Whether you’ve been with your partner for years or are prepping for date number one, it’s never too late or too early to talk about your go-tos and no-gos in the sheets. Boundaries are an important part of any sexual relationship. They give you and your partner the freedom to experiment as much—or as little—as you want. The key is to experiment within a safe set of limits. You’ve probably heard about setting boundaries from every self-help book on the market, but how do you set boundaries in the bedroom? How do you discover what your boundaries even are?
As an intimacy coordinator, I work with actors and entertainment professionals to figure out just that. Here are five effective ways I’ve learned to discover and discuss boundaries that you can carry into your very own bedroom.
1. Find out what feels good to you
The first step in setting boundaries is discovering what your boundaries are, both mentally and physically. Only you can know the intricacies of your history, your traumas, your fantasies, and how each of those manifests in your body. Allowing yourself to experiment, literally (through sexual acts, use of toys, or masturbation) or figuratively (through journaling, media, or literature), is absolutely imperative.
Discovering your boundaries means knowing what you’re comfortable with emotionally, too. Take note of what kind of media makes you lean in and what kind of language really gets you going. (Who else is ready for Bridgerton season 3?) Notice what your mind drifts to when you’re spending time on self-pleasure. These are all key indicators of the preferences of your psyche. One person may enjoy vocal domination and being commanded. For another, this same language can set off alarm bells and ruin the mood altogether.
Your boundaries and preferences can change from day to day and from moment to moment. You must be in tune with them to communicate properly with your partner.
2. Show, and then tell your partner where and how you like to be touched
Once you’ve begun to discover what you like, the next step is to share those discoveries with your partner. On set, we do this through what we call a “boundary exercise.” In these exercises, Partner A shows Partner B where they are giving consent to be touched by making smooth motions over their own body with their hands. Partner B then vocally repeats everywhere they saw Partner A touch to confirm their understanding. While you and your boo don’t need to be quite as technical, it is important for you both to know what you like and what is off the table. Allow a little time for a “watch me” moment while things get hot and heavy. Odds are, this will have your partner paying close attention and emulating exactly what it is you show them. Ooh-la-la!
3. Get Comfortable with saying and hearing the word “no”
Saying no can be hard. The urge to just go with it can be strong, especially if you’re already comfortable with the person you’re seeing. It’s one of those, “If I’ve let them do this before, I have to again, right?” Absolutely not.
In order for consent to be truly granted, it must be freely given, enthusiastic, and allowed to be fluid. Just because you’ve tried and even liked a position before doesn’t mean that your pasta-filled stomach can handle it right now. If your partner says “no,” the answer is no. Maybe they’re open to a different position instead. Perhaps they’re just not feeling it tonight. So often, we feel like somebody telling us “no” is a rejection. There are negative connotations and feelings attached to that. What it really means is that the person is putting up a boundary to take care of themselves.
Framing boundaries in a positive light and offering up alternatives can keep you in the mood when you want to continue but need something to change. Rather than saying, “I don’t like when you do this,” you could say, “I like it when you do this instead.”
4. Create a “button”
A button, otherwise known as a safe word, operates as a kind of fire alarm. Has something gone too far? Was that last spank a little too hard? Call, “button.”
“Button” is a term used on many sets to bring an immediate pause to action, particularly as it relates to intimacy and violence. Of course, your button can be anything you want if it’s unique enough to stand out. Decide on “sunflower,” “cactus,” or whatever idea floats your boat. Just make sure that you both know this word brings whatever is happening to a halt. A button can be a great way to note that you’re too tired and need a quick break or that the position hurts and you need to find a new one. Nobody wants to hurt someone without knowing it. You don’t want to overthink while you’re supposed to be feeling sexy and free. When you know you have a way out should anything go wrong, the true freedom to relax and be in the moment can finally set in.
5. Build a container of choices
Sex isn’t meant to be calculated, but it is meant to be safe. Building a container of choices with your partner can help turn up the heat—without fear that they’ll introduce something you’ve never discussed before. You may take a moment to lay out the toys and restraints you’re comfortable being used or simply say you’d like to be on top tonight. If everyone is on the same page, explore to your heart’s delight! Having a metaphorical box of tricks is useful for those moments when you want to push your limits and experiment, but only within a certain range.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your boundary-setting journey or feel comfortable taking control of your desires, your boundaries are perfect as they are and don’t need to be justified. Sex is like dessert—what you like is what you like. Finding out what flavors you might want to try and combine is exciting, as long as consent is always present! Happy boundary-setting!