How To Negotiate Boundaries

I haven’t dated much and I am in a relationship with someone who has more experience than I do. Are there certain things that he is going to expect that I like to do or know how to do? What if I don’t? Do boundaries exclude these basic things? Help!

This is a great question! Boundaries are lines that you draw – like limits – in the bedroom. You always need to talk about your boundaries with new partners because it is unlikely that any two people have exactly the same boundaries. Boundaries can include both things we are uncomfortable doing, things we have tried and don’t like doing, things we absolutely hate, or even things we just don’t feel like doing that day. Boundaries can change over time – they can change immediately. Keeping a clear picture of what your partners boundaries are is very important.

How well do you know your partners boundaries?

Does your partner like to be called names? Are there certain names that are triggering for them to hear?

Does your partner like rough sex? How rough is “rough” – don’t talk on a scale of 1-10, discuss specific acts that you are interested in doing, and develop a safe word. (A safe word is something you can say to stop whatever it is you are doing immediately. Safe words are necessary within rougher play.)

Are there any sexual acts that your partner absolutely does not like to do? Are there any sexual acts that they have had a bad experience with in the past? Are there some things that your partner does not feel very confident with?

Does your partner use protection? What kind of protection does your partner want to use? Condoms are not always an assumed boundary – though they should be, particularly with new sexual partners. Talk about safety and sexual health when you discuss boundaries.

There are not certain things that your partner should “expect” you to do, but of course some people do develop a set of things they consider “normal” and they may not think about it. For many people, oral sex is a great example. Some people consider oral sex a regular part of their sexual routine. Others consider oral sex to be more intimate, or even something that they don’t like, or aren’t comfortable with. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy your sexuality.

Boundaries do not exclude basic things. We always need to seek consent with our partners. It is especially important to pick up on small and subtle cues with new partners who we may not know as well yet. It is also not expected that you know everything. Communicating what you like, what you know you don’t like, and everything in between, is very helpful in making sure that you have an open and healthy dialogue about your sexuality. Don’t be afraid of expressing how you feel. If your partner isn’t open to hearing it or pressures you in any way to do things that you are not comfortable with, that is not the right relationship for you to be in.

The important thing to remember is that every relationship starts fresh. Just because your partner might have more experience than you do, doesn’t mean he knows anything about your body. He’s going to have to learn, too, and you’re going to learn together.

Good luck!

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Role Models for Open Relationships

How do you picture your primary relationship and your other relationships to evolve over time as you get older? What when you’re say 40, or 50? We have few role models for open relationships at 50, maybe because it’s a relatively recent concept in the mainstream.

The concept of role models is a very interesting one and I think it’s incredibly important. If you don’t see others that are like you, doing what you want to do, there’s no one to look up to. There’s no “well this is how they did it, so I can get pointers from them” model. The more people you know the more of a community you can form and the more support you can get from those who make the same lifestyle choices you do. Without those people, I think, it’s a lot more difficult to push forward.

I think that like any other relationship, open relationships are ever-evolving and must be able to flex with whatever demands and struggles there are. Certainly what I face now is different than what I will face in my 30s, and my 40s, each new year bringing about new challenges and new rewards. I would suspect that my relationship will evolve based on my and my partners needs, and that other relationships will do the same.

As we figure out how to include others in our relationship and how to form other relationships we become more knowledgable about the balance between self and relationships. I’m certain that many relationships I have now, I won’t have when I am 40 or 50. I will have new relationships that I am sure will be satisfying in the same, or greater ways.

I think it’s important to help build that community and to help seek out mentors and role models by being open and honest about who you are and what you’re interested in doing. When you do that, you allow others to be open and honest with you as well. You never know what the people around you are thinking until you start to have that dialogue. And if you can’t find any particular role model that is doing what you’re doing, strive to become that person yourself, for someone else.

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How do you feel female?

I noticed you’ve mentioned in a few of your posts that you’re cis. I understand how one can feel like one is in the wrong body, but I’ve never understood how one can feel emotionally that one is male or female, if that makes any sense. I suppose my question is…how do you feel female/like a woman?

I thought about this a lot, and I couldn’t figure out a good way to explain it. I started thinking about happiness. Everyone knows what happiness feels like but different things make different people feel happy. You know when you’re happy, but you also know when you are not happy. Being “happy” and “not happy” are two distinct things. This isn’t the best example because generally speaking people view happy as “good” and “not happy” as bad, whereas “cis” and “trans” are neither good nor bad, they just vary along the gender spectrum.

Just as everyone has different things that make them happy, different people have things that make them feel like a woman. There are also some things that I can do that make me feel more like a woman. Doing these things may not make other people feel more like a woman, but they do to me.

I also have to consider in all of this that gender is socially constructed. That means that when we’re born we’re told what it means to be a man or a woman. We are told that there are only two genders and that there are certain ways to behave and if you go outside of those strict columns that you are doing something that the other gender would do. Some things are genderless, but most things aren’t, or can be “gendered.”

When I hear people talk about their experiences in being trans* I hear stories of them just knowing. Sometimes it takes a while to “just know” because of how hard we’re pushed into one category or the other. I definitely felt that way discovering my own sexual orientation (I don’t feel straight, but I do like boys, and everyone keeps telling me I’m straight… so I must be straight, right?)

