Yes/No/Maybe Lists

One of the most common pieces of advice that you’ll ever hear about sex is “communicate with your partner(s)”. And while that sounds good, it can be difficult to follow. Almost everyone has ways in which talking about sex brings up challenges. Perhaps you don’t have the language to ask for what you want. Or you’re worried about how your partner might react. Or that if you ask for what you want, it will mean something about you. Or you fear rejection. Or that you feel shame for your desires. Or maybe, simply that you’ve had unpleasant experiences when you’ve tried talking about sex and that makes it harder to bring up again.

If we want to develop happy sex lives, we need to be able to talk about sex, to ask for what we want, to hear what our partners want, and to find a middle ground. Indirect communication or simply hoping that someone will know what we want sometimes works, but when we do that, we’re gambling that someone will just know what to do and the odds simply aren’t in our favor, if only because there are so many possibilities.

Fortunately, there are some really easy tools to make it easier. One of them, the Yes/No/Maybe Checklist, comes from the BDSM community. The idea is that you take a list of possible activities and put a checkmark in each column: one for things that you pretty much always like, one for things that you have no interest in, and one for things that you might like to do or try. It’s a pretty easy idea, and there are a few ways to play with it. (You can also rate your maybes on a scale of 1-10, if you want.)

First, you don’t need to do it all at once. You can take as long as you need to think about which things go in which columns.

Second, you can have each person fill it out separately and then trade lists. Anything that you’ve both marked as “yes” are things that you can be pretty confident you’ll both enjoy, although you still need to discuss the details.

Then, you can open up a conversation. “Blowjobs are a yes for me and a maybe for you. What are your reasons for making it a maybe? What can we do to make it more fun for you?” Go into this part of the conversation with the intention of making it a win-win for everyone. This will probably work better when it’s about finding the places where you have as much overlap as possible rather than convincing someone to do something they don’t like. Even when something is a yes for both of you, talk about what makes it extra fun. What positions or techniques are especially hot? What are your turn-offs? It’s often a lot easier to have those talks when you know that there’s general agreement and you’re just working out the details.

If something is in someone’s no list, it can sometimes be worth exploring why that is. For some people, it’s because of negative experiences. For others, it might be simply because it doesn’t do anything for them. Or it could be a trigger or a squick. This can all be really useful information, as long as everyone is able to keep focused on the larger goal of finding the things that work.

Third, set the list aside for a bit and check in with each other. If this is something new for you, you might find that you have some different emotions coming up. Relief that it’s over, surprise at how easy it was, worry that your partner is judging you, happiness at knowing that you’ve done something challenging, or any other feeling. Whether you want to talk about those emotions together or not, you may find that it’s worth making some room for them.

I don’t recommend doing this as foreplay, simply because that puts a certain pressure on the process. I’ve noticed that talking about sex with a partner often works better when it’s not done in a sexual context because it’s easier to keep focused. In a way, talking about sex when you’re already turned on is like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You end up buying things that you wouldn’t usually get because your hunger is skewing your decisions.

Another great way to use these lists is to fill them out and then set them aside for a few weeks to get them out of your short-term memory. Then get yourself really turned on by masturbating, but don’t orgasm. When you’re really aroused, take a blank copy of the list and do it again. You may find that some of your no items become maybes and some of the maybes shift to yes. This highlights the way that we can make different decisions when we’re turned on than when we’re not, simply because of the influence of arousal.

There are quite a few yes/no/maybe lists to be found. Many of them are BDSM-oriented like this, this, and this, mostly because this concept came from the BDSM community. But with a little digging, you can find non-BDSM checklists like this great one from Becca. Here’s the word file, in case you’re so excited to print it out that you don’t want to go to her site. But I definitely recommend checking her blog out- she’s fabulous.

If you’ve every used one of these checklists, what did you like about it? Did it help you talk about your desires? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Have fun!

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8 Responses so far.

  1. Taryn says:

    I love this!
    A really inventive way to work through your own feelings about sex.

  2. Charlie says:

    I’m glad you found it useful. It’s a really helpful tool- feel free to pass it along!

  3. Deb says:

    hay charles,

    thanks so much for your info on yes/no/maybe lists. i’ve been unable to formulate complete sentences orally for the past 10 years of my life, so my hubby never knows what to do during slap the pickle time! This will truly turn thins around for sure.

    Kittens and snuggles,

  4. […] this very exercise with more articulate insight than we could ever muster. We recommend reading his post on the topic but the gist of it is that you each complete a questionnaire to gauge your interests and then sit […]

  5. Dan says:

    Yes. As a married couple we actually expanded this questionnaire doing until we each developed our own Limit List.  We fought about mine until she made hers.  Which is the point, right?  Now we BOTH have limit lists as 2% kinksters who go to pretty tame public play parties 3x yr or so or vanilla naked hot tub/pool parties.  And it has spilled over into better play at home.  So, as a married/monogamous man, what I learned with this questionnaire process:
    +in asking her to talk dirty, I discovered I was the one with the need/want for this; I was seeking permission: got it
    +I like one knuckle deep digital anal play; giving and receiving; wow, so does she
    +my favorite new position is RCG on the couch in the daytime; so I can see her ass as we do the bonk slowly; now “move back and sit on my face” is a command that is music to both our ears
    +I like some teeth with oral; and ball stroking; and quicky “casual BJs” that go nowhere but affection
    +we are penetration monogamous but both are open to limited play with others if we know them well and it is a safe group setting (them watching a scene mostly); these settings/friends are not easy to find however
    + she actually wants me to learn to tie her up; yes.
    + I like naked hugs only type hugs at night, even if they go nowhere; she was afraid to deliver until we talked about the “no sex unless you press me Woman Says When rule”
    + I like it when SHE initiates: a) play b) kissing c) fondling/groping d) shagging
    + I/we learned that soft swing/hard swing was not are thing; we got more clear about what monogamy and cheating mean to us.

  6. Sebastian says:

    Hi Charlie,

    most of the links to the other peoples yes/no/maybe-lists don’t work anymore.
    Maybe you are able to fix this?!


  7. […] will know tonight’s the night. Complete a sexual activity Yes/No/Maybe list activity (like this one from Dr. Charlie Glickman) with your partner to better understand comfort […]

  8. Stephanie says:

    What a great read! This was a great reminder of how this approach is the only sensible way. Such a great read!

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