Sometimes, the most complicated thing about sex is communicating what you want. There is a scene in Richard Linklater’s film Before Sunset, where the character Celine, played by Julie Delpy, talks about how much easier dating would be if partners filled out a sex questionnaire at the start of a relationship.
The form might include such questions as, “What specific word do you want to hear [during sex]?” or “Are you into S&M?”
While the idea of filling out a questionnaire sounds a little too formal, I do like the sentiment. After all, in almost all of my relationships with men, I held back from sharing what I wanted in fear of what they might think of me. If they knew I wanted to watch gangbang porn, would they think I wanted to have a gangbang in real life? If they knew I wanted to have my hair pulled during sex, would they think I didn’t want them to respect me? If they knew I wanted to have a threesome, would they think I was giving them permission to have sex with other women without telling me?
When I met my husband, I had just turned 30 and I saw this milestone as an opportunity to get real. I was tired of the insecurity that had riddled my 20’s, especially when it had led to so many unsatisfying encounters. While it wasn’t always easy to state what I liked or didn’t like in the bedroom, or what I wanted to try, with time I learned what worked and what didn’t in terms of leading the conversation. And I didn’t let my ego get in the way should my husband approach the same topics. We now value our frank, open conversations, not just about sex, about everything. Here are some ways to start talking to your partner about sex.
Try This, Not That
Sex can be an opportunity to let your partner know what you don’t like, but instead of simply saying, “Stop that,” which can bruise their ego, try redirecting. Psychologist Kristen Carpenter, Director of Women’s Behavioral Health at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center advises, “In the moment, it should be more of a transition or deflection toward the good, reinforcing the behaviors that are working for you.” Consider a redirection such as, “Can you try this instead of that?”
Take Turns Choosing the Porn
As a hardcore porn enthusiast, I was ashamed of my sexual preferences for a long time and let my partners choose the porn we’d watch together. I was too afraid to try the kind of things I often wanted to in the bedroom. Once I started watching a variety of porn with my husband—including types he didn’t usually watch—it opened the door to discussing what I liked, didn’t like, and had always wanted to try. By alternating the types of porn we watched, conversations about our desires became effortless, usually sounding like, “Do you think that’s hot?” Or, “Want to try that?” Emily Morse, a doctor of human sexuality and host of the podcast Sex with Emily says, “Watching porn together expands your sexual repertoire, which is the key to having a long-lasting, enjoyable sex life.”
Write it Down
In a culture where 74 percent of people would rather send a text than have a conversation, maybe it would make more sense to write down what you both want. Consider keeping a notebook where you either jot down things you both enjoy (which you can add to as you attempt new things) or create a sexual bucket list, checking off items as you complete them. Sexual bucket list items can be as tame as “Have sex on the kitchen table,” or as racy as “Go to a swingers club.”
Ask a Professional
While many people see couples counseling or sex therapy as a last resort, it doesn’t have to be. Enlisting a professional is becoming increasingly popular among the engaged and newlywed too. You don’t have to be facing divorce to learn efficient ways of talking about sensitive subjects like sex. Whether you choose a couples therapist or a sex therapist, you can count on learning effective ways of talking about sex with each other in a safe space.
Try a Workshop or Retreat
Maybe you’re bored, but you don’t even know what to try. Porn isn’t the only way to discover new things. A workshop, retreat, or even a sex-focused vacation can expose you to a whole range of sexual adventures. Visiting a couples-only, clothing-optional resort in Cancun with my husband this summer was a game changer. What started as live porn quickly turned into an invitation to indulge fantasies we both held for a long time. In fact, we probably spent more time having sex than talking for four days straight, tans included.
Give Positive Reinforcement
Before you get to what’s wrong or needs to change, always be sure to mention what’s right. The most common sense place to do this is during sex. The reinforcement can be as easy as, “Keep doing that,” or a simple reassuring moan. Though men are often quieter than women during sex, keep in mind that one of the best ways to get more of what you like is to let your partner know what that is.