I don’t know if there IS a good answer to this question. You know. But you also do things that tell you. You slip and fall into pre-constructed categories. Then you can either let those categories continue to define you as that gender, or you can see them as two separate things. “I am a girl and I like rough and tumbling” or “I am a girl but I like rough and tumbling.” Does that make sense? I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes the things around us cement the gender we feel we are, or they tell us something about what we feel we aren’t.

If that’s all sort of exhausting to think about, we’re on the same page. I am certain that there are more fluid ways of expressing this, but I’ve never read one before, so I’m sort of working from scratch here.

My identity as a woman is unique – I know that I am female – but it is also fluid and ever-changing in what that means to me.

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Can Open People Cheat?

If you can have sex with other people what is cheating in an open relationship?

Cheating can happen in any kind of relationship, even an open one. I think the most important thing to remember is that cheating is about doing something you know your partner would not be okay with.

Let’s say you really want to go sleep with someone else, and you’re in an open relationship. But  it’s within your boundaries that you do not have penetrative sex with anyone else but your partner. It would be cheating to go have sex with that other person because that is not allowed within the framework of your relationship.

This is why it is so important to discuss what your boundaries are with your partner, and express very clearly if there are things you aren’t okay with. I also think it’s important that you be open to the fact that your partner might do something that they didn’t know was wrong. When that happens, and if they open up about it, it can be great to use that mistake as a place to learn what not to do next time.

The problem is that many people make the assumption that cheating is cheating is cheating and that everyone starts with the same plain and simple rules for what cheating is. For the most part, it’s true. You might get a visceral reaction when you are doing something you know is wrong. It is much easier and safer to have a conversation about where your relationship is at and what you personally are comfortable with.

Breaking said rules also often means that the relationship is null and void. Everyone should make their own decisions when it comes to dealing with infidelity, but I personally believe that we give far too little leniency with those we say we love. If they love us, how could they hurt us? (If we loved them, how could we not give them the chance to grow?) Oh, now I’m just causing a fuss, because there’s no easy answer. Sometimes infidelity means that the boundaries of your relationship weren’t working, or that you and your partner weren’t working. It is worth asking “why?”

Sometimes we fudge the lines of what is okay because we want something badly enough that we excuse it. Let’s say you’re in a monogamous relationship and you are flirting with someone else. You know that flirting would not be okay with your partner, but you do it anyways, and you tell yourself “well it’s okay because I’m not hurting anyone and I like this guy as a friend.” You might not necessarily call this cheating, but you may be behaving in a way that could hurt your partner, or your relationship.

And to me, that’s not really very different.

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How do you tell someone you’re open?

If you open up your relationship, how do you choose whether to tell any of your friends? How do you tell if a particular friend would worth the risk of sharing this “news”? How do you go about having such a conversation?

This is a great question. Navigating conversations about the style of relationship you’re in can be tricky, especially if you feel awkward gauging what is appropriate. I think the first thing to do is gain a real confidence about your relationship. This can be said for all varieties of relationships. Own the choices that you make and be as confident as one can be that the choices you make are good ones. This will transfer through in conversations that you have about your relationship and may help people understand why you make the choices that you make.

There are a lot of stereotypes about open relationships and when discussing your own open relationship it can be difficult to not feel immediately judged. You should never have to feel like you are justifying your relationship to your friends. For me, that meant choosing who I wanted to tell based on my relationship with them and whether or not the conversation permitted discourse. More simply: Is there time to explain to them what it is and what it means, or are they going to take a small piece of information and make something up because I haven’t provided them with enough context?

As I became more comfortable answering questions and got used to what kinds of questions people had, I started to tell more people. If a friend didn’t “approve” of the relationship, then they didn’t approve of me, and they weren’t a friend. That hasn’t happened. I do have a few friends who are still a little wary on the details and, I think, would rather just not hear about it. That’s okay too. I am not my relationship and we can still be friends and talk about other things as long as they accept me.

More often than not I just won’t bring it up unless I feel particularly inspired to or unless the situation calls for it.

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Why should you care what people think about you and your relationship? That’s the obvious followup question. You shouldn’t care and you shouldn’t feel obligated to explain. But we’re human beings. It feels good to be understood and accepted for you who you are, especially to those closest to you. If you can have this conversation and have it in a way that allows them to understand you and who you are, it can make you feel closer and more open to the people around you. Even if you are indifferent about the acceptance of your peers, a little conversation about the ethics of relationships is a fun way to spend an evening. No? Just me?

How you go about the conversation is up to you, but I think it’s best to just open it up when it feels right.

Example:

Jill: How are you and the boyfriend doing?

You: Well great actually, we opened up our relationship… so that’s been really fun and exciting. 

I am not one to just sit down and say “so, hey, I’m in an open relationship.” I suspect this is for a few reasons. I don’t like talking about myself very much, most of the time. There’s no context for the conversation and it leaves it way too open. And, I think, it presumes that an open relationship needs to be announced with fanfare as though it is particularly interesting or special.

Remember that it’s up to you how this information gets out and that you can share or not share whatever you feel most comfortable with.

Have a question? Click ‘ask’ at the top and I will answer your question on my blog. 

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