Even if we have an honest relationship, bringing up other sex things we’d like to try can be difficult. We worry our partner will perceive our suggestions as criticism. In an ideal world, we'd be able to get across that we need certain things, but without making them feel vulnerable or judged. And it’s a difficult balance, because sex is such an exposing and intimate activity, it’s natural to feel sensitive.
'Women often have a problem saying what they want in bed for two reasons,' relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein says. 'Firstly they are often socialised to feel shy or inhibited around their sexuality. Women get very mixed messages in society about sex, but one of those messages is ‘if you are sexual and seek pleasure then you are a slut’. 'It can also be difficult for them to figure out what they like in bed and tell their partner in a direct manner.'
Talking about sex, especially if you’re not used to it, can feel like a minefield. But as long as you’re kind and thoughtful with your wording, there’s no reason discussing your sex life with your partner should be a problem. Both of you want to have an empowering, fulfilling sex life - so it’s time to open up the conversation. So here’s how to assert your sexuality and ask for what you want, without hurting your partner’s feelings.
1. Remember sex is meant to feel good for you, too
Firstly, remember that your sex life is not just about pleasing your partner - it’s also about pleasing yourself. Aimee says this is the other big dilemma for women and people with vulvas.
'The other challenge is that in heterosexual and male/female pairings, women can tend to be deferential to men and a bit passive,' she says. This is not our fault, FYI, but down to how we are socialised and our patriarchal culture. 'But sex is supposed to be something you participate in that feels good to you. And only you know what that is.'
If you’re losing your nerve, remember that you deserve to feel great, and that your partner wants you to feel great too.
2. Choose your tone and setting
A huge part of how your partner is going to respond is down to how you talk to them about it. 'The best way to tell your partner what you want in bed is to be direct, but also complimentary and kind,' Aimee explains.
You may want to avoid doing it right after sex, when they’ll probably be feeling particularly vulnerable. See if you can bring it up organically, rather than as a big announcement where they might feel under attack. Then be kind, but firm.
3. Be clear
If you’re going to have the conversation, there’s no point in beating around the bush - and your partner will probably appreciate the clarity.
'You might feel comfortable saying straight out that you want them to touch you harder or softer,’ Aimee says. 'Chances are they will welcome the guidance and be game.'
4. Make it part of your pre-sex build up
If the thought of talking about sex that frankly makes you blush, don’t worry, the more you do it the easier it gets. Once you get used to it, it’ll make conversations about sex so much more fulfilling and useful.
If in doubt, try experimenting with sexting, subtly weaving in the things you want to try, and the way you like to be touched. This can be a great way to get your point across and turn your partner on in the process.
5. Wrap it up in positives
'But if you worry that they’re going to be sensitive about it, you can also add input about the things they already do that you like,' Aimee says. 'Tell your partner that you love the way they do X and Y, and that it would be great if they could also add Z.'
You can even try a compliment sandwich: start with something great, make a suggestion, then talk about something else you like. It’s a great way to have an open conversation about your sex life, rather than it just feeling like criticism.
6. Ask them what they need
Another good route in, is to ask about what your partner might want or need in bed that they’re not already getting. By making suggestions and asking questions, it becomes a back-and-forth. And, if your partner is able to bring up what they’d like to try, your suggestions will feel less like a lack of satisfaction and more like a mutual appetite for exploration.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan UK.