By Jill Heller
We need to talk about sex. Actually, hold that thought. We need to talk about talking about sex.
Chances are, if you are or have been sexually active, you’ve experienced disappointment during or after the act. But why is that, and how can we change it? Communicating outside of the bedroom about what’s going on inside of the bedroom could be a game-changer for your sex life and self-esteem.
Do you know what’s even hotter than dirty talk? Sex that addresses your needs, preferences and body, while respecting your boundaries. The problem is, talking about sex can be incredibly awkward, especially with first-time or casual partners. But there’s good news yet. Everyone can begin breaking these stigmas that hold us back from getting to know ourselves and our partners and, ultimately, enjoy sex more.
Why is it so hard?
Approaching these conversations is tricky. Whether with a long-term partner, a friend with benefits, or a one-night stand, there can be an air of awkwardness navigating these sorts of discussions.
On top of all of this, we’re not equipped with the language to have these talks. Many health teachers put a condom on a banana and call it sex ed. The language around anatomy and pleasure is still taboo, preventing us from understanding or explaining our needs and desires.
Shame, stigma, unpleasant emotions and lack of language just touch the surface of why it can be difficult to talk about sex with your partner(s). But the only way we can try to reverse shame’s grip on us is to face it head on.
What good communication brings to the table
Firstly, consent. Anytime you incorporate something new into the bedroom, a verbal “yes” is mandatory. Consent is an ongoing conversation, is sexy, and is not. an. option. It can be revoked at any time.
Only after you and your partner(s) know your comfort levels and trust each other to respect the boundaries you’ve put in place is it time to get down and dirty. When you communicate openly, it’s much easier to bring mutual pleasure to your sexual experiences, rather than conforming to “race to the finish line”, orgasm-centric sex.
The expectation that sex always ends in an orgasm imposes immense pressure on everyone involved. This focus typically lends itself more to stress, which often inhibits orgasms or the ability to enjoy sexual pleasure.
When you inform your partner(s) what you enjoy before you hit the sheets, it tends to be easier to ask how to do that thing they mentioned, or make them feel good without immediate pressure to cum. When the pressure to have an orgasm is off, it’s far easier to enjoy the different sensations that your body can have.
Ultimately, it is empowering to be in touch with your body in different ways, and to discover what works for you in bed. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover new activities you like!
Aftercare — what is it and why should we talk about it?
Aftercare is communication after sex to make sure that all parties feel good about their time together physically and mentally, and is perhaps an aspect of sex that can be as important as the physical act itself. It may seem awkward to bring this up with a random Tinder date, but fret not. Aftercare varies; anything from a check-in to see if you had fun to a more thorough debrief on the experience will suffice depending on the nature of your sexual experience.
Some examples of aftercare are:
- Cleaning up together and sharing a glass of water
- Physical, non-sexual intimacy such as cuddling, holding hands, etc.
- Showering together
- Napping together
- For casual partners, ask if everything was alright for them or if they want to hang out again
- Talking through any parts of the experience that were great, or parts that made you feel uncomfortable
Having the conversation
All of this might sound great, but how do you really bring this up?
Firstly, prepare on your own. Brook, a UK-based sex education non-profit for young people, recommends making a list of different situations and what you might feel if they happened. While Brook’s recommendations cater to a younger audience, the tenets of their content apply across all sexual experiences, no matter age or experience. Exploring these thoughts to the relevant degree for you can be a helpful exercise.
For consistent sexual partners, author, educator and sex therapist Laurie Watson recommends planning a specific topic to talk about and time to talk about it. She also recommends using “I” statements, so your partner knows it’s not an individual failure on their part.
For your Tinder date, you will want to take a more casual route. This can be something as simple as “Just a heads up, I’m really not into x, y, z” before you head to the bedroom. Try using language to approach all new acts; e.g. “Do you want me to do x?” And remember, consent is sexy and essential.
If you don’t feel like you can tell your partner what you want or don’t want, it’s a good idea to reconsider why, and if you want to continue pursuing physical intimacy with them. This is a nuanced, self-reflective act, and there’s no right answer all the time, but it’s always okay to change your mind about sex at any point in the process.
Brook also recommends a few different conversation tactics to approach potentially awkward topics: generally bringing something up, being straightforward about it, or working the topic into the conversation. It can also be helpful to practice the conversation on your own or with a friend.
Some sentences to guide your conversation might be:
- Before we head into the bedroom, you should know (I like, don’t like, have this boundary…) x.
- I really like it when (you, my sexual partners, etc.) do x. Can we do more of that please?
- My friend told me about x. Would you be up for trying it?
Sexual trauma and communication about sex
We can’t neglect that communication around sex can be impacted by previous negative sexual experiences. This is a nuanced topic that deserves its own addressing, but remember that you only have to disclose what you’re comfortable disclosing, with whomever you want, whenever you want.
Ultimately, the point of this is to find out your needs and your partner’s needs, and joining them together. Ask, listen, discuss. There’s no right or wrong way to have sex as long as you’re having fun and clearly communicating.
- Brook: a UK-based charity for young people that provides clinical services, digital support, tailored counselling, and relationships & sex education
- School of Sexuality Education (formerly SexplainUK): an organisation that provides schools with inclusive, up-to-date, feminist, intersectional, non-binary and sex-positive relationships & sex ed programmes
- Radical Love: a content platform and Instagram account where you can find honest takes on sexuality, relationships, BDSM and queerness
- Sex Therapy for All: an Instagram account run by Taylor Pierce, who studies and shares sex-positive, socially just mental health support