You’re lying in bed, your partner’s head is between your legs, and you’re not exactly going wild with pleasure. If only they realized that your clitoris is an inch higher than where they’re determinedly lapping away. Well, this is never going to happen, you might think. Do I just chill here until they’re bored, or…? Should I actually say something? Draw a diagram?
If you’re used to asking for what you want in bed, you might skip this mental back-and-forth and get right to it. In that case, please accept my virtual applause. But if you’re not there yet, that’s perfectly OK too. Maybe you’re at a loss for words when your partner asks what you need. Or maybe they haven’t explicitly asked, but you know you need to speak up if you’re ever going to have the sex you want. Either way, you’re in great company.
As a sex educator and coach, I’ve received countless emails from people who want something specific in bed but aren’t sure how to ask for it. The fears of being vulnerable or bruising a partner’s ego can be high-key overwhelming.
I’ve come to realize that telling your partner how you want to feel is sometimes just as good—or even better—than asking for a specific act.
You can be as broad as “I want to feel more wanted than ever” or as detailed as “I want to feel like my nipples are the center of your mouth’s universe.” Clients regularly tell me this strategy has helped them have a more satisfying time in bed. Below are the reasons why this simple approach can be highly effective.
It can be a less daunting way to express your needs.
Straight-up saying something like, “hey, this isn’t working for me,” or “a little to the left” can feel intimidating. Expressing how you want to feel might be an easier way into the conversation.
A lot of us have shame about our sexual desires. Even if you know you want your partner to get a little rough, asking them to do so can feel scarier than bungee jumping—naked. If you’re looking for a more nuanced way to communicate your needs, talking about how you want to feel can be a good tactic.
This strategy can also come in handy if you’re totally fine with being direct in theory, but you’re nervous about hurting your partner’s feelings. Our egos are often wrapped up in our sexuality. It’s important to be gentle with our partners so that everyone can have a positive sexual experience. This goes both ways.
I want to be really clear about this, though: The goal here isn’t to be evasive about what you want in order to spare someone’s ego. As long as everything is consensual, you’re entitled to enjoy yourself as much as possible during sex. The point is that expressing how you want to feel might make this even easier, but it’s all about context. If you know the only way to get what you want is to spell it out without mincing words, go for it.
Keep in mind that discussing how you want to feel and being direct about your sexual needs don’t need to be mutually exclusive! Using these tactics in tandem can inform your partner of the vibe you want, then give them a road map to make it happen. Also, there are times when you’ll need to be really clear-cut, either because your partner isn’t getting it or because you’re interested in trying something that needs extra discussion around consent, boundaries, and safety, like anal sex or face slapping. But looping in the feelings topic can still make those experiences better as well.
It can subvert sexual knowledge gaps.
Many of us don’t have the vocabulary to properly articulate what we want in bed. This is often in direct opposition to being able to ask for specific sexual techniques.
It’s no surprise that many of us are in this spot, given that sex ed is seriously lacking in this country. We’re lucky if we learn how to put a condom on a banana in health class, let alone hear the word “clitoris.” Sex is, for the most part, viewed as this embarrassing thing we shouldn’t discuss openly. Plenty of us only figured out how to have an orgasm in some accidental way. (I still hold my old showerhead in the highest regard.)
When we’re unsure (or afraid) of what we need to receive pleasure, it can be simpler to describe feelings we’re looking for rather than actions. But if you feel a little clueless about your body, this doesn’t mean that you should just describe how you want to feel and hope for the best. You should also try to learn more about yourself, whether that means brushing up on anatomy or masturbating more so you can learn what you like. That brings me to my next point.
It can help you explore your sexuality.
Before you can tell your partner how you want to feel, you have to figure it out yourself. Not only that, you have to learn to feel comfortable with your desires.
So really give it some thought: What are the feelings you’re craving during sex? How could your partner make those feelings a reality? How could you?
This kind of thought process opens the door for experimentation on your own. Bringing up sexual feelings with your partner nudges it open even further. When you discuss how you want to feel, you’re giving your partner a glimpse into your sexual inner life. This can spark curiosity, leading your partner to ask themselves (and maybe you), “How do I make that happen?” In this way, explaining how you want to feel can evoke excitement and possibility. It’s a great method of broadening your sexual horizons.
Ask your partner how they want to feel too.
Talking about how each of you wishes to feel can start you down a path to better sexual communication. It might feel weird at first, but I really do recommend it. Having this conversation—and making it an ongoing one—can be a wonderful step to truly understanding your body, moving past shame, and having the sex life you want.