Better sex: how to know and ask for what you want.
Having more satisfying sex boils down to: 1) Do you know what you want? I offer some concrete suggestions to help you get there. And 2) Are you able to ask for what you want? Here are some ways you can make it easier to say what you want and to receive what your partner wants.
1) Knowing what you want
If you don’t know what you want, you are stuck hoping your partner gets there by sheer luck or through extensive research (which, granted, can be fun). It can be so much easier to notice what you don’t want, but that is demoralising for both of you if it isn’t partnered with information about what you do want.
As an initial step ask yourself: what is sex? What is included in your definition? The one act that most of us would agree on as “sex” would be penetrative sex involving penis and vagina. Now if that is the standard, people who are attracted to people with the same genitalia would never be able to have “sex”. I recommend that you broaden your definition- there is so much more. The critical factor isn’t necessarily what it is but how you do it and how it feels. So check your personal definition and make sure it is wide enough to include what you enjoy.
The good news is: there are tons of ways to discover what you want.
- Remember satisfying sex you had and ask yourself what made it so good.
- Think about sexual fantasies and daydreams you have had - what is good about those? What are the crucial elements that get you excited?
- Ask your partner what their erotic fantasies are.
- Have an online search- there are many books and videos talking about sexual techniques- follow what interests you.
- Take time pleasuring yourself. Try different ways of touching yourself. Start slowly. Take yourself on a date- get to know your body. Seduce yourself. See what feels good. Make it up as you go along or research ideas.
- If you are female bodied I highly recommend reading: Come as You are by Emily Nagoski
- Buy and read erotica.
- Try some porn- there is feminist porn and queer porn,…- again, research and find what’s good for you.
- Have a play date with your partner: The goal isn’t to have sex (that’s very important, to take the pressure off) but to take turns asking for something you would like to try and seeing how it feels. Im talking small things. Get in touch with your body and ask yourself where you might want to be touched. And how. Then ask for that touch. Be specific- give exact directions. Set a time limit- receive that touch for 1 minute (or stop sooner if it’s not right or you are complete), then stop and ask yourself what you want now. The brief duration makes it much easier. And make sure you don’t aim for sex at the end but just for trying things out. Do this for a total of 5-15 minutes, but each request shouldn’t be longer than 1 minute (you can ask for the same thing again- but the pause helps you to feel into what you want and experiencing that)Feel free to swap and let your partner have a go after.
- Another time, do the same but with an opposite focus: look at your partner and ask yourself which part of their body you would like to touch for YOUR pleasure. Then ask for consent and if they agree go ahead and do it- again only for a minute, then stop, and check in with yourself again. When you stop make sure you move away from your partner and connect with yourself. Take as much time as you need to notice what you want. And if it is nothing go with that. These two exercises help you be present in your body and focus on desire in the moment. They also help you to focus on YOUR pleasure, as opposed to focusing on pleasing another.
- Another option which isn’t usually mentioned: sleep around. Yes, you read that right. While the value of lived experience is appreciated in general, when it comes to sex that is usually judged as an option used by people who are afraid of intimacy. I’d like to put it back on the table and take it out of the gutter of shame. It is a valuable option for some of us. This can be something you negotiate. Being with different people exposes you to different ways of being sexual. If you are in a relationship this requires clear communication. (Maybe monogamy is not for you; maybe it is) Of course you want to practice safe sex. Some people go to sex parties. The risk here is that many of these are not facilitated and if you have experienced sexual trauma and/or are shaky with your boundaries you are in a vulnerable position. Have a buddy system, someone you can check in with. Be clear what you do and don’t want to do before going. Keep reminding yourself that you are not a tree- you are not permanently rooted anywhere and can change a situation at any time. Maybe go first and don’t participate, to get a feel for what it’s like and whether you would want to engage. If you are in a monogamous relationship and are considering any options that involve connecting with other people this requires time and space to take care of your relationship- this isn’t something to jump into blindly and expect it to be easy. It requires a lot of communication and personal growth.
- Another possibility is to attend workshops on the theme of sexuality- the framework of a workshop gives a better chance of more holding and checking in happening (although it isn’t a guarantee- never ignore your gut instinct). I highly recommend Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent workshops- available around the world, find more information on her website. These workshops aren’t about sex, they are about embodiment and consent- very powerful.
If you find you are too inhibited to even contemplate what you want, backtrack. There is work here to be done to unpack and let go of internalised shame and sexual oppression and maybe also trauma. Follow at your pace and start from where you are. So many us have learnt to ignore and suppress our needs. We think our sex life needs to look like some glossy magazine’s idea. That makes it hard to tune in to what we actually want. And it feels important to include: you might actually not be interested in sex- that is ok too! There is a general assumption that everybody ought to have sex. That is very oppressive. The underpinning of all of this needs to be: what works for YOU. Because this is about you.
2) Communicating what you want
The idea is so simple yet somehow it can be incredibly difficult for many people to tell a sexual partner what they want. Now we eliminated one big reason why that is: not knowing what you want. You figured it out. What if you realise that what you are doing with your partner is far from what floats your boat? You don’t want to hurt their feelings.
If your partner cares about you they will be unsatisfied if you are unsatisfied. They would much rather have a chance to connect with you and have more satisfying sex than for you to pretend for their sake. Your pretence isn’t nearly as good as you think it is. You may be able to fake an orgasm; but you can’t fake how present you are and how deeply you are moved. Especially in a long term relationship.
The great thing is that by having identified what you want, you are much more able to communicate in a way that isn’t hurtful. You don’t have to say: I hate it when you… It turns me off when…. Instead you can say: I would really like to try… . Would you be willing to… . I love it when you stroke …, could you do more of that please?
Focus on now and the future, not what was. Be as specific as you can.
If there are things you want to change during sex, make specific suggestions. It helps to discuss in advance that you are becoming more comfortable sexually and as a result will be communicating more. Rather than first introducing something new in the middle of sex, make space to sit down and connect and talk with your partner. This is about consent- this gives your partner the chance to digest what you are suggesting and give you feedback whether they are open to engage in that. Don’t spring something on a partner in the middle of sex, as this makes it much harder to check for genuine consent.
On the basis of having checked things in general, then it is great to also communicate during sex.
Invite your partner to do the same. Have a ritual of periodically checking in with each other. Ask each other: what would make this even better? Ask yourself: What would make this more pleasurable for me? Don’t worry about interrupting the “mood”. Any interruption that happens creates space. Sexual desire is not linear. It ebbs and flows. You can rise and fall with changes in intensity. If you have a moment when desire wanes, see this as a possibility for tuning in and asking: what would make this better right now?
This may be a new habit. Initially it can feel uncomfortable because it is new. Once you have done this several tines, it stops being uncomfortable. Many of us have this harmful belief that sex should be “natural” and “automatic” and therefore the need to communicate means you aren’t quite doing it right. That is plain wrong and actually very damaging. Put those ideas in the bin where they belong.
Satisfying sex is very much a moving goal post in the sense that what “satisfying” means will change depending on your mood, your health, the context, your partner... The more you are able to be present to yourself in the here and now, able to notice and name what you need, the more consistent your sense of satisfaction will be.