Getting to know a new partner in an ~intimate~ way is a sexy and exciting experience: you get to explore each other's bodies, discover each other's turn-ons, and delve into each other's fantasies. But before you do that, it's important to set sexual boundaries so you're both on the same page about what is — and perhaps more importantly, is not — OK to do in the bedroom.
"Setting sexual boundaries in a new relationship is about an individual stepping into their own power, and communicating their truth," Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT, tells Bustle. "Honest and authentic communication is really the cornerstone of any successful relationship. Therefore, expressing what feels comfortable and what doesn’t work, sexually, is the first step to developing a lasting connection. And, sex becomes a lot more fun and enjoyable when both partners feel safe enough to say what they like, what they are into, what turns them off, etc."
Although setting boundaries in the bedroom may not sound super erotic, the truth is that being upfront about your boundaries allows you to have sex that's emotionally safer, and thus has the potential to be even hotter and more satisfying. Before you can communicate your boundaries to a partner, however, you have to be aware of what they are yourself — which only happens through sexual exploration (during solo and partnered play) and experience.
"Setting boundaries with your partner really starts with exploring and knowing boundaries for yourself," Jor-El Caraballo, relationship expert and co-creator at Viva Wellness, tells Bustle. "Of course, communication is important but we all have a lot to unpack individually to better understand our selves, desires and arousal patterns. Allowing yourself to explore either directly (through sex acts, etc.) or indirectly (through fantasies, porn, being a bystander in some respect) is necessary."
The more time you spend getting in tune with your own body — its wants, needs, likes, and dislikes — the better you'll be able to both understand and articulate any sexual boundaries you may have. From there, it's all about how you communicate those boundaries to a new sexual partner.
How To Start A Conversation About Sexual Boundaries
Setting sexual boundaries, particularly with a new partner, can feel understandably daunting. After all, it sounds like it would be a conversation that's inherently negative and full of "don'ts." The reality, however, is that a convo about your bedroom boundaries doesn't have to feel negative — especially if you start by framing the conversation as a simple discussion of what you both *enjoy* sexually.
"Keep it light and simple at first — a what-are-you-into kind of conversation," Kayla Lords, sexpert for JackAndJillAdult.com and owner of Loving BDSM, a website and podcast that focuses on Dominance and submission (D/s) relationships, tells Bustle. "...By starting with the things you enjoy, it can feel easier to eliminate what you don't as the conversation progresses."
If you're looking for an easy way to start a conversation about your turn-ons, fantasies, and boundaries, try making something called a "yes/no/maybe" list. Write down any sexual acts that come to mind, and then both you and your partner take turns marking each as a yes, no, or maybe. You can also use sexual compatibility websites like Simpatic.us and Mojo Upgrade, or an app like XConfessions, to figure out what sexual interests you and your partner share, and what kinds of activities are off-limits.
"Not everything will be enjoyable or will be possible between both partners," Stacy Rybchin, founder and CEO of sexual health and wellness service My Secret Soiree, tells Bustle. "Just keep trying new things or expanding your sexual boundaries with your partner. Once you do start experimenting with more and more sexual play in the bedroom, make sure to check in with your partner to see if they also enjoyed themselves and discuss if there are any ways that the experience can be improved."
The most important thing to remember about setting sexual boundaries is that it's an ongoing process — not a one-time, catch-all conversation. As you become more intimate with your partner, you may discover new boundaries you have, or you may unearth some newfound sexual interests. If you want to build the healthiest sex life possible, be sure to continue communicating these desires and needs as they come up (and encourage your partner to do the same).
What *Not* To Do When Discussing Sexual Boundaries
Sexuality is something that's so intensely personal which, for some, makes it a difficult subject to open up about with a new partner. Although no one should ever feel judged for their sexual preferences and kinks, unfortunately, shame and sex often go hand-in-hand in our society. In order to make sure you're setting boundaries in a way that's positive and non-judgmental, it's crucial not to "yuck" your partner's "yum."
"If there’s something on their list that isn’t something you’ve considered, or think it’s for you, don’t judge them," intimacy expert Miyoko Rifkin tells Bustle. "Instead, ask questions about what makes the activity exciting or interesting to them. By allowing space for conversation, you avoid shaming them for something they like, and keep your options open for new adventures you might also enjoy!"
Even if you know a certain sex act is something you'd never want to try, asking your partner to explain what about it turns them on can help you get a better sense of what makes them tick, and it also allows them to feel safe in sharing their interests with you in the future. On the flip side, if you share something with your partner and they express that they aren't interested in trying that personally, you should never pressure them to "just try it."
"Do NOT pressure your partner into doing something that they are not comfortable with," Rybchin says. "Even if you explain all the positives or discuss the myths and your partner is still not interested in having that experience, it’s OK. There’s lots of ways to experience pleasure together."
In order for sex to be satisfying, safe, and consensual, open communication and mutual respect for each other's boundaries are absolutely crucial. You don't have to share every kink and turn-on with your partner, but it is important to feel comfortable communicating your boundaries (as well as your desires). So if you want to quickly heat things up with someone new, make it a priority to talk about your boundaries right away — and then you can feel comfortable and confident as you start exploring all the sexy things you do want to try together.