Navigating sexual boundaries can be tricky. Sometimes it’s hard to even figure out what your sexual boundaries are, much less enforce them. Other times you don’t even know you have a boundary until just after someone has stepped over it. And then there are the times you know exactly what your boundaries are but you’ve been socialized as a woman to always be “nice” and not stand up for yourself, especially if it’s going to upset your sexual partner. Yeah, sexual boundaries can be really tricky — but knowing what yours are and enforcing them is essential for a healthy sex life.
One group of people that’s really good at setting sexual boundaries is dominatrixes. After all, their jobs revolve completely around the setting and obeying of their boundaries and those of their clients. “Women are often brought up to be people pleasers and appeasers,” Miss Couple, Head Mistress of La Domaine Esemar, the world's oldest BDSM training chateau, tells Bustle. “This tendency towards politeness often leads women down a path of compromising their boundaries. Well, I say to hell with that! It is important to give oneself permission to consider, know, and assert one's boundaries.”
And while this advice is good for people of any gender, I’m sharing it particularly for women and feminine-presenting people who have been through the socialization I touched on above. In addition to being told to “be nice,” we’re rarely taught how to say “no” and how to say “yes.” We’re taught that men and masculine-presenting people are the ones who not only are allowed to but should call the shots in sexual situations. And Miss Couple, along with Miss Deirdre, a pro-switch in New York City, are living proof that women can be just as in charge as in the bedroom (or dungeon) as any man. I take inspiration from their ability to be clear and direct in all aspect of their lives, but especially when it comes to sex. Here's their best advice on setting boundaries:
1. Talk About It Right Away
Miss Deirdre says the best first step to negotiating boundaries is to have an straight up conversation about it.
“I think it's particularly difficult for women to declare sexual boundaries because we are expected to be as accommodating as possible in every arena of our lives, including the bedroom,” Miss Deirdre tells Bustle. “As a kinky sex worker, I negotiate what I'm willing to do with a partner not only sexually but within BDSM play. I have this discussion upfront, over a glass of wine or tea, when I'm meeting someone new.”
2. Do A “Yes, No, Maybe” Exercise
Miss Couple suggests starting out with a “Yes, No, Maybe” exercise in order to make talking about what can be a tricky subject a little bit easier for both parties.
“A good way to broach the topic would be to ask your partner to write up a list of sexual scenarios in which they can envision themselves with you (for example "69", Anal sex, watersports, sex in public, playing with bondage…etc),” Miss Couple says. “You write up a similar list, and then share them, without judgement! You then can go through each other's lists and give a ‘Yes’ ‘No’ or ‘Maybe’ to wanting to try out that sex act or scenario. As a reward for completing the task, take all the ‘Yes’ answers, write them on pieces of paper, pick one out of a hat, and try it that night!”
3. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Miss Couple suggests another variation on the “Yes, No, Maybe” game for people who are looking to practice setting boundaries. In this version, you and your partner take turns asking if you can do things to each other. Miss Couple says, “they can be as mundane as asking to braid someone's hair to as intimate as touching one's genitals.” For each question, answer “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.”
“For the ‘Yes’ answers, the person will go ahead and do it, for the ‘No’ answers, the questioner will ask another question (until they get a yes), and for the ‘Maybe’ answers, the questioner will ask another question but perhaps ask again later,” Miss Couple says. “This sounds very simple, but for those who know the feeling of the voice in their head screaming ‘NO I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS’ and the polite girl saying ‘Sure, go ahead,’ or the feeling that Ursula stole your voice, you will understand the value of practicing active consent.”
4. Be Explicit
Miss Deirdre walks through what she’ll be doing with each client, step-by-step. She suggests that her method can work well for lay people, especially if they’re in a long-term relationship and are comfortable talking about sex already. “I declare what my standards are for my safety,” Miss Deirdre says. “You should too.”
“This could be as simple as ‘I don't like anal, but I love sitting on your face’ or ‘I love being called a good girl but slut makes me uncomfortable,’” she says. “Or this could be as complex as ‘I enjoy anal stimulation. Let's begin with your gloved and lubed finger to begin with before we move onto my favorite glass plug. Next I'll have you switch to my inflatable plug, a few squeezes should do. After that, we can try your cock but if I'm not open enough we'll have to stop and move onto something else fun. Let's see how it goes!’"
5. Bring It Up In A Sexy Way
If you’re intimidated by the thought of being so explicit and direct or you’re feeling shy or you just don’t want to scare off a new partner, Miss Deirdre suggests talking about it in a sexy way.
“You can subtly yet effectively initiate this conversation by whispering what you do want when the situation begins to warm,” Miss Deirdre says. “Having sex is fun and talking about it should be too.”
6. Redirection, Communication, And Positive Reinforcement
If a new partner does something you really don’t like, Miss Deirdre recommends a three-step approach: Redirection, communication, and positive reinforcement.
“Sometimes you'll find a partner who tries something new that immediately turns you off,” Miss Deirdre explains. “These unforeseeable moments can be remedied with immediate redirection combined with a quick word on your distaste for it. Positively reinforcing what you do enjoy will strike the proper chords in any lover worth keeping.”
7. Don’t Tolerate Disrespect
Finally, if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, it’s time to say goodbye. “It is a privilege for anyone to interact with you, in whatever ways you deem appropriate and enjoyable,” Miss Couple says.
Miss Deirdre agrees. “Remember, if being decent, transparent, and open about your sexual expectations and boundaries doesn't result in respect...toss that loser out," she says. "No exceptions. No refund.”
In other words: Bye, Felipe. Mistress says so.