conversation and you can do this through weekly check-ins or whatever cadence works for you. “Discuss how each of you are feeling, what is stressing you out, what is going well, etc.,” Blue says. “Some questions I encourage partners to ask are, ‘Did I do anything last week that left you feeling rejected or unloved?’ ‘How are you feeling about our sex life?’ or ‘Did I do anything last week that left you feeling affirmed/loved?’’ Asking these types of questions ensures you’re on the same page about both your needs and your boundaries.
Remember, boundaries aren’t set in stone–they are allowed to change and likely will as you grow and evolve as a person in a relationship. How will you know when it’s time to revisit boundaries with your partner? According to Blue, “Whenever feelings, desires, or health statuses change.”