Setting Limits

Setting Limits

Limits are important in any relationship, because you need to make sure that you are not doing things you will regret later and that you have a plan to protect your heart and body from the risks of sexual activity. So what do you do? You need to think in advance about what you feel comfortable with, and what will keep you on track to achieve your relationship goals. It needs to be in advance, otherwise in the heat of the moment it’s going to be pretty hard to figure out what you really think (your hormones will get in the way!)

Figuring out your limits is a personal thing—no one can decide them for you. But you will be influenced by lots of things—like your parents, your friends, your values, and your spiritual beliefs. Choose your limits carefully, because the further you go physically with someone, the harder it is to stop and say “no” to sex. Below are some things to consider that will help you decide your limits at this stage of your life. It’s normal for limits to change as you get older, so come back to this page occasionally and reconsider your answers.

"I don't have to do what I don't want to... there are people out there who wait."

Tips to keeping limits:

  • Talk about your limits with a friend (or better yet, a parent/trusted adult)—s/he can help you stick to them, and you will need the support, especially if you ever feel pressured.
  • Be up front with your boy/girlfriend about your limits. Although it might seem difficult to have that conversation, it lets you both know the expectations in the relationship and will ultimately help you to respect each other’s limits.
  • Identify situations that make it harder for you to keep your limits (like maybe being at a party where there is lots of sexual stuff happening or going over to your boy/girlfriend’s house when adults are not home) and then avoid those situations.
  • Pace yourself—if you do everything you are comfortable with or willing to do early on in a relationship, how will you show affection in 6 months? Think of your limits more like the edge of a cliff— inch up slowly rather than running right up to them.

What if I cross a limit?

The most important thing to know is that you do not have to stay at that level of physical intimacy. No matter what you have done, you can go back to where your limits were before. Or maybe you have realized that your limit should have been more strict, because it was too hard not to cross it—in that case, redefine your limits to protect you more. It is never too late to start over!

If you crossed a limit with your boy/girlfriend, talk to him/her about it. Tell him/her about your regret and that you want his/her help so that it doesn’t happen again. Think together about steps you can take to not put yourselves in situations where it is hard to stick with your limits. If your boy/girlfriend respects you, s/he should respect your limits. If not, you should end the relationship, as hard as it might be. You deserve to be with someone who will listen to you and respect you, and if s/he doesn’t, you could be or end up in an unhealthy or even abusive relationship. (Note: if you are afraid for your physical safety if you say “no” or end a relationship, or if you were forced to do something you did not want to do, there are resources to help you. No one should ever be afraid in a relationship or violated like that. Click here for more information.)

One final note: If by crossing your limits you were involved in any kind of sexual activity (oral, anal, vaginal) it is important that you get tested for STDs—remember that they often don’t have any symptoms so you most likely would not be able to tell if you had contracted something. Talk to a health care provider for more information.