Sexual boundaries, as well as other types of behavioral and personal boundaries, are important in any relationship. Many people often go into long-term relationships and even marriage with the idea that they are going to “share everything” with their partners. This can even sound romantic at first – sharing is caring, after all, right?

It is, but only if the sharing is done consensually and isn’t forced. After all, if one partner in a relationship isn’t “sharing” or doing something on their own volition, but because they feel forced or pressured to, then that’s not really caring, nor is it a good basis for a healthy relationship.

Such issues are especially noteworthy in the bedroom, but are important in many platonic aspects of a relationship too. So let’s go over how setting sexual and other boundaries in relationships should work.

What Are Sexual Boundaries, And Why Are They Important?

The sexual act can be an incredibly intimate, passionate, beautiful, and pleasurable experience. It’s at the core of most relationships, after all, right alongside love. However, sex can also be quite inconvenient, unenjoyable, or outright painful and traumatic when done wrong.

And to make things even trickier, “right” and “wrong” in the bedroom can vary wildly depending on who the two partners are. Different people have different preferences and even different physical capabilities. This means that what some people find pleasurable and even crucial in the bedroom, others find undesirable and even painful.

The solution to this puzzle is simple in principle, even if many people still find it elusive – communication. The easiest way to know what your partner finds enjoyable, what they want, what they don’t want, and what they are very adamantly against is to ask them. This effectively is what we mean by “setting sexual boundaries.”

Unfortunately, for many people, even something as simple as talking things through can seem troublesome, worrying, or “unromantic.” For many men and women alike, the idea of asking the other “Would you like that?” or telling them “This is a No-No for me” feels off-putting.

Many people – many women, in particular, but men too - worry that if they say “No” to something their partner wants, this will hurt them emotionally and may even jeopardize their relationship. Vice versa, many others worry about asking their partner about their preferences and boundaries because this makes them feel like they are inexperienced or not romantic enough.

A big part of the problem, as usual, comes from pop culture. Movies, romance novels, and porn alike have taught many men and women that when two people really love each other, their sex just magically happens perfectly right from the get-go – no need to talk things through, no need for trial and error, no need to set boundaries, the two leads in the romantic movie are just perfect for each other, because that’s the very point of the movie.

Back in reality, however, that’s just not how things work. A sexual relationship can start off better or worse – the experience of the people involved plays a role, as does sheer luck – but the only way for the sexual experience to get even better for both parties over time is through proper communication and respecting each other’s boundaries.

What Happens If You Don’t Set Boundaries Or If One Of The Partners Doesn’t Respect The Other’s Boundaries?

The best case scenario for a relationship that hasn’t properly defined and talked through both parties’ sexual boundaries is bad sex. Even this “best case scenario” is pretty bad, however, as the quality of the sex in a relationship is crucial for its longevity and satisfaction.

The worst case scenario – that of knowing but ignoring your partner’s boundaries – is even worse, however, as that’s quite literally the definition of rape. Unfortunately, many people still don’t see it that way. For many, especially for lots of men, simply ignoring their partner’s “No” isn’t rape but is just “being passionate.” Needless to say, this isn’t how a healthy romantic and sexual relationship is supposed to work.

Yet, even the practice of marital or “spousal” rape is still common in many countries and cultures, including in some European countries. In many conservative, traditionalist, and religious cultures, marital rape is seen as normal and expected, as the woman agreeing to marry the man is seen as her “consent” for everything that is to happen later in their marriage.

This is often justified by various verses in religious books and archaic teachings of religious figures, such as this quote from 17th century Puritan jurist Sir Mathew Hale:

“But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.”

Fortunately, this notion has been abandoned in many countries over the past few decades, but it still persists in many others. The problem is also quite pronounced in international relationships, such as those arranged through international dating sites.

The issue there stems precisely from the fact that when people come together from different cultures, they can have different understandings of what sexual boundaries are, what spousal rape is, and how to navigate these issues. That’s why it’s especially important to be careful with your communication in international relationships and to stay safe, ideally by only meeting people through trusted dating platforms such as BridesUniverse

Many of the aforementioned conservative and traditionalist people today really despise the word consent, but that’s precisely why it’s important. Understanding and applying consent in a sexual relationship is the best way to ensure that no one’s sexual boundaries are violated. With proper consent, marital rape isn’t possible. And, if one party’s consent is violated, then that is, in fact, rape.

Setting up boundaries and establishing consent is simple to do, at least in principle. All that’s needed is that you state your boundaries and establish a way in which you’ll communicate to your partner if you feel your boundaries have been violated. Likewise, it’s important that you ask your partner about their boundaries and that you respect them and their consent in return.

From there, people’s boundaries can change over time, or they can remain the same. Either way is fine, as long as people are comfortable and consenting with everything they are doing together.

Another term that isn’t getting enough attention even today is “enthusiastic consent.” The distinction between this and just consent is simple, but incredibly important if you want a healthy sexual relationship.

Whereas consent is technically every instance in which one party agrees to something, enthusiastic consent is the act of doing so with no external pressure but entirely out of desire. This is the difference between “Well, I don’t really want to, but okay,” and “Absolutely, I’d love that.” 

While the former is technically still consent – logically and legally – it isn’t something you want to hear from your partner in a loving, long-term relationship. Instead, striving for enthusiastic consent in the bedroom is the best way to ensure the happiness and longevity of your romantic and sexual relationship.


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