Sex Ed in Bed
Boundaries: Behind the lines
By Jallen Rix, Ed.D. (c).
A boundary is a line. It can be marked or unmarked, real or imagined, flexible or inflexible. On your body boundaries are the lines between the parts that you allow to be touch-accessible, like someone shaking your hand, and the parts of your body you keep off limits, like someone picking your nose. As extreme as that sounds, the example is clear. Just about everyone has some kind of a sense of personal space, but most of the time we don’t give it much attention, that is until someone either stumbles or aggresses into it. Then, as Rizo in Grease would say, “Get your filthy paws off my silky drawers!”
The challenge is that everyone’s boundaries are different. Sure, cultures have general norms as to what is physically appropriate, but within those norms there can be a wide variety of interpretations of personal space. Some people seem to have no boundaries at all and what they can touch on themselves they feel just fine touching on somebody else. They always seem to have an excuse for violating your space like, “Oh! I’m sorry. I’m just a really touchy-feely person.” This infers that you are not as “touchy-feely” as they are. But if they were truly as sensitive as they profess, they’d know better than to disregard your boundaries in the first place. At the other extreme are people who’s boundaries seem to fall far beyond realistic dimensions, like a friend of mine who gets really bent out of shape when guys stare at him and check out his body mainly because he works out at the gym for hours and tends to wear (or not wear) clothes that really show off his physic. It’s like his boundaries are so hypersensitive that even looking at him is a violation.
I would guess that the vast majority of boundary infractions are so minor that we don’t think much about them -- accidentally running into someone, a lot of people packed into a small space, etc... Not every violator of boundaries is a serial-psycho-killer-rapist, and therefore should not be treated as such. Even if someone is out to feel you up, a firm, simple, “No,” will send most aggressors into a quick retreat. But if I were to hesitate because I wasn’t really sure where my boundaries fell, this is an occasion a real predator may exploit. But being prepared with the proper response takes only a little fore thought and practice.
Understanding where your boundaries fall is the first step. Boundaries certainly help the people around you to know what you’re physically comfortable with, but most of all, boundaries tell <I>you<I> what you’re comfortable with. In the words of sexologist, Dr. Cathrine Dukes, “To know your boundaries, you must know your body. Take time to explore your body and explore touch safely with others you can trust. However, don’t ever do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Honoring your boundaries honors your body.”
The second step is to practice articulating them in a confident manner without being mean. I’ve found that certain places, like bars, sex clubs, and bath houses, make excellent training grounds for sticking up for one’s boundaries. These are places specifically for people interested in you to make their intentions known which usually means feeling out the limits of your boundaries. It goes without saying that there will be times that you aren’t interested in the ones who are approaching you. No big deal. No need to run for your life. A smile, a look in the eye and a respectful “No thank you,” is all it will probably take.
Understanding and articulating your own boundaries, gives you sensitivity and awareness of others’ boundaries. But if you’re not sure, simply ask before you touch. Nothing gives you a clearer picture of someone else’s comfort level than to simply ask, “May I give you a hug?” “May I hold your hand?” or “Could I give you a kiss goodnight. It would really make my day!”
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