Drawing the Line

Discussions of sex and consent often stress the importance of being clear about your boundaries, speaking up when someone crosses a line and does something that makes you uncomfortable. But no one ever talks about defining this line for yourself. How are you supposed to figure out what you’re comfortable with when you’re worrying about what could happen if someone took things too far? Is it expected that you’ll just wake up on the day you’re to lose your virginity, magically knowing exactly what you do and don’t want in bed?

Well, I certainly didn’t. I suspected my sexual encounters could be more satisfying if I spoke up and asked for what I wanted. But if I didn’t even know what I wanted, how was anyone supposed to fulfill my desires?

I decided to formulate some strict guidelines, map out exactly what I was and wasn’t comfortable with so I could more effectively communicate this to my partners. I filled out a BDSM checklist – there are dozens available on the Internet, all more or less the same. It’s basically just a list of sexual activities to which you answer yes, no, or maybe, based on your willingness or desire to engage in them.

Assuming as open a mind as I could fathom, I scrolled through the list, trying as hard as I could to imagine what my honest reaction would be to each activity. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in over my head. I didn’t even know what a good number of the activities were (and quickly concluded, if I had to Google it, I probably wasn’t ready for it). Others, I wasn’t sure I understood. I have nothing against someone giving me a pedicure, but I don’t associate it with anything sexual. Some things, like drinking blood, were definitely off the table, but I was ambivalent about a lot of it. I’d never longed for someone to spank me, but perhaps I’d end up liking it. How does one know these things?

When I was done with the questionnaire, I felt both confused and prudish.

Then, a few months later, I was having sex when, out of nowhere, my partner threw me from the bed to the floor, pinned me down with his knees and started choking me.

“Do you like that?” he asked, likely trying to interpret the utter shock painted across my face.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know the answer.

On the checklist, I’d indicated I had no interest in choking. I couldn’t imagine how that would be pleasurable or arousing. It seemed like it would be painful and scary. But here I was, being choked and not hating it… liking it. I still wasn’t sure what to do with this revelation or how to articulate it.

Then he slapped me. That was too far and I told him and he never did it again. And that was when suddenly, I got it. Sure, some people do instinctively know what they do and don’t want in bed, but a lot of it is about discovery and experimentation. You might not know where the line is until you’ve crossed it.

It’s important to respect your partner’s wishes, but I think it’s equally important to test your own boundaries, especially when you’re young. Sex can be awkward and scary enough as it is, but a checklist can be a good place to start in opening up the lines of communication and experimentation, or even just acquainting you with the options.

If you know you’re not comfortable with something, that’s fine. But it’s also good to indulge your curiosities. You might stumble upon a kink you never knew you had. And if it turns out not to be up your alley, you never have to do it again.

Vanessa Baker

Vanessa Baker was born in 1989 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and holds a Bachelor of Journalism with Combined Honours in Human Rights from Carleton University and an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. Her fiction has appeared in Wordlegs and A Thoroughly Good Blue. Her journalistic interests include music and the arts, feminism and sexuality, and social justice. She also writes and performs slam poetry dealing with gender-realted issues. She currently lives in Dublin.

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