The Sexual Health Center

Overview Of Sexual Relationships, Including Communication And Consent

A sexual relationship simply means a relationship that involves sexual intimacy. Even though it is a simple concept, people perceive sexual relationships in many ways. People often confuse this with intimate relationships and think that love, commitment, and sex are three things that go hand in hand.

There are many ways in which one can express their love, intimacy, and commitment to a person and this necessarily doesn’t have to be through sex. Similarly, just because someone is having sex with you, it doesn’t mean that they are in love with you.

Some might have a sexual relationship in a committed relationship because they love their partner and there are people who keep up a sexual relationship with a person purely for their pleasure. Therefore if a person is in a sexual relationship with someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in a committed relationship or are in love with each other.

Sexual relationships can be of any type and the key to a healthy sexual relationship is understanding what your partner is expecting out of it. There are cases where one person might be expecting a commitment from their partner whereas the other person wants to have a non-committed relationship. Not communicating properly in your sexual relationship can give rise to many issues which might wound the other person. So just like every other relationship, communication is the key to a healthy sexual relationship.

When you are entering into a sexual relationship with a person, you need to have an idea of what kind of relationship you want from the other person. Sexual relationships are primarily categorized into five types and they are monogamy, serial monogamy, polyamory, open relationship, and friends with benefits. These are some of the labels that are used to define a sexual relationship. These labels will help you in discussing with your partner what kind of sexual relationship they want. 

Sexual Relationships

Communication In Relationships

As we said in the introductory part, communication is one of the crucial things that play an active role in maintaining a healthy sexual relationship with a person.

The purpose of communicating in a sexual relationship is not only to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page about what type of relationship you have but also to know the needs and expectations of the other person which will make the sexual activity more fun and comfortable for both parties. Communicating with your partner will also develop trust between you and your partner and is also a sign which indicates that you respect your partner and their desires. 

Verbal communication in a sexual relationship

Communication verbally with your sexual partner can clear many things between the two and will assist in developing a healthy sexual relationship. Before you get into a sexual relationship, talk with your partner about what is their preference and need. Some people might only be interested in a monogamous relationship and some might not. So the first step of a healthy relationship is ensuring that the partners have a similar view of what kind of relationship they have.

Once you have established the sexual relationship between you and your partner, the next role that verbal communication plays come in sexual activity. You can talk with your partner about your needs, requirements, sexual desires, and fantasies to have a safe and fun sexual relationship.

To ensure that your partner is comfortable with the things that you do while having sex, you can verbally ask for their consent or ask them if they are comfortable with it or not. If anything is bothering you or there are any conflicts that you have about the relationship, discuss it with your partner and try to make them understand instead of not voicing it. 

Non-verbal communication in a sexual relationship

Just like verbal communication, non-verbal communication also plays a big role in maintaining a healthy sexual relationship. Non-verbal communication will vary from person to person but it isn’t difficult to understand what your partner is conversing about non-verbally. For example, while you are having sex with your partner/partners, they might push you away or might close their eyes if they are not comfortable in any of the activities.

There are also non-verbal communications that might indicate that they are really interested in the activity such as pulling you closer and being responsive to your touch. So while having sex, look out for any kind of non-verbal actions that your partner is trying to convey. If you are not understanding what they are trying to say, you can pause and talk about it with your partner to ensure that both of you are enjoying the sex. 

How to improve sexual communication?

Here are some ways in which you can improve your sexual communication with your partner:

Say yes and no

One of the main things that you need to have to maintain a healthy sexual relationship is the ability to say yes to things that you want and say no to things that you don’t want. You can tell your partner that you are interested in a certain activity that you like by saying ‘yes’ or ‘I like that’ but if you are uncomfortable with any of it, you need to say no and let the other person know that you don’t like it. 

Talk about sex in a neutral space

Instead of talking about sex in the bedroom or while having sex, you can talk about it in a neutral space. You can either walk around a park or sit in a silent cafe and talk about what you want. You can converse with them about your sex life and tell them if something is bothering you or talk to them if you want to try out any new things in your sexual relationship. 

Say what you want

Sexual communication is considered a normal thing for men to have but when it comes to women, sex talk is not much normalized. This might restrict the women from having sex talk with their partners and can lead to misunderstandings between the partners. So to establish a healthy relationship, you need to say what you want. Also, women tend to think that men know what they want and do not communicate properly. This can also raise conflicts between you and your partner. 

Find out what’s bothering you

Before communicating with your partner, you need to find out what’s bothering you. You will have to think about the things that you might be uncomfortable with and understand if it is really bothering you. You need to have a clear understanding of the things that need to convey to your partner before talking about them. Then only you will be able to help them understand what it is that you find bothersome and will reach a solution for it. 

Own up to your mistake

Sexual relationships aren’t immune to mistakes. Even if you hold healthy sexual communication, there are chances that you might mess up something or make a mistake. So instead of sliding away your mistakes or blaming them on the other person, own up to your mistake. Try to apologize for the mistake that you have made and assure the partner that you will try to avoid any mistakes from your side. This will give your partner a sense of safety and comfort. 

Give sexual directions

Communication also plays a key role in the bedroom. While having sex, you can give sexual directions to your partner to improve your sexual experience. You can do things like guiding the hand of the partner to a place that you want them to touch or you can verbally direct your partner to do things that you like. This will improve your sexual experience by making it more enjoyable. 

