Sexual communication is an essential part of getting the sex you want, but no one ever taught us how to talk about sex, let alone about what we like and want. Instead we got messages like, “all guys like the same thing,” “he knows what women want,” and “she’s hard to please.”. What the heck are any of us supposed to do with that!? Let’s redact that from the record and start over. But first, some comments on the above messages:
Establishing sexual communication is the foundation of good sexual experiences and most people will find it refreshing to share their preferences and boundaries. Sexual communication is important at all points in our lives, but especially if we’ve experienced changes in our bodies, have new partners, or want to try something different with a long time partner. It can feel awkward at first if you aren’t used to it, but just like anything with practice and positive outcomes, it can become second nature.
Tip #1 - Discuss the No’s, No Thank You’s, Boundaries, Limits, and Nuances
While reasons for setting sexual limits widely vary, it is not uncommon for individuals to set sexual limits. Sexual limit setting is a strategy for healthy sexual engagement over a human's lifespan. It's okay for sexual limits to change over time, with the same partner or different partners. What an individual is craving one day, may not be what they desire another day.
Some ways to phrase boundaries are:
"I don't want to take my underwear off."
"Don't put your fingers in my vagina, I don't like that."
"I don't want to have sex."
"I want to cuddle and kiss, but not have sex."
"Any area I should avoid on you?"
“I like having my hands tied, but I don’t like having my feet tied. I want to feel like I can get up and walk away”
When you state boundaries, they don’t have to come with a reason attached to them. If you partner asks why you don't want to do a certain sexual act, you don’t need to justify or explain a preference.
Some ways to respond are:
"It is not what I am in to."
"Because I don't want to."
"It doesn't feel good for me."
"I don't want to do that with you."
“My boobs hurt from breastfeeding”
What to do if their boundary is not being respected or taken seriously:
Your partner may try to say they know what they are doing or that they know a good technique. Try the suggested technique only if you’re interested and feel your partner has your best interest in their suggestion. Otherwise, have the confidence to decline. Remember, if you feel you’re repeatedly not being heard, it’s ok to decline sexual activity with that individual.
Tip #2 - Discuss the Yes’
Everyone is different and our bodies have varying preferences - learning that and having those preferences met is what makes sex so wonderful. Share the ways and places you want to be touched and kissed in order to get the sex that’s satisfying to you.
Some ways to phrase preferences are:
"I usually orgasm from clitoral stimulation. By rubbing your fingers side to side over my clitoris, I’ve got a high chance of orgasming."
"I really like having my ear kissed."
"Can you focus on __ area?"
"What do you like?"
"I like external anal touch."
What to do if you don't know what you like?
If you’re unsure what your preferences are, masturbation is a great way for you to learn. Also, you can share with a partner that you're interested in exploring your body and would like their help to explore your preferences. Remember to verbally communicate what feels good, what you want to try, and what you don't like during the sexual encounter.
Tip #3 - Integrate Sexual Communication into Daily Routine
Flirtation: Flirtation can be a fun way to make your sexual preferences known.
Ex: "Wanna play with each other's fun parts?"
Texting: Texting can be a fun way to share your preferences and barriers with a partner. It can open up a conversation regarding what you like and what your partner likes.
Ex: "Tell me what you like."
When planning on meeting up for a hook up it's helpful to establish desires and boundaries upfront. This can help alleviate feelings of anxiety in the moment.
Ex: "I’ll come over tonight, but just to be clear on expectations, I don't want to have penetrative sex tonight." or “I think I’m into the idea of having sex tonight, but let’s start with a back rub and see where that goes.”
During sex, preferences and boundaries are able to be expanded or retracted at any point. It's important to understand that you're in control of these changes and it's okay to verbalize them.
Ex: "Hey, can you focus on my clitoris and nipples? It feels really good what you're doing to them. I don't think I am in to the anal play right now."
Use the prompts below to ease sexual communication in the future!
My boundaries include:
My preferences include:
Create a personal coaching statement to empower yourself to engage in sexual communication:
If this or any other part of these suggestions feel like they’d be hard to implement, perhaps you’d be interested in sexual wellness counseling to work through these suggestions specific & make a plan that feels authentic to you! Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a 15 minute consultation to chat more about sexual wellness counseling.
Sex Play Versus Sex Performance
Sex is my favorite form of adult play (second is adult swim!). Far too often, we can get stuck in the performance of sex versus the playfulness sex can be. And when this happens, sex can feel far from playful. Here are two strategies for bringing playfulness into your sexy time experience.
Communication is a key component during any sexual encounter and this can include using dirty talk to build arousal. The thought of dirty talk can make people immediately feel like their acting, on performance, and all they feel is stage fright. But it’s more about finding your own style of dirty talk.
