Yes/No/Maybe Lists

One of the most common pieces of advice that you’ll ever hear about sex is “communicate with your partner(s)”. And while that sounds good, it can be difficult to follow. Almost everyone has ways in which talking about sex brings up challenges. Perhaps you don’t have the language to ask for what you want. Or you’re worried about how your partner might react. Or that if you ask for what you want, it will mean something about you. Or you fear rejection. Or that you feel shame for your desires. Or maybe, simply that you’ve had unpleasant experiences when you’ve tried talking about sex and that makes it harder to bring up again.

If we want to develop happy sex lives, we need to be able to talk about sex, to ask for what we want, to hear what our partners want, and to find a middle ground. Indirect communication or simply hoping that someone will know what we want sometimes works, but when we do that, we’re gambling that someone will just know what to do and the odds simply aren’t in our favor, if only because there are so many possibilities.

Fortunately, there are some really easy tools to make it easier. One of them, the Yes/No/Maybe Checklist, comes from the BDSM community. The idea is that you take a list of possible activities and put a checkmark in each column: one for things that you pretty much always like, one for things that you have no interest in, and one for things that you might like to do or try. It’s a pretty easy idea, and there are a few ways to play with it. (You can also rate your maybes on a scale of 1-10, if you want.)

First, you don’t need to do it all at once. You can take as long as you need to think about which things go in which columns.

Second, you can have each person fill it out separately and then trade lists. Anything that you’ve both marked as “yes” are things that you can be pretty confident you’ll both enjoy, although you still need to discuss the details.

Then, you can open up a conversation. “Blowjobs are a yes for me and a maybe for you. What are your reasons for making it a maybe? What can we do to make it more fun for you?” Go into this part of the conversation with the intention of making it a win-win for everyone. This will probably work better when it’s about finding the places where you have as much overlap as possible rather than convincing someone to do something they don’t like. Even when something is a yes for both of you, talk about what makes it extra fun. What positions or techniques are especially hot? What are your turn-offs? It’s often a lot easier to have those talks when you know that there’s general agreement and you’re just working out the details.

If something is in someone’s no list, it can sometimes be worth exploring why that is. For some people, it’s because of negative experiences. For others, it might be simply because it doesn’t do anything for them. Or it could be a trigger or a squick. This can all be really useful information, as long as everyone is able to keep focused on the larger goal of finding the things that work.

Third, set the list aside for a bit and check in with each other. If this is something new for you, you might find that you have some different emotions coming up. Relief that it’s over, surprise at how easy it was, worry that your partner is judging you, happiness at knowing that you’ve done something challenging, or any other feeling. Whether you want to talk about those emotions together or not, you may find that it’s worth making some room for them.

I don’t recommend doing this as foreplay, simply because that puts a certain pressure on the process. I’ve noticed that talking about sex with a partner often works better when it’s not done in a sexual context because it’s easier to keep focused. In a way, talking about sex when you’re already turned on is like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You end up buying things that you wouldn’t usually get because your hunger is skewing your decisions.

Another great way to use these lists is to fill them out and then set them aside for a few weeks to get them out of your short-term memory. Then get yourself really turned on by masturbating, but don’t orgasm. When you’re really aroused, take a blank copy of the list and do it again. You may find that some of your no items become maybes and some of the maybes shift to yes. This highlights the way that we can make different decisions when we’re turned on than when we’re not, simply because of the influence of arousal.

There are quite a few yes/no/maybe lists to be found. Many of them are BDSM-oriented like this, this, and this, mostly because this concept came from the BDSM community. But with a little digging, you can find non-BDSM checklists like this great one from Becca.

If you’ve every used one of these checklists, what did you like about it? Did it help you talk about your desires? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Have fun!

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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