Talking about sex can be difficult. Some people do it without inhibitions and for others it seems impossible. For me personally it is a continuous journey of learning and self-development. Now I think I am OK at it but I used to find it difficult, especially during sex. I have learnt over the years that the foundation for great sex is communication. Unless you can speak with your partner about what you like and how, it is unlikely that your sex life will flourish and reach its full potential.
By the way, I will use traditional man and woman roles for the purposes of this article and illustrate with heterosexual relationships. If you don’t identify as such, or if you are not in a heterosexual couples relationship, it doesn’t mean that these topics can’t apply to you. I have found however, that heterosexual couples who have a “normal” sex life (whatever that is anyway) are generally the worst at communicating. Same-sex couples, people in various types of open relationships, or those who engage in kink like BDSM, are generally speaking better at communicating. That’s not to say that people in these types of relationships don’t experience communication problems, but I will not go into relationship type specific challenges in this article. I just wanted to focus on the most common problems I see.
What society teaches us about sex
Unfortunately many people, perhaps unknowingly, are influenced by thinking and roles that our societal norms and systems impose on us since an early age. Men learn that sex is something they take. A macho- and entitlement culture puts pressure on men to be in charge and to claim sex in order to prove their manhood. It becomes OK to take what you want and perhaps to violate women’s boundaries. Women on the other hand are not supposed to “take” sex, but “give”. It’s about his pleasure, not hers. But she’d better save herself or not she’ll lose her worth and be judged a slut by both the men who chase after her and her female friends. Good girls fuck in moderation.
Sex education, shame and performance pressure
Sex education in school for many was (and still is) either non-existent, focused on reproductive function, or simply scare-mongering (HIV, AIDS, STIs and unwanted pregnancy). In addition many grow up never talking about sex in their family and are perhaps left to porn as their source of education. I am not against porn, but learning about sex from porn is, to quote Shafia Zaloom “like watching the Fast and the Furious to learn how to drive”.
Social media has further complicated the landscape for those who grow up today. Young girls face an enormous pressure to look good from a never ending stream of outwardly perfect influencer “role models”. Boys think it’s OK to send unsolicited dick pics, or to coerce girls into sexual activity with points based systems or threats. Add to this the differing religious beliefs and cultural norms we face when people mix in a multicultural society and we have a pretty complex picture.
So, in this culture where shame and performance pressure dominate how we learn to approach sex, we are supposed to be able to feel comfortable in our bodies, know what we want and like, be intimate, be vulnerable, and feel safe with a partner. It is no wonder that people struggle.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everyone is screwed up! I know many men who are wonderful lovers and many women who fully own and express their sexuality without shame. But I also know that for many this is not the reality. I hear of many women who have never been able to achieve an orgasm with their partner, despite having been together for decades in some cases. I also hear of many people who never talk about sex and who have a miserable sex life, if any. Many men also suffer from performance pressures.
Pleasure vs Orgasm
Is sex about achieving orgasm? No, not at all. You can derive a lot of pleasure from sex without necessarily having an orgasm. Sometimes maybe we focus too much on the final outcome or goal, and forget that pleasure is about so much more than that. That being said, if you want to have orgasms with or without your partner, and you are physically capable of having them, there is no reason why you shouldn’t experience this. You deserve to have them so don’t make excuses!
Women in particular are generally bad at expressing what they want plus tend to worry about their bodies. Are you really looking good enough? You have cellulite, your breasts are too saggy, your tummy too big, you tell yourself. You hide, you switch the light off, and you don’t feel sexy.
I say NO! Forget about all that. Claim and own your marvellous body and sexuality and dare to be the extraordinary woman that you are. I wrote an article on this topic previously, you can read it here.
In order to be able to have good sex with a partner you need to be comfortable in your own skin. You need to look at yourself positively, throw away the shame and start to embrace yourself and your body. Don’t be afraid to explore yourself. Learn what feels good. If you can pleasure yourself and learn what works for you, you can help your partner understand this. Being comfortable with masturbation and knowing what you like is a great foundation for good partner sex.
Leave the ego behind
Many men learn sex from porn. Is it bad? Porn can be great if it’s the right porn, but it’s easy to get a skewed view of reality. My recommendation to men in general is to listen to what your partner actually wants. Do not guess, and for god’s sake do not assume that you know everything and that you’re right. You don’t have to be the great performer who goes on all night, you don’t have to have the biggest dick, you don’t have to be obsessed with trying to produce orgasms for her, or for her to squirt until the bed resembles a swimming pool.
If your partner finds it difficult to tell you what she wants, then ask. Listen if she tells you. If she wants you to do something you are not doing, or to do something differently, it is not personal. It’s simply that no two people function the same together. Maybe something worked for you with other sex partners and it’s not working now. That’s normal. She is probably not trying to hurt your ego, she is just trying to help you figure out how to best please her. After all, nobody knows their body better than the person who owns it.
Communication is a two-way thing. Express what’s on your mind and listen to your partner. You can talk about sex when you are not having it, and you can talk about it when you are doing it. The conversations are likely to be different and both are necessary.
Talking about sex in general
If you find it difficult to talk about sex in general, try to think of a situation where it might be appropriate. Different people find different settings comfortable. When can you typically talk about things? Think about that and see if sex is something you could bring up. Examples:
- Before sleeping when you’re lying in bed (these should ideally be positive conversations so that you don’t associate the bedroom with negative thoughts around sex).
