After I wrote my post about finding boundaries, I thought I’d take a stab at writing about navigating sexual and/or romantic boundaries. I don’t really have any big, magical answers here, but I do have my own opinions (being that I am, in fact, somewhat opinionated).
As I peruse the internet I occasionally stumble across articles purporting to give “universal” rules or “unspoken” rules about how relationships work. I have a distinct tendency to disagree with a significant portion of those lists. I thought about grabbing one (or a few) and deconstructing them, but then I thought that maybe that wasn’t the best approach. It’s one thing to say “I disagree with that rule, don’t do that” and yet another thing to say what I do think would be good. So instead I figured I’d take a stab at making my own list. Though I think I’m going to call them “suggestions” rather than rules, because it’s hard to come up with hard and fast rules for all situations. Also, please note – I wrote this specifically with people on the spectrum or those in relationships with people on the spectrum in mind. That said, I think these have some general worth for everyone as well.
1. Practice active consent.
When it comes to sex, much of the general population seems to use an implicit consent model, where you carefully (or sometimes not so carefully) move forward until someone says no. (and if you don’t stop when someone says no, or otherwise indicates a negative, that is something else entirely) However, I prefer an active consent model, where you get a “yes” FIRST, and then move into whatever it is you’re going to do. No ambiguity. I especially find this important in the early days of sexual relationships. As people get to know each other and learn each other’s dances, it is certainly acceptable to mutually decide to go with a different consent model. But at first? I STRONGLY recommend active consent. Also, The Pervocracy has written about active consent far more eloquently than I did here. It’s good stuff.
2. Be aware of what you need/want.
This seems like it would be obvious, but it’s actually not always an easy thing to do, and not everyone has it down. Also good is if you don’t know what you need or want, try to be aware of that too. This involves introspection and being willing and able to take a good, hard look at oneself. I will admit, I am a very introspective person just in general and I am often befuddled when I encounter people who are not. So there is a lot of bias in this suggestion, but I do think it’s very important, as it is a prerequisite for the next suggestion.
3. Ask for what you need/want.
No one is psychic. Your partner is going to have a hard time figuring out what you need if you can’t or won’t voice it, and this ranges from sex to forms of affection to how you want to structure your relationship. All too often I see people wanting someone from their partner that they aren’t getting (like maybe they view cuddle time as affection, and feel like they aren’t getting enough of that), but refusing to actually ask for it. Instead they say things like “well if they really cared, they would do it anyway!” No. It does not work that way. Maybe they are expressing affection in a different way and simply do not know that you need or want something different. Maybe they would be happy to cuddle more if you just let them know. It is not less “real” because you asked for it.
4. Ask your partner what they need/want.
Yes, there is a bit of a theme here in these suggestions. ^_^ Along with recognizing that your partner is not psychic, also recognize that you are not psychic. Be willing to just ask them what they are needing or wanting, and make a point to do so. This is always important and sometimes I still ask Nee 8 years into our relationship, but once again, it is especially important early on when the people involved are still learning to navigate each other. Just ask. Additionally – you might be worried that these sorts of conversations will be awkward. I can very nearly guarantee you – at least occasionally, they will be. That’s ok. Be awkward together! You’ll get through it, and sharing these sorts of things is worth it.
5. Be honest.
Seriously. I think this is important in general, but is especially important for people on the spectrum or people involved with those on the spectrum. I’m not meaning this simply as “don’t lie.” I crave honest, direct communication. No hints, no needing to interpret what you say, nothing like that. I also prefer to do my own communicating that way, and I get frustrated in situations when I have to change what I say to allow other people to re-interpret my words into what I mean. It’s obnoxious. Can we please just make a point to be straightforward, especially when it comes to things that are already as complicated as sex and relationships?
6. Assume your partner is being honest too.
It’s always possible that they aren’t. Maybe they’re lying, maybe they’re leaving something out, maybe they’re being passive aggressive. However, I have always had the most success when I simply assume honesty and go from there. It is my responsibility to be honest about my needs and desires and whatever else, and is is their responsibility to be honest as well. Let’s assume we’re all adults and can act as such.
7. Don’t be accusatory.
I specifically mean this one in the context of a problem or disagreement happening. It’s easy, oh so very easy, to leap into accusations. Internally, at least, I know that’s often the first place I go. I see things from my own perspective, and it’s easy to read malevolence into someone else’s actions. Which is why I like to sit on things for a while first, think them through, until I can talk about them without those accusations. What I tend to find out is that usually the problem with a misunderstanding or a difference in perspective. Yeah, sometimes people are just assholes. But don’t assume that first, because if you’re wrong you might be the one who behaved like a butt.
8. Don’t share everything.
I don’t actually just mean this about objects and possessions, though it applies there too. I mean in terms of hobbies, activities, friendships, etc. Having some shared interests or hobbies or mutual friends can be fabulous, but they really do not all need to be shared. It is valuable to pursue your own interests and hobbies, regardless of if they are things your partner is interested in as well. Nee takes an interest in my hobbies simply because I do them, but there are plenty that he has no desire to do himself. The same goes for me and his hobbies. I support what he does, but I often have no desire to pick them up myself. This is healthy.
Overall, in general, and applying to most (if not all) of these points? Don’t do things simply because “that’s how it’s done.” It is very easy to do things just because it seems that’s how it’s done, and it can be surprisingly tricky to really look at that and decide for oneself if that’s the best idea for you or for your relationship. Nonetheless, it can be most valuable to put the work into doing so anyway. My relationship with Nee is, in a lot of ways, quite non-standard. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for us. Figure out what works for you, even if it means your relationship does not look the way society tells us relationships should look. If everyone involved is happy and satisfied and enjoying the relationship, then you’re good.