I’m in a room packed with strangers when I learn something new about myself: On a scale of 1 to 10, I prefer to be touched at a pressure that lands somewhere around a four. And I like a little bit of dragging-nail action, too. (Spicy! Who knew?!?) No, I’m not at an orgy or participating in some kind of innovative new workout. Rather, I’m taking a mindful sex workshop hosted by pleasure brand Dame, led by somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist Holly Richmond, LMFT, who says that for so many of us, communicating how we want to be touched is difficult for one key reason: We’ve never actually asked ourselves what turns us on, which makes knowing how to ask for what you want in bed extra complicated.
“It sounds so simple to ask for what we want in sex, but it’s so hard,” says Richmond. “We always have to be open if we are in long-term relationships so that when our partner’s preferences change, our feelings won’t get hurt when they ask for someone different.” As challenging as it is to voice what you want, research confirms the point that—particularly in the case of longer-term sexual relationships—it’s a beyond-vital skill. Take a 2016 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, which found that rates of “sexual satisfaction and maintenance of passion were higher among people who had sex most frequently, received more oral sex, had more consistent orgasms, and incorporated more variety of sexual acts, mood-setting, and sexual communication.”
“We’re not static, so what I like today, I might not like in a year and I definitely won’t like in five years.” —Kerry Richmond, certified sex therapist
Ready to practice asking for what you want? Below, Dr. Richmond shares a (notably PG) exercise to kick off your journey into mindful physical contact.
How to ask for what you want in bed using a 4-step, 5-minute exercise
- Grab a partner (it could be your actual partner or just a friend) and ask for consent to do the exercise, which will require their forearm.
- If they agree, gently prop their right hand in your left, extending their arm out in front of their body. For the first 30 seconds, touch their forearm the way you like to touch: with light strokes, tickles, and taps, as well as different pressures.
- At the end of the 30 seconds, ask them how they would like to be touched. Lighter or more pressure? With or without nails? Let them guide you for 30 seconds. “Say, ‘I’m curious if this feels good.’ When you lead a question with ‘I’m curious…,’ it really leads the person out of a place of defensiveness,” says Richmond.
- Switch partners
By the end of this exercise, you’ll likely have learned something new about how you like to be touched and one (or more!) things about your partner’s preferences. The cherry on top, says Richmond, is that both of you will also have practiced expressing your physical needs. “This is a somatic exercise in asking for what we want. It sounds so simple, but with sex, it gets so hard,” she says. And, ahem, the communication skills that you learn from all that forearm practice may translate to…um, other places.
Remember, though: The art of receiving touch—and touching others—is an ongoing discovery process. “We’re not static, so what I like today, I might not like in a year and I definitely won’t like in five years,” says Richmond. Our tastes are constantly evolving, but we’re at risk for missing many of our sexual seasons if we don’t experiment a little. “Mindful sex is really knowing ourselves and asking for what we want in a connected way,” says Dr. Richmond.
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