Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: Should We Set Boundaries in Relationships?

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When I first was asked this question, the answer seemed immediately obvious – yes, of course. Everyone has different expectations and ideas on what sex is. It’s important to be on the same page so that everyone involved has the best experience. But how true is this? In a generation where sex has seemingly lost its taboo, and ‘ghosting’ has become the norm, how ready are we to discuss sex in a relationship?

Firstly, I think it’s essential to establish what I mean by boundaries. It could be anything from kinks you’re okay and not okay with, to when you want to start having sex or anything else in between.

I wondered how easy it is in practice to discuss kinky boundaries with a new partner. To help shed light on the matter, I spoke to Dan*, a student who’s been in the BDSM community for the last six years, to see how important boundaries are for someone with kinks.

How important is it to you to get those boundaries in place?

“Boundaries are really important; you need to be careful. It’s nice to know what you’re getting into, for instance, if someone had a non-standard specific turn on. Everyone’s different.”

How soon would you set boundaries?

“It’s completely dependent on if it feels right. For some people it will be the first date; for others, it never comes up. There are some things that are outwardly displayed that can clue you into where you stand. If someone wears a lot of leather, they might [be in the community], or people into niche things like being a ‘little’ would dress a certain way. Although it isn’t always easy to spot someone in the community.”

While it seems to be a given someone with interests like Dan’s would need those boundaries setting early on, I wondered if that was the case for a typical singleton getting ready to date. I next spoke to Anna*, 21, a single-and-ready-to-mingle student, to get her position on the issue.

Why do you think it can be hard to set these boundaries early in a relationship? 

“Well, I think everyone should feel comfortable to talk about their bodies and what they want from sex, but there’s a fear of rejection. I wouldn’t want to jump straight in and scare them away, but ultimately it is my body; that’s on me. I choose what boundaries I have.”

What do you think causes that fear of rejection?

“I guess it’s trying to find the right time to do it. I don’t think it’s necessarily a first date topic, but a discussion is needed at the very least.”

While I agree it might not be a first date topic to have, I wondered how possible it is to change your boundaries once you’re further into the relationship. While it might seem easy to make adjustments as you’ve already established trust, it can be challenging too as new mum Shauna* discussed with me.

How have your boundaries changed?

“Since becoming a mum, a lot of things I was okay with before have changed. I don’t want to feel ‘cheap’ anymore; I like to be treated like a lady. I think it was hard for [my partner] to understand at first. He’d say, ‘well you were okay with it before?’ and now I’m trying to explain to him, but we’re getting there.”

Do you regret not setting boundaries before or do you wish you’d change anything? 

“In a way I do, it would have been a good practice to help adjust to what we’re going through now.”

Overall, I think setting boundaries is an essential marker of trust. While I’m not saying you have to start your first date with “Hi, I’m Bob, and I like feet”, it is key to feel safe enough to have those discussions with your partner. Whether it is non-verbal cues like Dan talked about or being open to discussing changes in your boundary like Shauna is doing, having these conversations will work to strengthen your relationship.

Courtney Flint-Taff