Empower your sexuality by improving your boundaries

Paul Field
Written by Paul Field

As a sexological bodyworker and intimacy coach, I’ve been privileged to work with countless women on their journeys of self-discovery, empowerment, and sexual fulfilment. At the heart of many of these sessions is the challenge many women face setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with men.

Without strong boundaries, you might struggle to ask for what you want, while simultaneously being vulnerable to manipulation. So, let’s explore this concept of boundaries, why people struggle with them, and what practices we can use to build healthy boundaries and get your needs met.

Understanding Boundaries: What They Are and Why They Matter

Boundaries are the invisible lines that define and protect our physical, emotional, and psychological space. They are essential for healthy relationships, as they allow us to communicate our needs, preferences, and limits. Boundaries provide a framework for healthy interactions, promote self-care, and safeguard against abuse and manipulation.

Unfortunately, many women struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries. Women are often socialised to be caretakers and pleasers, prioritising the needs of others over their own. They may face pressure to be accommodating and not appear “difficult” or “too much”. This can further affect a woman’s ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries, as she may fear rejection or judgment if she asserts herself.

The effects of these challenges on women’s sexuality can be profound. Difficulties with boundaries can cause a lack of agency in sexual experiences, leading to discomfort, dissatisfaction, and even trauma. It can bring feelings of shame, guilt, or unworthiness. And all of this can lead to difficulties with intimacy, orgasm, and body image.

“Boundaries are the key to self-care, self-respect, and healthy relationships. They are not selfish, but rather necessary for your well-being.” – Brené Brown

Why not just say what you want or don’t want?

In theory, asking for what you want, or saying “no” to something you don’t want, should be easy. You notice whether you would like something, and then you say so. Unfortunately, many things can interfere with that simple process.

Firstly, you need to know what you want or don’t want. And for people who’ve been constantly putting others first, or have been punished or shamed for having wants, that can be difficult.

Even if you know the signals for what’s right or wrong for you, you might not trust those signals; you might override them. You might find your world full of what you “should” and “shouldn’t” do. For example, you might not feel like hugging someone, but you “should” because they’re your friend, or because everyone else is hugging. So, you do it – overriding what you really want.

Even if you trust your signals, you might then not value them over things that are, in reality less important. Of course, we sometimes must wait for what we want, so the problem comes if you have a pattern of rarely valuing your wants. A good example of this is if you always put the needs of others, like your partner or children, ahead of yourself.

Even if you value your needs, you still might not say anything. This is usually about what you believe other people will think or how they will react.

So, the fundamental process of maintaining boundaries, which is expressing what you want or don’t want, is often far from simple. And in the realm of sexuality, where desires are often stronger and emotions and reactions heightened, it’s often even harder.

How can you develop your boundary-setting skills?

The way to develop boundary-setting skills is to practise them. To do that, you need to feel safe and know that nothing bad is going to happen if you express yourself. That means picking a safe person to practise with and starting by asking for smaller things that feel more comfortable to ask for.

If you have a supportive partner, then a great way to practise is “The Three Minute Game”. In this game, you take a moment to notice a touch that you would like and you ask your partner to give you that touch for three minutes. Make your request simple, such as “Would you stroke the back of my hand slowly for three minutes?” Initially, stay with touch on less intimate parts of your body, such as your hands or arms. Your partner notices whether they feel willing to give you that touch, and they can ask clarifying questions, such as “would you like a firm or a gentle touch?”. If they are willing, you start the timer, they give you the touch and the idea is for you to enjoy it! You may ask for adjustments, such as “firmer please”, or to stop before the 3 minutes are up. At the end you simply say “Thank you” and they say “You’re welcome” and that’s it. Nice and simple.

Then you can reflect for a few minutes on what happened: What was difficult in that process? Could you enjoy the touch? What are you learning about yourself from that?

Repeating this process and then slowly expanding to more challenging requests (such as on more intimate parts of your body) will build your skills.

Working with a professional

Sometimes the challenges that the Three Minute Game raises are too difficult to resolve on your own. Or you don’t have someone safe to practise with. At that point, you might work with a professional. A professional can create a safe space and be accepting of everything you bring. They can guide the process, help you identify your challenges, and help you overcome them. And, if you have a background with abuse or trauma, have difficultly connecting to your body, or you have guilt or shame around your desires, then a professional with specialised training in these topics can make a tremendous difference to your life.

And if you decide to work on your sexuality with a professional, be sure to ask the right questions to make sure you’re working with someone qualified.

To find out more about this kind of work, professional sessions, and other approaches to reconnecting to your body and sexuality, please visit the Awaken The Women website.