- Over dinner of after dinner
- When taking a walk together
No-one is a mind reader so if you feel there is something you would like to explore that you haven’t told your partner, try to find a way of initiating that conversation. My husband and I talk about sex and our relationship in general a lot. Listening to podcasts generates topics we would like to discuss. We talk about fantasies we have, previous experiences, books we read. We also watch movies or TV-series which can range from porn to documentaries and everything in between. The more you talk the easier and more natural it becomes, and if you can talk about sex, you can talk about most other things, which is a positive spin-off. Like Ester Perel has said “if you fix the sex, the relationship transforms.”
Talking when having sex
When you are actually having sex, communication can be quite basic. Just being able to say things like: faster, slower, harder, more to the left, down a bit, keep that rhythm, that’s feels really good, stay there, and so on, can be helpful.
Keep it positive
Try to keep it positively focused. For example, if you want it slower, instead of saying “don’t go so fast” perhaps say “I would love it a little bit slower”, or when your partner does something you like, say so: “that feels really good”. It can be a more positive experience for your partner if you reinforce what’s good rather than simply point out what’s not working. If nothing is working, try to still be kind and find a balance 🙂
Ask open questions
If you ask questions, I would personally avoid a question like “Is it good” or “Does it feel good?”. The reason is that it’s a closed question with only two answers: “yes” or “no”. To say “no” might feel awkward so perhaps you get a “yes” that actually isn’t honest. Try instead with something like: “How does that feel?” “How would you like it?, “Tell me how to do it” etc.
Sounds and body language
Making sounds like moans to express that it feels good can be helpful, or dirty talk if that’s your thing. You can also use body language but this can be misinterpreted so make sure your partner understands it.
If you know of certain positions or movements that work for you, don’t be afraid to suggest them. Plus, you can use your body to steer placement and rhythm. I will give you a real example from my own life:
A personal example
For me it’s usually very easy to orgasm if I am in the traditional missionary position. That is because I know how I function and what kind of movement works. Some men don’t do the missionary the way I like, so I teach them how to do it. It needs to be an “up and down” close grind and not just an “in and out” pounding. This is in order to get clitoral stimulation at the same time as penetration, because penetration alone does not work for me most of the time. I know that I can’t expect a man to just know this, so I tell him in different ways. I might say: “just relax and move with me”, “come closer”, “slow down”, “that’s good”, “continue like that”. At the same time I will move the way that works for me and grab hold of his butt and steer how he should move. Most men think it’s great that a woman can say how she wants it done.
When you are at the receiving end of this communication it is important to listen and not assume that you are right even if your partner tells you differently. A “know-it-all” inflated ego in bed is not sexy most of the time.
Sex is a journey and constantly evolving. Don’t be afraid to approach it with an open mind and to try new things as long as you trust each other. Consent is very important. You should never force anyone into something they are not comfortable with. If you are not comfortable you should say no. At the same time, sometimes we might hold judgements or preconceived ideas about what is OK and what’s not. There is no shame in having a sexuality and sexual desires. Don’t let societal and cultural norms rule your sex life. You are in charge, not some demons in your head, not your mum, not your moralistic neighbour or whoever it might be. Just you.
If your partner shares desires and fantasies with you that are not your thing, don’t judge but listen. Be grateful for the trust. Then you can see if you can explore them together or if you need to find other solutions. Sometimes it can be fun to talk about fantasies but knowing that they are just that, a fantasy.
Everyone’s anatomy is different and no vulva looks the same. Therefore, all positions may not work for all women. It’s always an option as a woman to touch yourself on the clitoris during penetration and achieve orgasm that way. Many women are not comfortable with that but again, throw away the shame and just do it, or use a toy.
Also, sex isn’t all about penetration of course. Experiment, masturbate together, watch each other, watch porn, try new things, talk. See what works. If you want a more realistic alternative to mainstream porn, in which female pleasure is at centre, I can recommend Erika Lust: https://erikalust.com
Using sex toys
The use of sex toys is booming. This can be a great way for both women and men to explore their sexuality. Sometimes one or both parties can be apprehensive about using toys together. Of course you can have a wonderful sex life without toys, but they can also bring a lot of fun to a sexual relationship.
Sometimes I hear that it can be difficult for men to accept that their partner wants to use a toy when they are together. “Why am I not good enough?” is a not uncommon question. “Why does she want that dildo but not me?”, “Why can she orgasm with the vibrator but not with me?” As a woman I must emphasise that it is not a competition. Look at it as something that can enrich the experience for both of you. For example I learnt from the use of a sex toy that I could achieve much more powerful orgasms than I was aware of. I was frankly quite shocked I had this in me! Just having this knowledge meant I broke through a mental barrier and I then experienced more powerful orgasms with men.
Let your partner show you what she likes. The more comfortable your partner becomes at having an orgasm with you, even if she generates it herself, the more likely you are at being able to achieve it together. Also know that for many women it is difficult to achieve an orgasm without stimulating herself in some way anyway. Don’t take it personally.
Good communication is the foundation for a good sex-life and it goes both ways. Orgasms aren’t everything but they sure add to the pleasure. Be open minded, get rid of shame, and leave your ego behind.
This article touched briefly on topics that can be written about in a lot more detail. Maybe it raised more questions for you, maybe you need more help. Consider talking to someone if for example: you want to talk about sex with your partner but you have no idea how to initiate it; you struggle to feel comfortable with your body and intimacy; you don’t know how to orgasm; your partner won’t listen to what you want despite attempts to communicate; you have very differing levels of libido and this causes a problem; your partner wants something that you don’t or vice versa; you carry past trauma that is inhibiting your sex life.
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What are your best communication tips for sex? Let me know in the comments!