In my sexuality education workshops, there is one question people ask me very often: "How do I tell my partner what I like?"
Somewhere along the way in our sexual development, assertiveness has taken a back seat to accommodation. No one wants to diss what may very well be someone's main move in the bedroom.
Honesty in the bedroom is so hard to come by because it hangs on self-acceptance and self-awareness — and no one's sense of sexual identity develops in a safe and nurturing bubble.
Sexuality is social, not just based on the senses, and what feels good: it is laden with religious and cultural baggage, attracts judgement, and implicates body image issues, shame, and with some — particularly for women — a deeply inbuilt desire to prioritize the partner.
How can one even begin to become assertive in this arena? Here are five crucial steps to better communication in bed:
1. Dispense with your notions of what people should want or like.
There is no right or wrong (there is illegal, of course, but that's another topic!). You're entitled to have preferences, fantasies, longings, and so does your partner. This comes down to your willingness to be true to yourself, and accepting of your partner. This requires some initial courage.
Yes, it can be scary to admit what really cranks your engine, and to accept what may seem weird or unfamiliar in your lover's desires. But, as in life writ large, growth and depth require risk-taking in intimate relationships. Being honest and authentic brings you closer, and that is a wonderful thing for great intimacy.
2. Know thyself, know thy partner: Anatomy!
If you don't know the structure of your own body parts, how can you be confident about guiding your partner to the right locations? This is especially true if your partner has the same plumbing as you, but equally true if s/he doesn't.
Educate yourself on the relevant anatomy, the names, the locations, and then explore them on your own body.
Self-pleasure is not just for blokes, the desperately lonely, or the irredeemably bored. It's for empowered people who prioritize their sexuality, their pleasure, who want to learn more about how they work so that they can be awesome lovers.
What you learn about yourself helps you to know yourself, and to accept yourself, which helps you communicate better to your partner in bed.
3. Figure out what kinds of scenarios you like.
Figure out what sort of scenarios feel especially erotic to you and your partner. Some people are mad for dirty talk or love sexy lingerie, and others like the transcendent connection of Tantra and other spiritual attitudes toward sex.
A non-exhaustive list of possible erotic scenarios could include: dressing up, trying a new location, talking dirty, introducing toys, watching or reading erotica, Tantric breathing … for some, the mere fact of having the kids in bed and the dishes washed is arousing.
The point is this: begin the conversation. You might ask your partner about a favorite fantasy and learn their themes that way. If you've fully embraced #1 and #2, then you will be more confident with this one.
4. Ask yourself, "How does my partner relate best?"
What is your partner's learning style? Verbal, auditory, kinesthetic? The VAK (Verbal Auditory Kinesthetic) system is not just useful for screening potential employees; it can also serve you well in bedroom communication.
In other words, investigate these to get a sense of how your partner takes in information. Realistically, you and your partner may experience communication and learning differently. If you speak his or her language, you will more likely get the result you want.
For example, if your partner is verbal, then you can describe the finer points of oral sex. Visual? Draw a diagram. If s/he prefers cuddling to rambling conversations, it may work better to place your partner's hand where you want it, wordlessly, and suggest with body movement what you're after.
5. Give positive feedback.
There are three parts to feedback: giving it during the act, reviewing just afterwards, then planning for the future. Before explaining this any further, a quick note about non-positive feedback: don't give it (unless a boundary has been crossed, you're scared, or injured). If you receive it, be compassionate. Your partner is either a complete jerk, or still learning the delicate art of sexual communication.
So, for goodness sake, if it feels awesome, make a sound, wriggle, or say something! Afterwards, share your favorite bits, and forget the rest. Lying in post-coitus is a perfect time to say something like, "I loved it when you…."
Finally, make a suggestion about next time, what you want more of, what you fantasize about doing. But most importantly, go easy on yourself. It takes practice to become a good communicator in bed, but with time, all is possible.