Do You Talk Dirty?
In her new column Anouszka Tate looks into the difficulties people have in telling their partners what they want in bed. And offers some solutions...
Today’s story starts at a pub. It’s a Wednesday evening and my girlfriends and I are probably a few drinks deeper than we should be on a school night. For the best part of the last half hour one friend has been describing in incredible detail the difference between the sex she’s having and the sex she wants. (And boy, she really knows what she wants. Had her hands not been wrapped around a beer bottle I would have assumed she was flicking through an erotic novel under the table). She eventually finishes by bemoaning the fact that her boyfriend of almost a decade just doesn’t seem to understand any of her desires.
Finally able to get a word in edgeways, I tentatively ask: “Have you told him any of this?”
The supposedly sexually liberated friend recoils in horror. Or maybe it’s something closer to embarrassment. “Oh my God, no! I wouldn’t know how to!”
Strange, isn’t it? That the one person who should know what your mind fantasises about and how your body feels is often the one person you’re not willing, or able, to tell. The manager of the pub was minding her own business cashing up for the night and yet she has far more knowledge about how to pleasure my mate than said mate’s boyfriend does.
My DMs are always open for you lot to slide into with all your queries and concerns, and that very same week I received this message: ‘Would you say the most important part of an intimate physical relationship is communication? It can be difficult to communicate about something so deeply personal, laying yourself bare (for want of a better phrase) but I think it’s essential in building a stronger relationship, or discovering the person you’re with isn’t right for you…’
In a word, yes.
Yes, I would say communication is the most important part of an intimate physical relationship. Yes it’s essential in order to build a strong relationship, and yes it can help determine if the person you’re with is the right person for you. Crucially, the other box good communication can help tick is pleasure. How can your partner know what kind of sex you like and want if you don’t tell them?
It feels like for the most part we’re all already sold on the principle, but perhaps need a bit of help putting it into practice.
So, in order to illustrate how to communicate without shame, embarrassment, or awkwardness, I’m going to tell you the story of the best sex I ever had. (Less self-indulgent than it sounds, I promise).
When I was 20 I was in a relationship that, as far as I was concerned at the time, was for life. This was the person I was going to be having sex with forever. Realising that forever is quite a long time, from the beginning we put a lot of active time and effort into communicating and experimenting and learning about each other because we saw it as an investment in our future pleasure.
Away on holiday with 10 other people, we stayed in the pool long after everyone else had gone to bed one evening. We had sex in the pool (difficult, thereby requiring one does not take oneself too seriously). We moved it inside and had sex on the pool table (there was the added jeopardy of everyone else’s bedroom doors opening out onto the games room).
We were in a very funny, open, silly mood. We were laughing together. We were joking about how stupidly sexy but ridiculous this all was.
We eventually made it back to our bedroom and flopped on top of the sheets, still naked, still giggling. Being a bit stupid meant we had let our guards down, so we then lay there and had a bit of a biology lesson. A show and tell sex education if you will. That was the best part. We literally took it in turns to go from head to toe, not missing a single inch of each other’s skin, asking questions about how we felt about that part of our body, how it feels to be touched like that, what happens if I touch these two places at the same time?
I explained that I definitely have a left handed clitoris. We laughed as he stroked the right hand side and it did absolutely nothing. I learnt all his buttons, what to do if I wanted him to last longer, how it felt when I used whatever technique to make him come even harder at the last moment.
I will always consider that to be the best sex of my life because it taught me how to communicate. It taught me the importance of taking the time to learn the other person’s body, of telling them what does and doesn’t work for you, because no matter how much you think this person is your fated other half and they’re the only person in the world who can see into your soul etc etc …they’re not a mind reader.
Sex is collaborative, so communicating about sex should be too. I think sometimes people can feel like having to ask their partner what they like is a failure of some sort, but doing it this way makes it a constant give and take. Neither of you is solemnly sitting the other down to shatter their world by telling them they hate that thing they’ve been doing for five years. You’re both asking and both telling. With the focus on exploration, there will inevitably be exciting new discoveries to balance out the odd “absolutely never touch me there again”.
What I didn’t know at the time was that what we were doing is called pleasure mapping. “If you struggle to communicate what you like in the bedroom – for example you may be fearful of ridicule, too shy, wary of hurting a partners feelings, or you may simply not know what you want – then this is a great technique for you,” somatic sex educator Victoria Helen Roberts tells me.
“As you move (slowly) from area to area your partner can communicate whether they like it or not. If this feels too intimidating you don’t have to use words, you can use traffic lights colours – green for YES, amber for OK, red for NO – or varying gestures. This technique can be adapted to you and your personality type so that you express your desires in a way that feels comfortable to you and that is understandable to your partner.”
“You can treat it as a game,” she continues. “Taking it in turns, slowly explore your partners body with various types of touch, a light tickle, a nail scratch, a tongue tickle, a tap, drumming fingers, a pinch. You could use more sensory elements like massage wax or ice. The options are almost limitless.”
The other reason this particular night stayed with me is the idea of when to have those sorts of conversations. Having said it’s made me super open about communication, I’m actually not a particularly verbal person during sex; I just want to be able to bloody well get on with it in the moment and react to my partner’s body language. Plus, when they’ve already got going is when you’re most likely to stay silent for fear of hurting their feelings. So – for me at least – there’s definitely something in having a bit of a sexy context (nakedness and vulnerability and physical closeness) but very much post-sex. You’ll be in the right mindset but without there being any pressure on the touching or talking leading to having to put it all into practice immediately.
Lack of communication generally comes from feeling shy, awkward, or proud. Laughter helped me work through those barriers, but sincerity might help others. Own the inevitable inelegance and admit you’re a bit nervous about what you’re about to say. It’ll invoke empathy, and likely make your partner feel better about their own uneasiness. Together you can let down the pretence, find yourselves on an equal playing field, and communicate both physically and verbally.
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