Sex contracts don't just exist in Fifty Shades of Grey, sex therapist Amanda Robb explains why you should (or shouldn't) consider entering into one in real life.
What exactly is a sex contract? How does it work?
A sex contract is a form of agreement between a couple where both parties outline their sexual desires on paper. This can include the frequency of sex and sexual activities they would like to act out within the relationship.
Does a sex contract always have to contain BDSM elements?
Unless the sex contract is for an identified BDSM couple (where a contract is necessary) then no, not all sex contracts need to include BDSM. In saying this, if an individual would like to explore elements of BDSM, I would suggest it be raised and discussed in the contract so their partner is aware that it’s an activity they wish to pursue.
In reality, what can a “sexual contract” do for our sex lives?
A contract can be a great way to invite a conversation about sexual interests and fantasies in a couple that may otherwise feel uncomfortable to talk about it. It opens up sexual communication within a relationship and provides a person a fun and safe platform to divulge a sexual activity they wish to act out, but feel nervous to raise. In saying this, for the contract to remain a healthy and ethical addition to any sexual relationship it needs to remain a fun and exciting activity and not be seen in any way as a sexual obligation. This is when contracts can be misread as expectation needing to be met. Anything written and agreed to on paper does not automatically give sexual consent at any given time.
In 50 Shades of Grey, the protagonists specify that any “Punishment” cannot include "emotional, physical or spiritual harm," and there are mutually agreed-upon "safe words" that can slow down or stop any activity at any time. What are some “ground rules” that you would suggest?
I would strongly suggest rules around each persons sexual limits (i.e.: how far they are willing to take a proposed fantasy) be discussed as well as exploring what communication is needed for particular sex activities (i.e.: safe words as well as verbal and non verbal ‘stop’ signals when engaged in BDSM).
Is it ultimately empowering to discover our answers to what we will and won’t try with our partners sexually?
Sexual exploration can be a really exciting and empowering process within a relationship. Finding out your partner shares the same fantasy as you, or has one that you’re open to trying out makes for an sexy evening! On the flipside, hearing certain aspects of your partners sex ‘wish list’ that don’t sit well with you may feel awkward at first, but gives you an opportunity to share your own boundaries. I think this is empowering in itself as you’re setting your limits and expectations with your partner, who for any sexually active person is essentially a right, and one you just laid out on the table.
In what ways can it open up sexual communication?
In many ways! As mentioned, it provides an opportunity for both parties to disclose their deepest darkest desires and find out of there partner is interested in acting them out. I also think it can be used as a prompt in talking about sex, particularly if it’s with a couple that may not generally open up about sexual matters. The more we talk about sex within a relationship, the easier it gets, and before you know it the conversation will be flowing in and out of the bedroom.
Will a sex contract create greater intimacy with our partner or would it potentially create an awkward situation if you end up finding out that your sexual fantasies are completely different?
I think it’s a case of how you address it. If you find out your fantasies are totally opposite of each other then talk about it. Trust me it wont go unnoticed between the two of you and if not addressed may leave one of you feeling insecure or questioning why your partners fantasies are so different to your own. It doesn’t mean you are not both of the same page (sexually speaking) nor that either of you are unsatisfied with your sex life; it could just come down to different strokes for different folks.
In this sense, what are the things you should agree upon even before drafting a sex contract?
First things First: a sex contract is not a legally bound document that needs to uphold. This means when an individual is acting out a sexual fantasy or ‘contracted activity' and is not feeling comfortable with continuing, they need to feel safe in saying so. Its also important the contract does not dictate a sexual relationship. For example, if someone is not in the mood for sex due to feeling unwell, tired or any other reason, it doesn’t mean thier partner can accuse them of not ‘abiding’ by the contract. If this is the case then its clear something else is going on within the relationship that needs to be looked at and leaning on a ‘contract’ isn’t the solution.
Who should and who shouldn’t try a sex contract? Does it matter what stage of the relationship you’re in?
I think a couple who feel comfortable and safe with each other and can keep it as a fun and exciting addition to their sex lives may find a sex contract a great way to explore their sexual relationship further. However, I wouldn’t suggest a sex contract to a couple that are experiencing relationship problems in case they rely on the contract as a solution or means to the problems they are faced with.