Intimacy in a relationship goes far beyond the physical aspect; it’s about connecting on a deeper level, sharing desires, and respecting boundaries. One effective tool to foster better communication and understanding between couples is a simple “Yes-No-Maybe List.” In this blog post, we will explore in detail how to create these lists, why it’s a beneficial activity, and how to use your shared lists to expand your intimate activities while ensuring comfort and consent.
What is a Yes-No-Maybe List?
A Yes-No-Maybe List is a tool that allows couples to communicate their boundaries, desires, and preferences when it comes to intimacy. It categorizes intimate/sexual activities into three groups: “yes” (things you are eager to try), “no” (things you are not comfortable with), and “maybe” (activities you’re open to exploring under the right circumstances). Creating and using this list together can help build trust, enhance communication, and bring a sense of security to your relationship. The list is also an opportunity to mix up your sexual repertoire, reinvigorate your sex life, and try new things that you might not otherwise have ever thought about trying, and even learn about brand new categories of sexual expression.
Before doing this activity, we recommend reviewing this sexual boundaries list to explore areas outside of strictly sexual activities, including everything from birth control, preferred terms and pronouns, STI prevention, comfort with mixing drugs/alcohol with sexual activities, to the level of detail you’re comfortable talking to your friends about your sex life. The boundaries list covers a wide variety of topics that couples often skip, but are necessary to navigate before you can talk about adding more complex and challenging activities to your sex life.
How to Create and Use a Yes-No-Maybe List
Once you’re on the same page about your boundaries related to non-sexual activities, you’re ready to create your Yes-No-Maybe list! We recommend searching online for lists of sexual activities, sexual menu items, and yes-no-maybe lists from educators, therapists, and other resources. You’ll find endless ideas to include in your list, and will likely be turning up some explicit wording and content- so don’t do this on a work computer or in a public space. Once you’ve created an extensive list of activities, including activities you want to try, don’t want to try, and/or have never heard of, you can share it with your partner. We recommend individually go through your list and check yes, no, or maybe for each item, rather than doing the initial inventory together.
Once you have both completed your checklist, you can review each category together to come up with a shared yes, no, and maybe list. To review your lists together, choose a time when you both feel relaxed and comfortable to discuss intimate matters. Make sure you have privacy and no distractions, and that you’re both feeling secure and connected enough to have a vulnerable and personal discussion. To create your shared list you’ll do the following:
- For your YES list: group all of your shared yes activities to create a sexual menu list, excluding any no and maybe items: both partners would need to have an item on their yes list to include the item on your shared list
- For your NO list: this should include each and every no item from each person’s no list- these items will not be included on your shared yes/maybe lists. For example, if sex with the lights on is a maybe for one person, and a no for the other, it would go on your no list
- For your MAYBE list: your shared maybe list includes all items that are a yes for one person, but a maybe for the other person, or are on both of your maybe lists
Your no items are things you shouldn’t ask your partner to do in the future, as they have already told you a definitive no. Asking again can feel like pressure or coercion. While this list is going to provide detail and clarity regarding your partner’s sexual boundaries, it is in no way a substitute for consent moving forward.
Discuss the items in each category and negotiate boundaries. It’s essential to find common ground and ensure both partners are comfortable with any activities you plan to explore. The most crucial aspect of using a yes-no-maybe list is respecting each other’s boundaries- always prioritize your partner’s comfort and consent above all else. As your relationship evolves, so may your desires and boundaries. Periodically revisit and update your lists on an agreed upon schedule to ensure they remain reflective of your current preferences.
Why It’s Beneficial
- Clear Communication: creating a Yes-No-Maybe List encourages open and honest communication, and allows you and your partner to express your desires and boundaries without judgment or fear of rejection. Why? By categorizing activities into “yes,” “no,” and “maybe,” it offers a clear and organized way to communicate your preferences. Both partners are encouraged to create their own lists, making it an equal and reciprocal process, and ensuring that both individuals have the opportunity to express themselves and feel heard.
- Respect for Boundaries: By discussing and respecting each other’s “no” items, you create a safe and secure environment where both partners feel heard and valued. This is a fundamental aspect of using the list, and reinforces the importance of consent and respect within the relationship.
- Exploration and Adventure: the “maybe” category allows for flexibility and experimentation without the pressure of immediate commitment, while acknowledging that preferences can change over time and under different circumstances. The list itself encourages couples to find common ground and work together to meet each other’s needs, while providing ideas for newness and excitement. The Yes-No-Maybe List is not a one-off exercise but an ongoing dialogue- regularly revisiting and updating the list allows for continued growth and adaptation as the relationship evolves
- Preventing Misunderstandings: as we all know, miscommunications and misunderstandings can often lead to relationship issues. A Yes-No-Maybe List helps prevent these problems by providing clarity and mutual agreement, by way of explicitly stating your desires and boundaries. Instead of trying new things in the heat of the moment, couples can refer back to their list as a jumping off point to discuss trying new sexual and intimate activities
Intimacy is a beautiful and essential part of a loving relationship. By using this tool, couples can navigate this intimate territory with confidence, trust, and mutual respect. Remember, it’s not just about what you’re comfortable with or eager to try; it’s about creating an environment where both partners feel heard, valued, and cherished. So, sit down with your partner, start the conversation, and watch how this simple tool can transform your sex life into a more fulfilling and intimate one.
Our disclaimer: be aware of the risks this activity poses. Reacting negatively to vulnerable information can destabilize your relationship and have long-term effects. Sexuality is a subject that tends to feel personal and sensitive, so if the conversation goes poorly, it will have a disproportionately negative impact to your relationship, vs having a conversation about how best to load the dishwasher, for example. This activity is vulnerable, and can go awry if both parties engage in anything that remotely feels like defensiveness, criticism, judgement, pressure, etc. Because of that risk, we recommend having discussions about how to create an emotionally safe and supportive space in advance. Meeting with a couples therapist to prepare for this activity and sharing is something we recommend if you have any concerns whatsoever.