“The hallmarks of a healthy relationship are respect for your boundaries and your body”. Angela Starr, Essence Magazine, June 2012.
There is no mistaking it; in several quarters sex has become pretty much humdrum and almost overworked as a topic. At the same time, because we know how super important sex is to our lives and our relationships, there is an almost slavish fascination with getting as much information about it as we possibly can. There is also no question that our very liberal, postmodern culture, has encouraged us to push the envelope where sex is concerned. The result has been some fairly experimental bedroom sessions for those who have grown tired of the same-old-same-old in the sex department. While having an experimental attitude may be great for the most part, it can sometimes prove to be problematic in a relationship where partners have differing sexual repertoires from their pasts, divergent sexual tastes or sexual preferences that are poles apart.
Since sex for the most part is a relationship deal-breaker, how then should we go about handling the issue of sexual boundaries? What are reasonable sexual demands by one partner on another? If we fail to give in to our spouse’s sexual demands, is this grounds for a separation or divorce? Does our failure to pander to our partner’s every sexual whim and fantasy give him/her the right to pursue an affair with someone else who will? If our relationship is truly one of love, who decides where or whether there are boundaries? How can a couple come to an agreement about boundaries when there are obvious differences in sexual needs, wants and tastes?
While this article will not pretend to answer each of these questions individually, it will attempt to offer general guidelines which should inform the sexual choices we make in our relationships. These guidelines are critical if we are to be at least aware of the challenges which can confront us en route to sexual fulfillment. This brings us right back to our title question, “Should we try anything in bed in the name of love?” And what exactly do we mean by anything?
Depending on where you’re sexually positioned, “anything” can include a wide range of practices including but certainly not limited to oral sex, the use of sex toys, out-door sex, use of mirrors, video-taping, acting out sexual fantasies, silk-scarves for tying-up, costumes, unusual positions, graphic sex-talk, anal sex, the use of condiments like whipped cream and the like, spanking and this list is by no means exhaustive. While this article will not be prescriptive in telling a couple what they should or should not do specifically, all sexual behavior in a couple/marriage context should in my opinion, pass a certain “litmus” test.
The parameters which already define marriage indicate that we should preserve our unions from any external or internal influences which may threaten to destroy them; remember “let not man put asunder?” This immediately earmarks as lethal to the union any scenarios which involve other people, real or imagined. This obviously cancels from the sexual equation of marriage practices like swinging, group sex or a ménage a trois; regardless of whether a partner claims to want this. For me, it even removes the practice of fantasizing about other people, which has its own set of dangers, in the form of sexual substitution, unhealthy comparisons and emotional disengagement from our spouse.
While people in other types of “non-traditional” unions may claim to be adventurous and defiant of boundaries, for most of us who enter into marriage, we believe that marital limits are there to protect the integrity and exclusivity of the covenant. This is why any sexual activity which attempts to add to the union of two, should be strongly discouraged. Be that as it may, in the throes of sexual desire, we can easily side-step the issue of putting our partner’s needs before our own and can become locked into demanding activities which we may find arousing but which our partner might not. This is why the “litmus” test, of which I spoke, becomes relevant. So here are a few questions each partner should bear in mind before either demanding or giving in to any sexual requests. They can easily provide the platform for a couple to discuss and weigh in on this most delicate area.
- Do I have to coerce or even force my partner to participate?
- Can I willingly do this as an expression of love?
- Am I turned on to doing something new just to keep up with “magazine” trends, because of the influence of porn or do I really care about taking my sexual relationship to a new level?
- Do I really care about pleasing my partner sexually or am I mainly focused on my own needs?
- Does the requested activity somehow conflict with my values or beliefs?
- Do I care about whether an activity makes my partner uncomfortable?
- Will the activity hurt my partner physically?
- When it comes to trying new things, am I too closed and sexually conservative?
- Do I desire my partner as a complete person or am I just using his/her genitals/body for my personal pleasure?
- Am I comparing my spouse to a past sexual partner or am I comparing experiences?
- Am I callous or self-centred in my requests?
- Does my partner pout, sulk or insult me if I do not give in to exactly what he/she wants?
- Is my partner willing to compromise?
- Is my partner as focused or as enthusiastic about meeting the emotional/spiritual needs of the relationship, or is he/she simply obsessed with the sex?
- Do I simply give in to my spouse’s requests in the name of “love”; no questions asked?
- Am I able to celebrate my sexuality with my entire body without guilt?
I believe that in a context of love and commitment, sex must take on a meaning that supersedes the individual. Yes, each of us may want what we want but not to the extent where it severely compromises the comfort of our partner. At the same time, even a conservative spouse who likes to play it safe should be willing at times to step out on a limb sexually to experience new things. This sexual “risk-taking” in a relational context is not simply about pleasing one’s partner but should also be about personal growth and development.
If relational sex is truly to exceed selfish individualism, then couples must recognize that what they have together as a couple must outweigh what they could ever desire on an individual level; at least this should be the recognized ideal. This simply means that a great sex life must strike a happy balance between what the individual wants and the mutual rhythm which a couple is able to emerge together.