Ever since Fifty Shades of Grey hit bookstores, women have been asking me questions about sexual contracts. Are they real? How do they work? After all, when you think about it, E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey is a 500+ page contract negotiation.
In the book, "The Contract" is a proposal by a wealthy, gorgeous millionaire, Christian Grey, who is offering financial support, an unlimited clothing budget and ultimate sexual pleasure to Ana, a new journalism graduate, self-proclaimed klutz and sexually naïve woman.
In exchange, Christian is asking Ana to be his submissive for two days out of every week. Submissiveness in this context means Ana would cater to Christian's every whim without question. If she doesn't obey, he would have the right to 'punish' her with any method he chooses. This sounds despicable to Ana until she learns that the 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. She will be able to negotiate a whole list of sexual activities or punishments, deciding beforehand which acts she would consider trying and those she would never do.
As you read the novel, you cannot help but wonder what your own answers might be. Would I have oral sex or do anal fisting? To some, the answers are an easy -- "absolutely" or "no way!" Other choices may not be so clear. Just like the sexually naïve Ana, we are intrigued to discover our own answers.
Some might think this contract is about sex, to others it is about power, to still others it is about free clothes, and for a few folks it smacks of misogyny.*
Ana, however, realizes early on that no legal body would uphold this contract in court. Without legal meaning, the contract becomes only a titillating discussion between a man and woman about what they will do or not do in their mutually consenting relationship.
This type of contract can create a safe and fun playground for couples to negotiate great sex. It does not need to contain the bondage and discipline (BDSM) of the Grey contract. Instead, sexual contracts can be whatever you want them to be, opening up a whole world of sexual exploration and discussion between lovers in the process.
What can a sexual contract do for our sex life?
1. It can make us aware and titillated.
Going through the process of sexual negotiation encourages us to think about what we would consider doing sexually, opening up possibilities for sexual exploration. We discover new areas that turn us on and can make us aware of our 'sexual triggers.'
2. It opens up sexual communication.
Sex can be a difficult thing to talk about, often complicated with feelings of shame or guilt. A contract can give a couple a place to start, walking them through the process in a safe and structured way. Couples who have done it say it is more exciting than anxiety-provoking because they feel like they are exploring it 'together.'
3. It makes us aware of our limits -- what we won't do.
When we know our partner knows and respects our limits, we feel safe about relaxing into the things we look forward to doing.
4. It makes us curious to explore what we might do.
When we are able to say "that sort of interests me, but I'm concerned about this aspect...", it introduces a safe way to engage in activities that we wouldn't have normally thought of doing.
5. It establishes ways to deal with awkward sexual situations.
As a couple becomes familiar with the sexual negotiation process, it becomes increasingly easier to discuss all sexual topics, including those sexually awkward moments.
6. It creates greater intimacy with our partner.
If we know what our partner is excited about or hesitant about doing sexually, we can help them to realize their desires.
* I encourage all those worried about gender inequality to read a similar contract from Sacher-Masoch's novel, Venus in Furs (the root of the word masochism). This tale from 1870 highlights how power contracts are not gender-specific. A wealthy baroness negotiates a similar contract with a potentially submissive man, or slave. This contract gives her even more control than Christian Grey dreams of asking of Ana, even adding a suicide note pre-signed by her slave, so she can control his life entirely, even killing him without legal consequence.
Get Your Own Contract Download and fill it in with your partner.
It's too easy for us women to convince ourselves to settle for less. We're so helpful and accommodating, so eager to please and afraid of rejection that we're quick to give up the things we need, including when it comes to sex. What we need to see is that doing this will leave us chronically frustrated. While it's true that every relationship requires a certain amount of compromise, going without the things that we really need just doesn't work. We'll end up unhappy in the relationship or resentful toward our partner. The bottom line is, we need to know what we can't live without, sexually, and what we just can't live with. We ignore these non-negotiables at the expense of a fulfilling sex life.
If you can't ask them for what you want in bed, you shouldn't be sleeping with them. Good sex happens when we feel safe and at ease. If we're afraid to ask for something or to tell our partner that we don't like something, sex will never be more than mediocre. This second tip follows from the first one, in that once we identify what we want and don't want, we have to express these things clearly. It's unfair to expect our partner to be a mind-reader and "prove" that they care by somehow knowing what we want without our having to tell them. Healthy sex comes out of healthy communication.
We need to be in touch with our bodies; with what feels good, what feels not so good and what feels wrong. We also really need to stop judging ourselves in terms of our weight and our shape. Only a superficial dope would give us a hard time over our imperfections. If someone makes us feel bad about our physical selves, this is more a reflection of his inadequacies than of our own. Our negative self-talk has to stop. The running commentary on how fat we are, how much cellulite or how many wrinkles we have is guaranteed to kill the mood, often before it even starts. Feeling good about our bodies is crucial if we're going to let go and enjoy ourselves. Being physically self-conscious will keep us from experiencing the joyful abandon of great sex.
In the bad old days, some women were led to believe that the way to get a man to toe the line is to offer sex for good behavior or withhold it when the man has displeased them. Most of us today recognize this as hateful behaviour and a recipe for disaster. Men don't want to be controlled or punished, especially around sex. They don't want to be made to feel like little boys. When we're hurt or angry at our partner, we need to share our feelings with him in an adult way. We can even say that we're too upset for sex, right now. What we mustn't ever do is make him feel like we're deciding when he gets to have sex, based on whether he's been "good" or "bad." On the other hand, using sex as a reward turns us into sex objects and makes sex into a commodity for our partner to "earn." It's no longer two people being intimate or enjoying each other. Commodifying sex makes it into a business transaction and our bodies then become objects for trade.
We might love Fluffy or Rover, but they don't belong in the bedroom when we're being intimate. Our pets are very territorial and could get jealous or want to play, too. Dogs might bark or even growl. Cats might jump onto the bed and start walking around. We can avoid these disasters by remembering to shut the door and leave our four-legged friends outside.
Sex is about connection and intimacy, but also it's about having fun. It can be mind-blowingly great or occasionally, things can go wrong. Having a good sense of humor about sex will keep things in perspective. Being able to laugh at ourselves and at the comical aspects of sex will take the pressure off the whole experience. We might love and adore our partner, but we don't have to be so serious about making love to them. Humour relieves pressure and is a great way to connect.
The best sex is the kind in which each person is trying to please the other one. The sharing in sex is one of the things that make it great. It can be technically amazing, but when one person gets the impression that the other person really isn't there with them, it can ruin the whole experience. What makes someone a fantastic lover is not their technical ability or their repertoire of moves but their attentiveness and their efforts to make their partner happy. When both people show that they really care about meeting their partner's needs, sex becomes something wonderful.
Follow Petra Zebroff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drzebroff