How To Make A Yes/No/Maybe List With Your Partner

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
Expressing your sexual needs, boundaries, and desires can make even the most secure people uncomfortable — but luckily, there's a written way around this potential awkwardness: a yes/no/maybe list.
This is simply "a list of different kinds of sexual exploration, in which each person can share what they'd be into, not into, or might be into," says Debby Herbenick, PhD, professor at Indiana University School of Public Health. You and your partner or partners start with separate lists with a variety of sexual activities, kind of like a dim sum menu. For each activity, you select "yes," "no," or "maybe." When you're finished, you compare lists with your partner and discuss your selections.
The key element, though, is talking about why you made specific selections, says Ignacio Rivera, a sex educator, author, performance artist, and porn star. And it doesn't matter if your lists are identical or completely different. "If everybody is a 'yes,' go into detail about that yes: Where would you like to do it? How would you like to do it?," Rivera says. For example, if you both said yes to "anal play," decide who would give and who would receive, and exactly how you define "anal play," Rivera says. Your discussion should also include what safer sex practices you're going to use, and whether or not you want to incorporate toys or lube. "The list engages deeper conversations about what sex looks like," Rivera says.
If someone says "maybe" to an activity, ask them why, Rivera says. That gives your partner an opportunity to talk about their hesitations or concerns, and you can both agree to table it for the time being. Or, it can be "a chance to have a conversation about what might make that kind of sex play more arousing, more appealing, or feel safe or enticing enough to try," Dr. Herbenick says. But if someone says "no," then you should respect their answer, and you shouldn't try to sway them. "If a person doesn't [want to try something], I would say leave it as that, because there's no use shaming or causing confusion," Rivera says.
There's really no limit to what you should put on your yes/no/maybe list, but there are a few ground rules that you should consider. For starters, make sure you're swapping lists in a safe environment, one that's normally not considered a sexual place, Rivera says. You can make your own list, but Rivera says it might be better to work with a pre-made list if you're shy or embarrassed about writing your own activities, or you just want ideas. We made our own (below), which you can print out and use with your partner. Feel free to add more ideas on the blank lines, or just use it as-is. This list is meant to be a starting point, but you might be surprised to learn how you and your partner measure up.
Illustration by Paola Delucca.

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