What is a yes-no-maybe list A yes-no-maybe list is a tool to help you and a partner or partners discuss what elements of sex, romance, and emotional intimacy you are and are not comfortable with, as well as elements you may be interested in, have caveats about, or want to set boundaries about. Discussing the list is an opportunity to have a frank and deliberate talk about your preferences for anything adjacent to sex and relationships, including how you call your body parts, your pronouns, using nicknames and pet names, whether or not you lock the bathroom door, etc.
Who is this for?
Anyone in a sexual, romantic, and/or emotional relationship! I highly recommend discussing the questions on these lists with any new partners, but you can also use this with a long-time/current partner. (If some questions aren’t relevant, you can skip them, of course.) Here I mean “partner” as a participant in an “intimate” relationship, by which I mean sexually, romantically, or emotionally intimate.
The list is useful for 1. allosexual folks whose relationship includes sex, romance, and emotional attachment; 2. asexual, aromantic, and demi sexual/grey-ace individuals to discuss what elements of sex or romance they are, may be, or are not comfortable with; 3. casual sex partners; 4. people who may need to negotiate a relationship or the elements of a relationship after a traumatic event, medical issue, coming out, etc.
Don’t leave it to chance. People grow and change over a relationship, but a solid foundation with good communication throughout should let you and your partners approach sex and/or a relationship without having to guess, feel shy, or not advocate for yourself. I’ll discuss what to do if you’ve never been in a relationship (sexual, romantic, or emotional) in the third part of this series—if you don’t know what you want yet, it’s okay!
Caveats: Keep in mind that this is not a cure for incompatibility. Also, you need to be committed to consent and open communication throughout your relationship, which I’ll discuss in part 2, “Consent and Red Flags.”
Being completely honest with a partner is hard sometimes. A yes-no-maybe list can help you have honest conversations.
Pick a place: a neutral location is ideal, but talking about vibrators and butt play in a cafe can be awkward. You’ll need a private enough place that open conversation is possible and private and you can read vocal and/or visual cues, ask clarifying questions, etc. You want to be safe and relaxed. I typically recommend daylight and a time and place when you’re not planning to have sex. I have mixed feelings about drinking during this conversation: if you’re drinking a little to relax and open up, I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, but if you’re a nervous drinker, drink too much, or agree to things you’re not really comfortable with because you’re drinking, that’s also no good. Use your discretion. I prefer to have this conversation sober because it forces me to confront my feelings and fears; if I can’t be open with my partner when I’m sober, how am I going to conduct the rest of this relationship?
If you’re afraid they won’t want to date you or have sex with you because of your preferences, sexual orientation, or gender identity, please know that there are other people out there who will love you for who you are. The message I received from my community was that as a “woman” (actually nonbinary) who was outspoken and smart (and queer), I should “take what I could get” because men don’t want career-oriented women; I ended up in an abusive relationship for ten years because at first I was convinced if I left I would be alone forever, and later because of economic inequity and gaslighting.* None of that was true--I have friends who love me, people who find me attractive, and a partner who is a true partner to me. I left not just my hometown but also friend groups who were holding me back.
We’ll talk about red flags in part 3, but part of this exercise I hope will help you recognize when it’s not worth it. Please also support your friends who lose their income or housing during a break-up.
I have two lists I recommend to people:
1.“Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist” by Heather Corinna and CJ Turett for Scarleteen. Scarleteen’s list includes an explanation of how to use the list in general as well as each section. The sections cover birth control and safer sex, non-sexual romantic behavior, words and terms, and body boundaries.
2. “You Need Help: Here Is A Worksheet To Help You Talk To Partners About Sex” by A.E. Osworth, Alioh, and Araguaney with graphic design by Geneva for Autostraddle. This worksheet is more focused on sex and uses different visuals to guide you. I especially like the Venn diagram on where you and your partner intersect, the section on allergies and materials, and the mixture of open-ended and simple questions.
Please note: I’m an able-bodied white allosexual bisexual nonbinary person living with PTSD; I am a survivor of an sexually and emotionally abusive relationship. If you have any feedback/additions for yes-no-maybe list to make it more inclusive, I’d be pleased to hear and include them. Also, if you have ideas for posts that address sex education, identity, or gender, write to Papeachu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*While abuse is not the fault of the victim, I’m still angry with myself for letting anyone treat me like that.
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