Why can it be so difficult to talk about sex? Well, for starters, it’s because our culture doesn’t really encourage it. Here, sex expert and relationship coach Lila Darville points out how to begin solving this problem—and start to enjoy sex more—in her latest for the Well+Good Council.
There is this idea that great lovers shouldn’t talk and instead just know exactly what they are doing. But the truth is that the most skillful lovers are the ones who are attuned to themselves and their lovers—and they are asking great questions.
To have great sex, you have to talk about it. This is a new paradigm of sexuality. It’s a different mindset from what we have picked up from our culture, media, and porn, where sex looks like it flows seamlessly. The reality is, asking for what we want is something that all of us don’t do enough in every area of our lives.
To have great sex, you have to talk about it.
We don’t ask for what we want because it is scary. We are scared of being rejected, ruining the moment, displeasing or hurting someone, and here’s a big one: We’re scared of actually getting what we want. Fear stops us from diving fully into relationships, from communicating, from requesting what we desire, from knowing what we desire, and from getting what we need to feel safe so that we can authentically be in pleasure.
On any given day our desires, needs, and wants shift. Our needs for one encounter to the next change, regardless of whether we are with the same partner or not. We are complex—more like a switchboard of buttons and knobs rather than a simple on-and-off switch—so the expectation that our lover is going to know precisely what we want is an unrealistic one.
Above all, being a good lover is about being a good listener, listening to both to verbal and non-verbal cues. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when having an open dialogue about your sexual desires.
Get on the same team
Ideally, communicating about sex should be like communicating about any other joint pleasurable activity, regardless of if you are in a long-term relationship, a lovership, or having a brief encounter. You have to get on the same team.
This centers on your chosen partner being your ally in your pleasure rather than a you-versus-me scenario. The idea that your partner is going to get less of what they want if you communicate your desires is a falsehood that keeps us chronically unsatisfied.
In all the years working as a sex and intimacy coach I am yet to meet a partner who wasn’t interested in their lover’s pleasure—sincerely interested. Our partners crave to be amazing lovers and do the right thing for us. More than anything, they want to love you well, they want your deepest pleasure, appreciation, and recognition.
Being on the same team means honoring the other by believing that they want to please you. If you don’t feel that your partner is your ally in your pleasure, then the sex you are experiencing is a symptom of discord within the relationship. Relationship dynamics come into play big time during sex, as contempt and defense are killers of intimacy and effective communication.
Our partners didn’t receive an education around sexual pleasure, just as we didn’t.
In the post #metoo climate, it can be particularly difficult to feel that deep sense of trust with your partner. Men are painted as predatory, out to take something from us—and we have to be the gatekeepers to all things sex. On top of that, men are taught that they need to be bold and sexually confident, that women want to be taken, claimed, and deeply ravished. Clearly, there is a lot of confusion around how to approach sex!
To get on the same team, remember: Our partners didn’t receive an education around sexual pleasure, just as we didn’t. There is likely a lot of misinformation that has come through porn and the media. There may be some performative attachments and preconceptions to wade through, but most partners want to know our pleasure and it is up to us to lead the way. Our partners can’t read our minds, so we need to communicate with clear requests and invitations.
Trust me, with the smallest adjustments to your guidance and direction, the topic of sex and communication will come with an internal sigh of relief.
Prioritize your pleasure
Meet your body where it is. Let it move and lean into what feels authentic and organic for your pleasure. It can be easy to get swept up in your partner’s preferred way of having sex. It is very common for women to have sex lives that are merely a reflection of our lover at the time, rather than a deep understanding of our connection with ourselves and our own desires. When we don’t prioritize our pleasure, it leads to the experience of enduring, faking interest, or checking out completely.
Your body is communicating to you through your impulses.
Self-pleasure is a really great way of listening to the impulses that we have in our bodies, and refining the connection we have with ourselves rather than a way to simply get off. It is a practice to access your truth moment-to-moment and then honor those feelings. Your body is communicating to you through your impulses. Let that be what guides you in communication with your partner, both verbally and non-verbally.
