Skip to main content
When it comes to sex, women are often portrayed as nothing but warm vessels there to validate male partners' egos. The widespread cultural acceptance of a woman pursuing pleasure for her own sake is a relatively new one (at least in West's modern history), and we've still got a long way to go. It's no small wonder that many women have a difficult time asking for what they want in general, let alone when it comes to sex. We're afraid of hurting a male partner's feelings, or bruising his ego.
Additionally, much of the hestitation and discomfort we feel regarding communicating our desires stems from a fear of being rejected, laughed at, or ignored. Intimate physical contact often makes us feel vulnerable, and openly discussing our wants and needs when we've got our guard down can be scary to say the least.
Communication in sex works best when it's direct and verbal. When something feels good, you can encourage and validate whatever it is that your partner is doing. When something doesn't, you can tell them so. When your partner's actions would feel better if something changed a little (or a lot), you can make a suggestion. Women are not required to be thrilled by whatever it is our partners are doing -- really.
The first step is figuring out what you like. I highly suggest getting to know your own body intimately before you bring a sexual partner into the picture. If you've already got an idea of how much clitoral stimulation is too much, what sorts of depths of penetration feel best, et al, you'll be all the more prepared to express yourself when you're with another person. If you've never gotten to know your pleasure points on your own, it will be quite difficult to explain what you're feeling to a partner. Part of figuring out what you like is learning about your sexual anatomy, too. As in, knowing precisely what's what. Here is a great primer on sexual anatomy, and here are some tips on how to masturbate -- arm yourself with knowledge! This whole process might take some time. Don't worry if you don't feel a lot of pleasure immediately; take as long as you need. You can try out pornography, erotica, your own fantasies, sex toys, different lubricants...anything and everything within your means, really. Play around and experiment alone just as you would with a partner.
Get comfortable with what turns you on. Women in particular are sometimes made to believe that desires for anything other than very straightforward, vanilla sex are "weird," "slutty," or otherwise somehow bad. Of course, this isn't true. Whether you're alone or with a partner, think about what really turns you on. What excites you? What would you like to try? Who do you fundamentally want to have sex with? Would you like to keep certain things strictly fantasy, or would you like to incorporate them into your partnered sex life? Your fantasies are totally valid, and as long as your partner is down, exploring them together could be a really great thing for both of you. There's no need to rush into anything, though. You might have an elaborate role-play scene in your mind, but you don't have to buy an outfit and go all the way with it right away. You can try bringing it up in smaller doses and work your way into it.
Okay, so you've got some kind of grasp on what you're into and what you like. Now, how do you go about having the actual conversation? Well, it depends. Everybody's circumstances are different -- our personalities, our partners, and our relationship dynamics all affect the ways a sex conversation might go. The best way to go about navigating these conversations is a bit different for everyone; there's not one simple cover-all answer that will work in any given relationship. Here are some sample conversations about sex, and here is great primer on talking about sex with your partner in general.
Constructive criticism is not the enemy. Since women have been conditioned to validate our partners and accept whatever it is that's going on, we're afraid we'll offend our partners by constructively criticizing them. We often stay mum and just deal with it. We also feel huge pressure to "perform" perfectly, and many of us fear that if our partners criticize us, it means we're not measuring up.
I really can't drive it home thoroughly enough, though, that constructive criticism is crucial. It is problematic when a partner views constructive criticism as an attack on their "technique," and/or interpret it as a blow to their ego. Without critique, we'll never grow. Our partners will never know what we truly want, and vice versa.
Defensiveness, however, is a natural response many of us have to any sort of criticism, especially those of us with a bend toward perfectionism. As I've said, though, there's is no such thing as perfection when it comes to sex; our efforts to be "perfect" are usually in vain. A tremendous part of sexual exploration is communication. If you don't feel you can communicate your desires to your partner without offending them or vice versa, this important exploration process will stall. Neither of you will be as satisfied as you could be. So, although it's difficult, try setting your perfectionism aside, and don't hesitate to encourage your partner to do the same. If you're receptive when they constructively criticize you, they will hopefully be willing to return the favor.
Say, for example, that your partner is giving you oral sex. Maybe they're going too fast and hard with their tongue against your clitoris, and it doesn't feel great. In such an instance, you can totally just say something to the effect of, "Just a little lighter would feel really good." There's nothing combative in those words, and it doesn't imply that they've done anything wrong, because they haven't. Maybe their ex loved that kind of oral sex, but it just isn't for you. They'll never know this, however, if you don't let them know.
Don't be afraid to go into all the nitty-gritty details. There are a lot of complicated layers to sex -- it helps to talk about all of them. Yes, all of them, or at least as many as possible. Here is a very comprehensive stocklist you can go through alone or with your partner. Even if you don't refer to the list directly when you actually talk with them, it can help get you thinking and talking about this stuff so that you're both having the best experiences possible.
This is a section of a larger piece, The Sex Goddess Blues: Building Sexual Confidence, Busting Perfectionism. To read the whole piece or another section, click here! Illustrations: copyright 2014, Isabella Rotman.