If you want to have great sex, you're going to have to speak up. Every person and every sexual relationship is different, so it's important to be open with your partner about what works best for you. With all the historical stigma surrounding sex, prevailing slut-shaming, and a severe lack of practical education in high school sex-ed, the idea of talking to your partner about sex might feel a bit overwhelming. The good news is, the more you talk about sex with your partner, the easier it will become — and the better the sex will be. Remember that your partner isn't a mind reader, so being vocal about what feels good is the surest way to improve things in the bedroom. Here's exactly what you need to know to start conversations about what you want in bed, according to sex experts.
Be Vocal About What You Want
It's safe to say you probably weren't taught how to talk about sex, but it's never too late to learn. If you've been avoiding talking about what you want in bed, know that it's probably your best chance at having more satisfying sex. "Our partners are not mind readers, as much as we'd like them to be," Emily Morse, host of the longest-running sex and relationship podcast, Sex With Emily, told POPSUGAR. "[They] have no way of knowing what we want in bed until we let them know, until we guide them and tell them what we want."
By avoiding the conversation, we're failing to help our partners understand, and we're failing to advocate for our own pleasure. "Speaking from someone who had plenty of hookups without ever using my words, I thought, 'Well, it's one night and I don't want to seem needy,' or, 'I don't want to seem like I'm too much, so I'm just going to go along with it and feign pleasure, or just be more performative rather than communicative,'" Morse said. "I think a lot of women choose to be performative rather than communicative."
Though keeping quiet or faking pleasure might seem easier, it's stopping you from having better sex. The only way to get what you want from your partners, short of some lucky guessing on their behalf, is to talk to them about what you like.
Leave Shame and Guilt at the Door
Growing up, we receive all kinds of cultural messages about sex, often discouraging us from talking about it. Especially if you are a woman, queer, or a person of color, talking about sex and celebrating your sexuality can be looked at as shameful or even dangerous. But the truth is, it is OK to talk about sex, especially to the person you're having it with. Though your upbringing might make it difficult to talk to your partner about what you want in bed, you can work through these hangups over time.
"There's so much guilt and shame wrapped up in the silence and in what we don't say, and that can be debilitating for a lifetime," Morse said. "The sooner you get comfortable having these conversations [about what you like in bed], it'll impact your sex life and will impact your quality of life overall, because it's not just the conversations in the bedroom, it's conversations everywhere we avoid having."
In fact, Morse explained that talking about what we like in bed is important "because our sexual health is an important part of our overall health and wellness." She went on to say that "once we decide that this is something that is a crucial part of our development, then we realize that it's not just some frivolous ask or [something that] makes us superficial or makes us greedy, and we just realize that it's actually part of our mental health and well-being." By prioritizing your sexual well-being and learning to communicate what you do and don't like, you'll get better at advocating for yourself both in and outside the bedroom.
Figure Out What You Enjoy
If you're avoiding talking about sex with your partner because you haven't had the chance to really discover what you like yet, take the opportunity to get to know yourself better. The solution to this is in your hands — literally. "I think the reason why we don't ask for what we want and we don't talk about it is because we don't know what we want," Morse said. "And so that's why it's important to really figure out what we want on our own through masturbation and exploration and to really figure out your erogenous zones and what feels good."
Activist and sex educator Ericka Hart, M.Ed., suggests using a yes/no/maybe list if you're looking for ways to start exploring yourself sexually. "It gives you copious amounts of examples of different actions — you don't have to come up with them on your own, nor do you have to be an expert on all things sex-related," Hart told POPSUGAR.
There are plenty of resources available online that provide the sex education you didn't receive in school. "Find other resources and tools that sexuality educators, sex therapists, and others in the sexuality field create and make available to support people in feeling affirmed in having conversations about what you want sexually," Hart said. "There are classes, online webinars, worksheets, local events, you name it, all to fill significant gaps in our often pleasure-averse societal and educational institutions. For example, Afrosexology is a great resource started by two Black femme sexuality educators."
Practice, Practice, Practice
Especially if you're anxious to talk to your partner, practice will help. "I think you could practice, you could write it out, you could say it in the shower, practice looking in the mirror," Morse said. "It helps me before I have any big call or any big meeting. I take 10 really deep breaths. You can hold it for five seconds, exhale for five seconds. I mean, that completely changes your nervous system and helps so much with anxiety."
Think through what you want to say, and picture how you want the conversation to go. "What's your goal in this conversation? What do you hope the outcome looks like?" Morse asked. "It's like visualization, like athletes in the Olympics thinking about their meet ahead of time. So you just visualize it going well, you say, 'I'm doing this for my sexual health and wellness, I'm doing this to be a better lover to myself and others.'"
Change Your Outlook on 1-Night Stands
Whether it's a one-night stand or long-term relationship, it's worth giving your partner guidance so you can fully participate in the pleasure of the experience. Even if you don't have a long-standing sexual relationship with someone, you can still work on communicating what you like to your partners.
Morse recommends completely rethinking how you look at a one-time sexual encounter. "I think that if you are having a one-night stand, I'd love to reframe this and have it be like, 'Oh, I don't know if I'll see [them] again. I might as well practice,' because it is a practice of asking for what you want," Morse said. Instead of thinking that you shouldn't be overly open since you won't be seeing them again, flip that narrative on its head and use the fact that you won't see them again as a way to completely take off the pressure and practice being more vocal than you might be otherwise.
Pick the Right Partner
It takes two to tango, and it also takes two (or more) to talk. A major component of a good conversation is the person you're having it with. "Far too often, folks might not feel comfortable enough to share without fear of retribution, a negative response on the other end, or others' judgments or assumptions about what they themselves are willing to do or not do sexually," Hart said. "One of the most important aspects in any sexual relationship is that you are able to openly share what feels good for you."
Consider what your dynamic is like with your partner. "Make sure trust is established and that there are clear understandings of consent," Hart told POPSUGAR. "I would also suggest not having conversations about sexual desires in an aroused state." Instead, initiate these conversations in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere outside the bedroom.
Remember that even if you brought up the subject, it's just as important to listen as it is to speak. "Be present, listen, don't add your stuff, your judgments," Hart said. "Share what you're willing to do or not from their desires." Additionally, Hart emphasized that "these conversations should not contain pressure, coercion, or manipulation of any sort."
Remember that a good partner is going to be excited to meet you where you are. "I can't emphasize enough that the lovers that you want to be with are going to be hopefully heavily invested in and enthusiastic about being there for you," Morse said.
Talking to your partner about what you want in bed is a great way to improve your sex life, show up for yourself, and show up for your partner. Even if you don't have a lot of experience doing it, you'll get better in time, and ultimately so will your sex life. And remember, Hart reminded, "Have fun, and be open to [your] desires changing over time. Nothing is set in stone. Have this conversation often."