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What he's doing isn't working for me, but how do I tell him that?

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keepintime asks:

My Boyfriend and I are new to doing anything sexual. We are both virgins and have never had intercourse, just oral. How do I tell him what he is doing does nothing for me and doesn't please me without hurting his feelings, and what should I say to him?

Heather Corinna replies:

It often takes a while for any new partner -- especially when both partners are also new to sex in general -- to get the hang of what works for a given partner with any given sexual activity.

So, one thing to know is that it's normal for things to just take time. But time alone won't tend to that: that "taking time" is only a given if over time, you're communicating with one another.

One great thing to get a handle on when it comes to sexual communication that's good for everyone is positive statements. In other words, rather than "When you do this, it doesn't feel good at all," you might try, "Could you try this this way? I think that might feel really good for me." That isn't to say it's a no-no all the time to frame something differently: after all, if a partner is doing something that hurts us or is freaking us out, we need to be able to just say stop. But when you can frame things positively, it often nets the best results and the least hurt feelings. And when you're communicating in a positive way, it's appropriate pretty much anytime, whether that be during sex, or in a conversation about sex outside the bedroom. I'd also suggest that you be as clear with your partner as you can on what DOES feel good, and on where, exactly, you'd like him to be focusing. Remember that in many ways, male sexual anatomy is pretty different from female sexual anatomy, and that often men don't get off the bat that while more general stimulation often works fine for them, many women need their sexual stimulus to be a lot more regional and targeted.

While verbal communication is really important, so is the nonverbal -- or monosyllabic -- communication you can share. When something DOES feel very good, being demonstrative with your sounds and movements is also very helpful to a partner. You can also visually show your partner what parts of your vulva are the most sensitive for you, as well as what kinds of speed and pressure you like with your own two hands. Over time, he'll get to know what your positive sexual responses look, feel and sound like, and all of that partnered with clear, open verbal communication is a pretty winning combination.

Understand, too, that it is important for any of us -- you, me, your boyfriend -- to be able to be reasonable about how much self-worth we put into how our partners respond to what we're doing with them sexually. Obviously, any of us are going to feel happy or validated when we give a partner pleasure, but we also have to be aware that we can never be 100% in charge of or responsible for that, when it happens or when it doesn't. If we get too caught up in someone else's pleasure being about us, rather than them, or about our prowess, it doesn't usually nurture a very healthy, satisfying dynamic for both partners. I don't know where your partner is in this sense, but if you get the feeling he may be investing a bit too much there, or seeking a lot of validation this way, it might be worth also having a talk about this aspect of things, too, and reminding him that sex between you should be about something you both make together, not what one person "does" TO the other.

Of course, that also means that you, too, have to be willing to not just be a yes-person all the time: in other words, that sometimes, you have to be open to telling your partner things that won't be what he wants to hear. Sometimes, that too, takes some practice and some getting used to, especially if we've been reared with the idea that for sex to be sexy, we either aren't talking at all (not true) or aren't ever saying anything critical (also not true).

If we are in a hypersensitive space where someone saying something just isn't doing the trick is going to gut us utterly, then we're likely not in the best place to be having partnered sex. So, if you suspect that even the slightest "You know, that's not so great for me, but this might be, can we try that?" is too much for a partner to handle, then it's usually a good idea to rethink having sex with that partner. Being able to take constructive criticism, to a reasonable degree, is a pretty important part of sexual readiness, because partnered sex is about more than just us and our feelings; if we have a partner who feels like they have to just lie back and let us do whatever, even if it's really unsatisfying, that's not a healthy dynamic.

I'm going to toss you a link to an article I think might help you to understand some of the healthy dynamics I'm talking about here, because I think it might be a nice addition to the advice I've given you: Reciprocity, Reloaded.

In the case that you aren't so aware, for yourself, of how sexual response and oprgasm works, or where your more sensitive parts may be, and if you want some extra advice on sexual negotiation with a partner overall, I'd also suggest looking at these:

Good luck! Truthfully, I'm sure this will work out just fine. Generally, when someone is invested enough that they care to ask something like this, and have a strong concern for their partner's feelings, everything will work out just fine, with no one hurt in the process.

written 25 Aug 2007 . updated 31 Jan 2014

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