Most of us are relatively adept at communicating around a wide variety of subjects. We’re great at interviewing for a job we want, talking to a friend about that thing that bothered us, asking a parent to respect our boundaries (personally still working on this last one).
Obviously the above examples are generalizations that won’t apply to everyone, but you get the idea. We’re taught how to communicate what we need and want in life. Well, with everything except sex. According to a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, sharing sexual needs and desires with your partner positively correlates to overall relationship satisfaction. Yet, we have no f*cking idea how to do this.
Communicating our erotic desires is not a skill-set we’ve been given. Hell, it’s considered a feat when someone knows where a clitoris is, let alone its full internal structure. It’s not just sex education in school that’s lacking, there are very few parents who teach their children about sexual health, while the topic of good sexual communication is on another plain entirely.
As a result of this lack of sexually-focused vocabulary, people are f*cked … and not in a good way. So many people are not getting what they want in bed, turning to friends, a journal, or the inbox of a sex therapist or coach in lieu of their partner.
To combat some these incongruencies, we spoke to sexual health experts to get the skinny on communicating what you want in bed by learning the vocabulary you need to combat sexual anxiety and shame.
A little deeper: Why we’re so freaked out by the subject of sex
“What I have encountered the most is that people avoid talking to their partners about what they want in bed because they fear embarrassment and/or rejection. And in some instances, people don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings,” says Sunny Rodgers, a clinical sexologist and sex coach.
The bottom line, we’re afraid our partner won’t be susceptible to a discussion about sexual desire, sexual needs, or a lack of satisfaction. We’re insanely terrified that we’ll be let down, forever ruining an otherwise stable and happy partnership. As in: Why rock the boat?
In other instances, the topic of sex just isn’t one we feel we can talk about in any sense. “Clients have shared with me that they don’t want their partners to judge them for their sexual desires in case their partner thinks their request is strange or out of character,” Rodgers says. “And a few other clients feel intimidated about sex in general and can’t fathom discussing it with their partners.”
We’re so caught up in the thralls of sexual shame, that even talking about sex can feel like an insurmountable obstacle.
“Developing good communication skills around what you want in bed is so important for improving your sexual wellness and maintaining a long, healthy sex life with your partner(s). It’s so important for both partners to speak up about the things they want to experience and to make ‘sex talk’ a regular part of your relationship,” says Daniel Saynt, founder of The New Society for Wellness (NSFW), a sex-positive members-only club that hosts sexual education workshops. “Remaining silent won’t bring you long term happiness.”
Approaching uncomfortable and awkward conversations
Rodgers tells us that reframing your thinking is the first step to opening up about sex. Remember that your partner is likely as uncomfortable about this topic as you are. When you take the first step to open the door of communication, it’s likely they’ll be relieved, not angry.
We’re all screwed the hell up about sex and you’re not alone in this.
Come to the conversation with an open mind. Let your partner know that discussing your sex life is about the two of you and you’re relationship. It’s a two-way street, just like every other relationship discussion. “Let them know that they don’t have to confide everything at once, nor do they have to actually say the words,” Rodgers says. “Sometimes showing your partner what you’d like in the bedroom by guiding their hands, can be even more effective than explaining your needs to them. If they hear your breath quickening, that in itself speaks a thousand words.”
This whole situation might be awkward. Everything is awkward when you haven’t done it before. Don’t expect things to play out by a script and be ready for a little improvisation. When you don’t have practice with communicating sexual needs, you’re not going to be amazing at it right out of the gate. Do you recall the first time you asked your boss for a raise? That was scary too, but you got through it.
Come from a positive place
Have a little faith in your partner to come through. “Keep it light. Know that your partner – is your partner! Chances are your partner is willing to do almost anything to make you have a better sexual experience” Rodgers explains. “The best way to get their attention and to start a sex-related conversation off in a good way – compliment your lover. If you want more oral sex, tell your lover that oral sex with them is AMAZING! And when they blush, tell them you want more of it.”
If you want more foreplay, let your partner know how sexy it is when they build you up to penetration and how you’d love to incorporate more of that into your sexual routine. Tell them how you love having an orgasm before intercourse because it makes penetration feel even better.
If you’re not about verbally saying these things, start with sexting!
If you’d like to try something new, ask your partner about their fantasies. Introduce the new sexual thing as a part of your own. Tell them how you’ve been thinking about them in X position, or doing X thing to you and how it much that turns you on. If you’re not about verbally saying these things, start with sexting! Check out our dirty talk guide right here.
All people want to be complimented and they want validation. Sex is vulnerable and weird for many of us. Coming from a place of sexual positivity and a desire to move things onto a more adventurous plain will likely yield desired results. “It’s important to create a safe, judgement-free space for discussing things you’re interested in,” Saynt adds.
Practice, practice, practice. Keep the communication ever-flowing. This is not a one-time conversation. Mentioning you’d like more oral sex one time will not yield desired results.
Ongoing communication is the way to alter the sexual script.
Once you’ve started using some of this positive sexual vocabulary, set up regular check-ins. You can do this on a weekly or monthly basis. It’s entirely subjective from person to person. What you want is to make sure everyone is getting what they want. This is an ever-changing and ongoing process. Sexuality is never in stasis.
“During these check-ins, talk about your current sex life and don’t be afraid to bring up the things you want whether it’s increased intimacy, more attention on certain parts of your body, certain toys you want to bring into the bedroom, or the possibility of opening your bed to more play partners,” Saynt says. “Whatever it is, it’s important to establish a relationship with your partner where it’s okay to talk about sex, without passing judgement. Where you can openly communicate, without fear of loss.”
You can even make it a fun, sexy game. After all, sex is about play and fun more than anything else. “I ask each partner to write down three new sexual things they’d like to try during the upcoming month. They write their ideas on pieces of paper and put them into a bowl. This bowl sits in their bedroom and when they have time for a date night (or a quickie) they take turns reaching in and pulling out a sexual suggestion,” Rodgers explains. “Some requests can be – ‘Please wear your high heels during sex’ and ‘I would love to try wearing an eye mask during lovemaking.’”
Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator, and writer living in Chicago.