Consent And Boundaries

When talking about sexual relationships, two things that we should not miss out on discussing are consent and boundaries. These are two things that are necessary for maintaining a healthy sexual relationship.

Overview Of Sexual Relationships

What are boundaries?

A boundary is a line between the things that you are comfortable with and the things that you are not comfortable with. Keeping a boundary for things that are not okay with is one of the keys to any kind of happy relationship, including a sexual one.

A sexual boundary can be anything sexual which includes how a person touches your body, how your partner sees your body, how your partner sexually treats you, and so on. Keeping a boundary necessarily need not have to be saying no to something that you are comfortable with, rather it can be negotiating between each other and coming into a boundary that everyone involved in the sexual relationship is comfortable with. 

Ways to respectfully set boundaries in a sexual relationship

Here are a few ways in which you can set boundaries in a sexual relationship that will make things comfortable for everyone involved in it.

Telling them what you are comfortable with and what you are not

The first thing that you need to do while setting up boundaries in a sexual relationship is to tell your partner/partners about things that are comfortable doing and the things that you are not at all comfortable doing. 

Discussing things that you are willing to give a try

Sexual relationships can evolve gradually and some people might be willing to try out a few things and there are things they might not even be willing to give one try. Willingness to give it a try doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be interested in continuing to do it. 

Saying no when needed

Saying no is also an important thing in setting up boundaries. If you want to draw a line in something you don’t want your partner to cross, you can say it by saying no and letting them know that you are not interested in it. 

Determining frequency

Another factor that is important in setting up boundaries is the frequency with how often you have sex. Some people might be interested in having sex regularly and some might not. So to draw a line on it, you can talk with your partner and reach a solution that is comfortable for both you and your partner. 

What is consent?

Consent in a sexual relationship is an agreement between partners to engage in a sexual activity which can be vaginal sex, oral sex, masturbation, kissing, etc. Before being sexual with your partner, you need to ensure that it is consensual. Sexual activity without consent is not sex rather it is an assault. Consent can be shared either verbally or nonverbally. Consent is an important factor that will ensure comfort for both parties who are about to partake in sexual activity. 

People often think that saying yes or no to something is consent. But this is not true. Consent is a complex thing that can be given in different ways. As long as someone doesn’t voice out their discomfort or say no to something, it doesn’t mean that they have given you consent.

Some might not be able to say no to something but rather they try to convey it through body language or vocalizing their concern. So consent isn’t similar to no but rather it is an indication of the absence of a yes. Also, remember that consent to one thing doesn’t mean that your partner has given consent to something else. An example is that if your partner says yes to kissing, it doesn’t mean that they are ok with leading the kiss to sex or any other sexual activity. 

Understanding consent might not be simple if your partner hasn’t said it verbally. Sometimes your partner might not be saying anything but will not be comfortable or happy about the sexual activity. So to ensure that the other person is comfortable with it, you can ask them questions like are you comfortable? Do you want to stop? Do you want to go further? Is this fine? And so on.

You can also look for nonconsent non-verbal signs such as pushing you away, unhappy facial expressions, stiff muscles, and so on. Remember that consent is something that needs to be given with a clear mind and the yes or consent that is given when someone has consumed alcohol or any other things that interfere with their ability to make decisions is not considered as consent. 

Types of consent

Consent is a simple concept that can be categorized into six types and they are given below:

Informed consent

Informed consent means someone agreeing to engage in sexual activity after knowing the whole story. An example of this is a person telling you that they will use a condom while having sex and you consent to it. If they later don’t use a condom, then there is no consent in that sexual activity.                     

Freely-given consent

Freely given consent is the consent given by a person freely and it is their choice. If a person gives consent under the influence of alcohol, drugs, manipulation, or any other things that affect his/her ability to make decisions, then she is not freely given consent. 

Reversible consent

Reversible consent means having the choice to change their mind about doing something at any time. Even if you had sex before, a person has the right to reverse their consent and say no to it anymore. 

Specific consent

Specific consent means saying yes to a specific act. An example is that if someone says yes to going to a bedroom or kissing, it does not imply that they are saying to have sex or taking things further. 

Monogamy Vs. Non-Monogamy

In the beginning, we talked about the various types of sexual relationships. But primarily, there are two types of sexual relationships; one is monogamy and the other is non-monogamy.

What is monogamy?

Monogamy means a relationship where both parties agree to have only one sexual partner at a time. People in monogamous relationships can either be married or unmarried. Here the main thing is that they are having a sexual relationship with only one partner and they are not involved in a sexual relationship outside their relationship. If a person in a monogamous relationship has sex with more than one partner, then it is considered cheating. 

What is non-monogamy?

Non-monogamy is an umbrella term that is used to define any sexual relationship that involves more than two partners. This means that the people in a sexual relationship have agreed to engage sexually with more than one partner and is not considered cheating. There are various types of monogamy such as open relationships or polyamory.

In a monogamous relationship, either a couple is involved in sexual activity with people outside their relationship while maintaining the exclusive romantic relationship within the couple and this is normally called an open relationship. Or in a monogamous relationship, people practice multiple sexual relationships that might and might not involve romantic intimacy and this is known as polyamory. 

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