Keep in mind that pleasure can look a million different ways, and it’s not always the pleasure we associate with climax or equate with the picture we’ve been shown of sexual pleasure. Sometimes the most pleasurable thing could be having an emotional release or working through a block we have in our body.
Then verbalize it
Requests can be made like:
“I would like to move very slowly and have us breathe together before anything happens.”
“I want to feel the weight of your body on my body.”
“I would like your hands to caress my whole body.”
“I feel like being held.”
It could be something that is the smallest hit of an impulse, something that gets things moving so the unfolding of what occurs next is coming from a connected space with yourself and your partner (rather than a default script of driving towards orgasm).
People sense and respond positively when they feel you are rooted in pleasure. We normally think about communicating with others in terms of having a conversation, but speaking itself encompasses just a small percentage of communication. Communication includes body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These elements are all altered by our internal energy when we are in pleasure.
The more you can be in your pleasure and be present to it, the easier it is for your partner to attune to your pleasure and follow it.
Make requests in real time
Once things are off and moving in a particular direction, there is often a belief that they have to continue that way. Instead of feeling that you have to derive pleasure from whatever is playing out, you can change the direction at any moment. There isn’t a point of no return! You can and should communicate your preferences at any given moment.
One way to do this is by hand coaching: simply putting your hand on their hand and guide it. This way, you can communicate pressure, speed, location, and more. You can also offer brief instruction in the moment. Try words and phrases like slower, don’t stop, hold it right there, etc. If you are worried about ruining the moment because you need to communicate something more or you would prefer something different, try whispering it in your lover’s ear and making it part of the moment.
It is often better to show your partner rather than tell.
If you can, it is often better to show your partner rather than tell. Another way to do this is by masturbating while being observed as a way of communicating how you generally like to be touched. It can be a turn-on for both parties and also very informative.
Once you feel deeply connected with yourself and are prioritizing your pleasure, it becomes much easier to verbally communicate with your partner. You’ll also recognize how complex pleasure is, and then the expectation that someone is just going to “know” becomes less of a given. Deep vulnerability and “heart speak” are required when communicating verbally what we need. Again, the smallest adjustments in approach can make such a huge difference.
I call it above-the-line communication. If the line is neutral, above-the-line is communication that builds self-esteem, and below-the-line diminishes self-esteem. This isn’t about making your partner’s feelings more important than your own, it’s about communicating sensitive information in a way that lifts both of you up. The intention is to create closeness and understanding, so approach communication in a way that always considers that. Most of us have found out the hard way that below-the-line communication has a way of rapidly squashing erotic energy. The slightest hint of criticism in sex can trigger wounds that are just beneath the surface.
There is nothing that can’t be communicated if you bring vulnerability and love to the approach.
There is nothing that can’t be communicated if you bring vulnerability and love to the approach. Here is an example: You’ve just started making out, your partner is touching your breast in a way that you really don’t like. Maybe it is too hard or fast or without connection. You could say, “I don’t like that!” and bat their hand away.
Or you could say something like this: “Hmmmm….. I really love the way your lips feel on mine and when you touch my breast slowly at the same time.” Take their hand to demonstrate. The response will be entirely different.
Saying it in this way communicates the preference, gives encouraging feedback and says “I’m still interested in connecting.” Very different from just being in judgment of their technique or behavior.
For many of us, society has instilled a belief that we need to wait for permission to take up space, or voice our needs, or claim our desires. Don’t wait for anyone to give you the green light! Courageously communicate, and show up as all that you are, deeply connected to your pleasure. If you are still uncertain about approaching the topic of sex with your partner ask yourself this. What’s more awkward, talking about sex or having bad or unsatisfying sex? We all know the answer.
An expert on sex and intimacy, Lila Darville is a professional relationship coach who brings her body-positive, real-talk approach to stadiums full of women as the pleasure director of a show in Las Vegas called Magic Mike Live.
What should Lila write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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