By Marc Colbourne
Sarah and Jennifer have always enjoyed incorporating kink into their sex life. Jennifer, in particular, loves playing the role of the submissive and Sarah has no problem at all indulging these fantasies. Bondage, light pain play, and verbal commands comprise much of their play time. They have been considering bringing in another Dom to take Jennifer’s fantasies even further.
Steve and Robbie have been together monogamously for nine years. Robbie has been known to call their relationship “old fashioned” especially since their elaborate wedding. They adopted twins ten months ago and because of the changes this has meant to their life and energy levels, their sex life is generally limited to their once-a-week date night when Steve’s parents mind the kids.
Tom and Peter have been together 2 years. Tom identifies as a “top” which works well seeing as Peter has no desire to be anything other than a self-identified “power bottom”. Every couple of months they head to the local bathhouse for a night of fun. Tom goes out to hunt for tops to bring back to the room where Peter is waiting. Tom likes to watch and direct the top.
What do these scenarios all have in common? Well… they can all be examples of healthy sex. That is, of course, if we assume there is a little more going on behind the scenes; more specifically, if the concepts of consent and negotiation are being used.
Defining “healthy sex” is complex; it means different things to different people. People are unique in their sexual needs, fantasies, willingness to explore, and what physical and emotional aspects of their sexual encounters bring them pleasure. What is important is that we are confident and comfortable in a definition of healthy sex that works for us. If our concept of sex hurts ourselves or other people (either emotionally or physically), is not consensual, or negatively impacts our work or family and intimate relationships, then the idea of it being healthy is compromised.
Aside from consent which is crucial in any definition of “healthy sex”, there is another related factor that must be present for sex to be considered as such. That is negotiation. Partners need be effective communicators – and have the ability to recognize and appreciate how our communication styles may differ. It is seldom as easy as just talking. Negotiation should start right at the beginning of a sexual relationship (even a one-night stand) so that both (or all) partners know what is acceptable.
As people and relationships change, so do our limits. Sometimes they widen, sometimes they contract. Re-negotiation is integral to ensuring we are respecting the boundaries of our partner(s) and ourselves. It is important to remember then, that negotiation doesn’t just happen at the start of a relationship, it is a component of any healthy relationship that we need to nurture over time.
Negotiation doesn’t have to feel like you are in a legal boardroom. In fact, it can be quite hot. Some “negotiation sessions” can feel more like foreplay than conversations about boundaries! Talk through your fantasies, tell the other person how the conversation is making you feel, throw out wild and crazy ideas (that you might never act on). If your partner suggests something that turns you on, take it a step further and add your own twist. Laugh, blush, touch yourself or each other during the conversation. Most importantly, have fun negotiating. Believe me it will make your sex even hotter when the time comes to use your mouth for more than talking!
Marc Colbourne, BA, BSW, MSW, RSW, is a sex-positive therapist in Edmonton. He works with clients with varied needs, cultures, and experiences, including those who feel their sexual relationships or needs are impacting their work, family or intimate relationships.
Marc can be reached at mcolbourneRSW@gmail.com or by visiting www.cambiocounselling.ca
This post was originally published on queerspaceyeg.wordpress.com
September’s Book of the Month is…. “The Dance of Intimacy” by Harriet Lerner. It’s amazing it took me this long to get to the 1989 feminist therapy classic considering how hungry I've been for more voices like hers. I kept seeing it on the bookshelves of my mentors and thinking some day I should get around to it. I’m glad I finally did. I hadn’t realized that it would be SO relevant to the daily struggles of the people I work with. The Dance of Intimacy digs deep into all the same challenges that the best writers and therapists are still discussing today. And it does so from a refreshingly feminist lens. Specifically, the book helps us work through major concerns in all the most important relationships in a woman’s life – including those with her parents, intimate partners, and other family members.
What really drew me in were the stories about women who found themselves over-functioning in relationships. In one case it was a woman with a father who suffered from alcoholism. In another, it was a woman whose sister was dealing with suicidal ideation. Lerner discusses how we can get stuck in the helping role, and how that ends up trapping all of us. She speaks so thoughtfully about setting boundaries and finding your “bottom line”, though, from her perspective, it’s not about cutting people off. It’s about creating enough space within the relationship for something different to emerge:
“Emotional distancing can be an essential first move to ensure our emotional well-being and even our survival. We all know from personal experience that a relationship can become so emotionally charged that the most productive action we can take is to seek space” - page 55
Her stories have definitely given me more to think about. So often, I’m an advocate for moving away from the relationships that harm us. Lerner invites us to remember the continuum of options we can experiment with, which may be especially helpful for those relationships we’re not quite ready to say goodbye to.
A compelling read.
Setting boundaries starts with believing you’re worth it. Believing that you’re worth putting as a priority, and that you deserve to have your needs met. That means letting go of guilt and shame, and practicing turning toward yourself, even though it’s uncomfortable.
And, it will be uncomfortable. I’ve watched so many people work on saying “no” for the first time in their lives, and it’s not usually pleasant. “I feel so bad,” *Sarah told me, about saying no to extra hours at work. “It’s not like I’m physically unable to be there – I just don’t want to. Doesn’t this make me a selfish person?”
My answer is a resounding no. Listening to your limits and acting in line with them isn’t selfish – it’s self-sufficient. Being able to choose where we put our time and energy is a very healthy, adult thing to do.
Now, that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to feel selfish, or bad, or weird and uncomfortable. It actually makes sense that you would. We’ve all spent a lifetime learning to take care of everyone else before ourselves (especially those of us who’ve been socialized as female). We’ve been taught to be nice, and make others around us comfortable, and never to make waves. This all falls into the category of emotional labor, a form of labor that often goes unrecognized and unappreciated in our culture. We’re taught to do all these things at a detriment to ourselves.
So, when we start to turn toward ourselves, it’s no wonder it feels strange. It’s so contrary to much of what we’ve been taught. But feeling strange or weird or bad doesn’t mean you’re doing the wrong thing. The good news is that they more you practice turning toward yourself, the better and more normal it feels. I hear this from the people I work with all the time – the first time can feel really uncomfortable, but you survive it. The next time is a little bit easier, and the next time after that is even easier, and so on. You realize that the world doesn’t fall apart just because you have needs, too.
It turns out there’s of people who struggle with this… so I’m offering an entire group on the topic! Find out more here and don’t hesitate to share with a friend.
*not her real name
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.