Better sex | Consent and boundaries

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Setting boundaries around sex means deciding what you want and need to feel great with the person you’re with – both in terms of what you want to receive, but also what you’re happy to give.

Consent happens within that context. You’d really like to do something, but does the person you’re with feel like doing that, with you, right now? And you’re looking for enthusiasm here, not just someone going along with what you want. After all, if the person you’re with doesn’t feel positive or, even better, hugely excited about what you’re suggesting, if you care for them, why would you do it? And if you don’t care for them, what are you doing?

Sex is supposed to be sexy for everyone involved, whether it’s a one-night stand, a group event or slow, deep love with a life partner. It can be transcendent and make us feel our most powerful and alive, but also our most vulnerable… Watch the face of someone having an orgasm and you’ll see how much it can be a moment of letting go – and that often means being emotionally, as well as physically, naked. We’re raw and can bruise easily. 

So it’s worth taking care, slowing down and treating sex with respect, because it is fundamental to who we are – and it can make or break us or indeed the person we’re with.

Why do we go too far?

While alcohol is the devil on the shoulder of many a good intention, it’s by no means the only reason we do things that are beyond boundaries.

Wanting to be loved or to please someone else or simply because we’re curious about something new can all be reasons for overextending ourselves and stepping too far from our comfort zone. 

Low self-esteem also lies behind many a sexual misadventure. When we truly value ourselves and our bodies, nothing and no one is going to make us risk physical or emotional hurt. But if we need validation from someone else to prove our worth, or we’ve got something to prove ourselves, we’re more likely to compromise ourselves and stray from the path that is genuinely the truth of what we need and want.

Share what’s hot – and what’s not

Communication is everything. Being able to discuss consent and boundaries in a way that honours your and someone else’s pleasure, health and wellbeing in a loving and caring way is the cornerstone of a great sexual relationship, whether it’s a short or long-term thing.

Never assume that you know what your partner wants or that they can read your mind. You each have a responsibility for your own pleasure and boundaries and, even with a long-term partner, there’s value in knowing what’s really, really wanted and needed in the moment, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-forever routine.

So slow things down and check in with each other from time to time. Is this good? Do you want me to carry on? Do you want more? If the answer’s Yes, the teasing and tantalising nature of those questions as you pause, mid flow, can be irresistible (Yes, yes, yes – don’t stop!) But equally, you create the space for someone to reconnect with themselves and confirm that it’s still a green light or whether a pause for breath or stopping altogether would be preferable.

Alternatively, if you don’t hear the question, just let the other person know that what they’re doing is appreciated. Everyone likes positive feedback and it will remind them to check in too.

Boundaries change – and so does consent

Although some boundaries may be set in stone, others have flexibility, depending on your mood, energy levels, who you’re with and where you are.

If they move, everyone needs to be happy with the new direction and that means checking in. And even if boundaries don’t change, it’s good that everyone involved is still enthusiastic about what’s happening. Mutual consent means a big Yes every step of the way.

Can you handle the ‘No’?

That little word can have a big impact. It can feel like getting told off, being put down or criticised. It can create feelings of rejection, frustration, anger, shame or sadness – and during sex, in those passionate moments of self-expression, No can cut to the quick.

These are challenging feelings and it’s easy to blame the other person for making us feel them, rather than owning them and looking at ourselves to see where they come from.

That’s why it can be harder to accommodate someone else’s boundaries when they don’t dovetail neatly in with our own wants and desires.

Creating a sexual situation or relationship where No isn’t a criticism and you both feel able to say it without fear of hurting the other is a fantastic place to be.

Why ‘no’ is great news

When No is part of your vocabulary it means you also have a Yes you can both trust – the green light, full steam ahead, ‘let’s get it on’ consent from someone who is genuinely willing to do THAT with YOU! Brilliant!

Equally, a No today might be a resounding Yes! tomorrow. Or it might not. Respecting someone’s boundaries means allowing them to be who they really are, without pretence, and to feel safe and supported in the process.

And a good lover will do the same for you.

Image: Michael Prewett