Establishing Sexual Boundaries

What should you do if your spouse wants you to try something in the bedroom that you are uncomfortable with? Our sexual wish-lists can include activities that range from the fairly typical, to some things that might be somewhat unusual, all the way to activities that push the limits of what is comfortable, or even morally acceptable.

So what should you do if your spouse expresses a desire to experiment with a sexual activity that makes you uncomfortable? Should you go along with their desire to please your spouse, even if it makes you uneasy? Or is it better to give a hard no, even if that risks upsetting them? This can be a cause for friction or conflict in a marriage. If you are in this spot, you are aware of the stress and anxiety that this can introduce into your relationship. How should you navigate this? A number of ideas can shape how you and your spouse approach this topic.

Sex is meant for mutual sharing

First, remember that central to God’s design for sex is the mutual giving of one’s whole self to their spouse for mutual enjoyment and satisfaction. That means that sex is meant to be a gift freely given, but never demanded. If your husband or your wife wishes to try something new or different, but their wish-list includes something that leaves you feeling uncomfortable, or something that you are unwilling to do, you shouldn’t feel pressured to give in. That is, if your spouse is pressuring or coercing, or manipulating you into a sexual activity that you are not willing or able to give freely, this violates God’s intention and purpose for sex. Christ’s pattern of love elevated the needs of his bride–the church–over himself. Coercion or manipulation reverses this sacrificial attitude; instead of seeking to serve, such an approach demands to be served.

You may be the spouse who wants to introduce something new into the bedroom. It’s even possible that what you want to try is not all that unusual. However, if you are nagging, pressuring, manipulating, or otherwise trying to force your desires on your spouse, it’s important that you recognize the way that this is likely hurting them and violating God’s intention for your marriage bed. Pouting when you don’t get what you want, attempting to guilt them into doing what you want, threatening them, or getting angry when they are hesitant will not serve your marriage well in the long run.

Respect Differences

But what if your spouse isn’t trying to pressure you–they just bring up something that they’d like to try that isn’t your cup of tea? How should you respond? It’s true that some sexual preferences can be unusual. What turns one person on can be a complete turn-off to another. God has created us with a wide range of sexual desires, some of which are perfectly acceptable, even if they are off the beaten path. Chances are that if your spouse has shared a request that you find unusual, they have taken a risk in being vulnerable with you. It’s not always easy to share this part of ourselves with another person, even someone that we trust as much as our husband or our wife. We risk rejection, we risk ridicule, we risk our spouse changing how they see us. So, it’s important to be sensitive to them even when they share something we may have no interest in trying. Recognize that your spouse is sharing something of themselves that isn’t easy to open up about. Avoid the temptation to ridicule, criticize, or judge the other person.

Consider your boundaries

At the same time, you have to be the one to identify your boundaries of what you are comfortable with in the marriage bed. This might mean that you consider your what your spouse is asking, and that you examine your initial reaction to their request. Sometimes, our resistance can be rooted in unbiblical teachings, for example. Other times, we inherit taboos from our culture or from the home we grew up in, rather than sound biblical teaching. For that reason, it can be helpful at times to ask ourselves where our resistance comes from, and if our “no” isn’t grounded in what we find in scripture, we may, if we wish, reconsider what our spouse wants to try.

That said, we have every right to say no to something that we simply don’t want to try. Even if something may not be out of bounds according to the bible, our answer may still be that we aren’t comfortable trying something new. If this is the case, you may, and should, communicate to your spouse that this activity is simply not something you’re open to at this time.

Communicate A Hard No

Since God’s design for sex is freely giving ourselves to one another and not taking or demanding from the other person, we have the right to draw a line on what we are willing and unwilling to give to our spouse. How should we communicate our wishes? There are a couple of suggestions for how to do this. For starters, it can help to affirm your shared vision for your sex life. This might mean saying something like, “I love having sex with you, and I really want for us to have a sex life that we both enjoy and find satisfying.” This sends the message that you both have a shared desire, and that you do not intend to work against one another. It also reassures your spouse that you are committed to a sex life that you both find satisfying.

Communicate without judgment

Communicating your “no” will be more effective if you use “I” language rather than “you” language to state what you do not wish to do. For example, instead of saying, “You want to do things that are just too weird!” it will be more effective to say something like, “I know that this is something that you really want to do, but it’s something that really makes me uncomfortable, and I can’t bring myself to get there.” This makes it clear that your decision isn’t a rejection of them, but rather a preference of yours.

Communicate with clarity

Finally, it will be helpful to the both of you if you are clear about where you stand. It’s possible your response might be a “no, for now” and that in the future, you are open to changing your mind. It’s also possible that your no is a “hard no.” In any case, it’s better to be clear and direct about this, rather than being ambiguous. “I’m sorry honey, that’s really not something I can see myself being comfortable trying,” is better than, “I don’t know – maybe I’d be open, but I’m not sure.”

Sex is a playground for marriage. It’s meant to be a way to express creativity, playfulness, and mutual enjoyment, as we give ourselves to one another. However, that doesn’t mean that we will always share the same desires as our spouse! If your spouse is asking you to try things that make you uneasy, learning to define and communicate your boundaries can help you enjoy a mutually satisfying sex life.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

Rob Toornstra has pastored a church in Salem Oregon for the past ten years. He has been married to Amy for fifteen years, and together, they are enjoying the adventure of raising two girls and one boy. For fun, Rob enjoys cooking, reading, aviation, and geocaching.  He is the author of "Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy" (Doulos, 2014).

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