Sexual Boundaries: having boundaries is an essential piece in feeling safe in any relationship (friendship, with family, lover, etc.). Sexual boundaries is about knowing your limits and what you’re comfortable with, and being able to advocate for yourself as needed. Whether having sexual boundaries is speaking up, walking away, or identifying and asking for your needs. At the Center for for Growth / Sex Therapy in Philadelphia we believe there are 5 common types of boundaries: Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and sexual. These are all essential areas in protecting ourselves, and helping us define who we are, and who we want to surround ourselves with.
Implementing boundaries in our sexual relationships is just as essential as the other four areas, but less discussed and less visible, because sex in general is discussed less. Sex is definitely not less visible, it’s everywhere: internet, magazines, film, etc. However, what we typically see when sex is visible is the passion and the heat, we are not seeing if there’s was any negotiation of needs or limits, or a discussion on contraception. Regardless of the type of sexual relationship (monogamous, polyamorous, etc) boundaries indicate where distance is needed, where support is needed, and what limits are to not be crossed. We all individuals, and must take ownership over our own feelings, our own needs, and ourselves. Boundaries help us understand our similarities and differences from each other, and help us recognize where in a relationship we are separate as two people. I choose who I share my sexuality with, when and how I talk about sexuality, who I share my beliefs with. Sexual boundaries go beyond physical activity it includes jokes, comments, gestures, what I watch and listen to.
Emotions We are responsible for our own emotions and how we react, and so is our partner. For example, If I have an intense or highly emotional reaction to my partner giving me less affection randomly one afternoon, I may want to take a deep breath, and ask myself, “where is this coming from? Am I really angry with my partner for not giving me a hug? And if so, is my anger coming from somewhere else about affection?” It is important to honestly assess this for yourself, because you may be saving yourself from having an unnecessary fight with your partner. (when thinking blameful thoughts, ask yourself, what do I own here?”)
This type of responsibility and ownership of emotions goes both ways. Meaning, just like your are responsible for your emotions, so is your partner, and you need to let him/her practice this responsibility. You can’t “make” anyone feel a certain way and you can’t fix anyone either. How we feel and react to people and events is about us, and is on us. This mentality can help you as a partner be there as a support and listener to your partner’s thoughts and feelings, without feeling the need to find your magic wand and solve his/her problems.
What are your conditions? Add here: what do you need to feel aroused? This is important to know in order to get them met. For example, what do you need in order to be sexually intimate? What do you need to feel safe? For example, a newlywed mother may be too distracted and unsettled to have sex if she hears her newborn crying downstairs. Or for example, maybe a male partner who has been working on his performance anxiety has learned he needs a certain amount of foreplay before he feels ready to move to intercourse. These things need to be vocalized in order for them to be considered and met. None of us are mind readers, and a lot of assumptions can be made when even the simplest issues or concerns are not discussed openly. What do you need to feel aroused? The more of a road map you can give to your partner, the better for both of you! Whether you need more foreplay than your partner typically gives you, or you need the laundry done in order to have a clear mind and be in the moment, these things can be better met with communication to your partner.
What do you need to feel safe? Individuals who have suffered sexual trauma may have specific ways to help them feel more comfortable in a sexual moment, but again, this will not be met without the conditions being discuss and the boundaries established.
So once identified, how do we communicate our boundaries?There’s the option of straight communication, or the option of modeling your boundaries through your behavior, or a little bit of both. For the emotional piece: Once you have asked yourself and answered the question of “what do I own here,” simply explaining to your partner what came up for you in a simple example, as a way to explain to your partner your experience, not for blame but for education. For example “Kevin, when you say things to me like “calm down” I think you’re actually trying to tell me that I sound crazy, and I begin to feel ashamed and angry. I know this has to do with my mom telling me for years to “calm down,” and I never found that helpful. It would be great if you could just listen to me, I’m not looking for you to solve my problem.”
For the conditions: Speaking with your partner ahead of time about any concerns or needs you have around sex and intimacy is essential in creating a safe and comfortable experience for both you and your partner.
It is an absolute must that you and your partner give each other the respect for each other and for the relationship that you both deserve. The silver lining is, if you tell you partner some of the conditions that you need, and if he/she is not willing to meet those conditions, then you know ahead of time and loud and clear that this is relationship is not right for you, because your needs are not met, and your boundaries are not respected enough.
A way to initiate this conversation in advance. A great way to break the ice around this conversation is asking each other about past relationships, and even how many people have you been with? A great question, and a responsible one to follow up with is, “Is there anything about you or your past that I need to know about? Not only is this a great way to obtain any important information like health information, Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) formation, etc., but this is a way for you to then follow up with letting your partner know any needs or conditions you want him/her to know. Most likely after you ask your partner about his/her past, your partner will reciprocate and ask you the same question. This is you opportunity to share past trauma, future concerns about having sex with him/her, etc.
Even simply asking your partner, what are your likes, what are your dislikes in bed? This is a good question to ask before sex happens, maybe when the two of you are just alone watching a moment, or making out.
One option is in the moment:If you miss the opportunity to state your conditions or needs before hand, do not worry, it is never too late. The only time it is too late is when you say nothing about it all. Sometime we don’t know until we are in certain situations that we’re not as comfortable as we thought we would be, and that it is okay to speak up and say, “You know what, I want to stop.” Then explain or and/or ask for what you need: “I need to talk to you, and explain something. Or, can we turn the lights back on?”
The more honest you are with yourself about your limits and comfort zone, the clearer you can be with your partner about your boundaries. The clearer you can be with your partner about your boundaries, then firmer lines can be drawn, preventing assumptions and miscommunication.
Setting sexual boundaries can be scary, and is hard work. Boundaries can change, and can vary in importance at different times in your life. It requires trial and error in order to for you to find what works for you. Everyone has their own personal sense. The key is communication, permission to make mistakes, and being honest with yourself. The bottom line is this takes time, but it also takes action in order to find your own sexual boundaries.
If you are having trouble identifying, defining or setting sexual boundaries call Sex Therapy in Philadelphia / Center for Growth and set up an evaluation today. The phone number at Sex Therapy in Philadelphia / Center for Growth is (267) 324-9564