Communicating About Sex: 10 Commandments, Twice

People are always asking me about sexual communication–how to do it, when to do it, where to do it. If I only have 60 seconds (radio talk show, stranger on a bicycle), I mostly respond with some version of “just do it in whatever way feels comfortable—as long as it works.”

If you have a few minutes right now, we can look at sexual communication in some detail. It starts BEFORE you’re in bed, so here are some Tips for Communicating about Sex In the Kitchen (or Wherever):

* Sit close enough to touch when you talk. Then touch when you talk.

* Ask what your partner likes, or if s/he likes a certain thing.

* Discuss and decide on a “safe word”—an unusual word (like “dinosaurs”) which, if either person says it during sex, means “stop right now, and I really mean it!” And don’t fool around with the word once you’ve agreed on it.

* If you aren’t sure what your partner meant during the most recent lovemaking, ask: was that “no, not now,” or “no, not ever?”

* Confirm your contraceptive agreement(s)—what, when, how? And remember, “trying harder” has no place in this conversation. Contraception is about what you do, not about what you try to do, or try to remember to do, or think you ought to do.

* Clarify and resolve any disagreements about logistics: room temperature, socks in bed, talking nasty, locking the door, where to keep the lube, etc.

* Describe your body’s current situation, whether temporary or permanent: lower back pain, difficulty squeezing your hands, asthma. If necessary, remind your partner whether you’re right- or left-handed (an important factor in a hand-job). Also mention where you’re particularly flexible or strong—e.g., hips or knees (an important issue if someone’s getting on their hands & knees).

* “You should know that when we’re not getting along so well, I’m a lot less interested in sex.” Unless you’re one of the unusual people for whom the truth is, “When we’re not getting along, I’m a lot more interested in sex.”

* Don’t spring a sex talk on your partner first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or five minutes before dinner guests are arriving.

* “Hey, one of these days when we’re in bed together, do you maybe want to try X?”

Got all that? Great. Now here are some Tips for Talking About Sex in Bed:

* Save “how many times do I have to tell you” for outside the bedroom. Or not at all.

* Never ask “where did you learn that?” or “who taught you to want that?”

* Talk about what you want more than about what you don’t want; for example, instead of saying “that’s too fast,” say “I’d like it slower.” If you say “don’t do that,” add “do this instead.”

* Nothing says “I’m right here with you” like eye contact. Look at your partner periodically during sex, especially when talking or listening.

* Dislike whatever you want, but don’t judge what you don’t like (e.g., “ugh, that’s kinky/perverse/unromantic”). If you don’t want to do something in bed, you don’t need a good reason. Thus, you don’t have to justify your lack of interest in it by criticizing the activity or its sponsor.

* Don’t talk about how a former partner did something better, or how someone else feels better, or how someone else’s bed never had cracker crumbs in it. Unless, of course, you and your current partner get off on such stories.

* If something feels good, say so. If it feels really good, say so more than once.

* Don’t ever, ever, ever, say something feels good when it doesn’t.

* When someone says they don’t want sex, they’re not rejecting you—they’re rejecting sex with you. Big difference.

* If your partner says “I love you” you don’t have to say it right back; you can smile, or you can say “Hmm, good.” And never, ever say “I love you” if you don’t mean it. Or if you’re not 100% certain you’ll be saying it again.

Now that’s Sexual Intelligence.

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