Both you and your partner(s) need to establish boundaries to define the terms of sexual interaction—the what, who, where, and when. Think about what makes you comfortable; what turns you on and what turns you off. You may want to practice verbalizing your boundaries to yourself to prepare to share them with partner(s). If you're uncomfortable setting boundaries just before or during sex, talk about it before sex begins. No matter how or when you do it, make sure you have the conversation.
Example of Boundary Conversation Before Sexual Activity
YOU: "I don't really like having my ears nibbled but I do like when my knees are tickled"
PARTNER: "I like tickling people's knees and, if you're into it, I wouldn't mind rubbing your knees too!"
YOU: "I love having my knees rubbed! Can you just be careful not to rub the rest of my legs? I really don't like that. And what turns you on?"
You and your partner(s) may have different boundaries, so it is important to check in about any differences and respect them. If your partner's body language suggests that he or she is uncomfortable, ask if you should stop or take steps to make your partner(s) more comfortable. Remember, silence is not consent.
Safe words are a great way to easily and clearly assert your boundaries. They are especially useful when practicing rough or kinky sex. Your safe word should be agreed upon before sex, easy to remember and say out loud, and not a word normally used during sex. partner(s) should also respond to the phrase "safe word" in the event that the word is forgotten. Having an established "safe gesture" or signal is also a good idea.
The green, yellow, and red code—with green meaning keep going, yellow indicating discomfort, and red meaning stop right now—is an effective and common safe word system. Simply asking, "what is your color?" clarifies how you and your partner(s) are feeling.
Healthy consent means full disclosure, so inform your partner(s) fully. Let them know if you've contracted any sexually transmitted infectionss, if you are HIV and/or Hepatitis C positive, if you're allergic to latex, or any other need-to-know information. Get tested regularly so that you can confidently talk to your partner(s) about these matters and be in charge of your sexual life.
Expect the same from your partner(s), and if partner(s) tell you they have contracted sexually transmitted infectionss such as HIV, don't make them feel ashamed or dirty. Your partner(s) are choosing to share important information to keep you safe, so respond in a receptive, supportive manner.
It is important to educate yourself. Know the facts about sexually transmitted infectionss so that if you are confronted with them, you don't have to rely on your partner(s) to educate you. Make sure you are properly equipped with information and strategies for avoiding infection.
Practice Makes Perfect! Practicing healthy consent may be difficult at first, so try asking for consent in everyday interactions (e.g. ask your roommate for permission before borrowing something, or ask permission for a hug from a friend) and listen actively to the responses of others.