Tips for creating your own style of dirty talk:
During sexplay activities focus on enjoying the pleasurable experiences rather than focusing on your performance. Stimulate pleasurable touch throughout your experience with yourself or your partner and focus on the sensations you feel:
Focus on building anticipation inside and outside of the bedroom (examples: hugging, kissing, cuddling, laughing, sharing time together, etc.)
Lead by example during these activities, touch your partners' body the way you want your body to be touched.
Think of ways to make yourself feel sexier this may include:
Far too often, I talk to clients about making themselves a priority when they have sex. But how does one center themselves sexually when no one ever taught us how to do this or what the heck this looks like? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t learn how to consider my sexual desires and needs, let alone that I COULD even do this, in my Newark High School Sex Ed class!
Cue, The Selfies.
So here’s what I like to call the Sexy Selfies which help us explore ourselves and center this when we’re having sex.
The practice of communicating your personal desires, preferences, needs, boundaries, and rights to yourself and to partners. Take responsibility for yourself as a sexual and intimate person by advocating for what you want and do not want through explicit communication.
How to practice self-advocacy:
Practice self-awareness: know yourself, determine your strengths, weaknesses, personal wants, boundaries, and desires.
Make your preferences, needs, boundaries, and desires known through explicit communication with others.
You are unique! Do not assume others know what you want and do not want.
The practice of taking yourself seriously, allowing yourself to feel, think, and accept without judgment or second-guessing yourself.
How to practice self-validation:
Pay attention to your thoughts. Are they helpful or hurtful?
Be mindful of how you feel. Your emotions are telling you something.
Try to understand your thoughts and feelings.
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings are valid.
Treat yourself with respect. Remember you are doing your best!
Stand up for yourself.
Loving yourself unconditionally. Caring for, respecting, taking responsibility, and knowing yourself. Appreciating yourself to support your physical, psychological, and spiritual health. Practice self-love by accepting your weaknesses, strengths, and having compassion for yourself.
How to practice self-love:
Mindfulness: What are you saying to yourself? What thoughts are you having and how do these thoughts affect your mood, health, and behavior?
Be grateful and appreciate yourself
Forgive yourself: learn and grow from your choices and lessons learned
Set boundaries with self and others: say no and set boundaries in your personal life
Live with intention: set intention to find your purpose and life meaning
Activities to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically.
How to practice self-care:
Eating healthy food Relaxation exercises
Showering or bathing Spending time with partner
Exercising Prioritize self-care
Getting enough sleep Explore and receive pleasure
"Me" time or "we" time Leisure activity time
Meditation Connect with nature
Practicing positive inner dialogue to help you achieve your goals and reduce negative thoughts and feelings. Use your positive self-talk to increase your desire and arousal when participating in intimate and sexual events
How to practice positive self-talk:
Create a specific statement that empowers you and repeat this to yourself before and during sex.
Use positive wording and avoid "don't" statements during your self-talk statements
Practicing self-pleasure involves taking time to explore your body and give yourself pleasure. Self-pleasure can be empowering, enjoyable, and informative. It may also seem intimidating, foreign, or awkward.
How to practice self-pleasure:
You are unique. Explore what you find to be pleasurable.
Use external aids: lubrication, erotic images, sex toys.
Be mindful of the sensations you are feeling in your body. Get out of you head and into your skin. Feel the feels whether yippy or meh!
Be patient with yourself
Engage in positive self-talk throughout and afterwards.
The Selfies Action Plan:
I will advocate for myself by: _________________________________
I will validate myself by: ______________________________________
I will show myself love by: ____________________________________
Self care tasks I will do this week: _____________________________
Positive self talk statement: ___________________________________
Self-pleasure strategy I will try: _______________________________
Create your coaching statement to empower yourself to achieve your personal goals.
Selfie Coaching Statement: ________________________________________________________________
If this or any other part of these suggestions feel like they’d be hard to implement, perhaps you’d be interested in sexual wellness counseling to work through these suggestions specific & authentic to you! Send me an email (email@example.com) for a 15 minute consultation to chat more about sexual wellness counseling.
We've all seen them. The sex scenes in movies that portray those initial moments afterwards to be euphoric and filled with mutual pleasure and happiness. But, we know that just isn't always reality! It can be a really awkward or uncomfortable time for couples. Add pain, difficulty with communication, or a physical limitation to the mix and it can really become a difficult time to figure out what to say post sex.
I often get asked by client's, "how do I ask for what I want?" and "what if I want my partner to do something different?" or, what is more likely is, I'll find out that sex just ends "bad" with one or all partners frustrated.
Early on in my clinical practice I developed what I like to call, The 3 A's.
These are the three things I recommend as talking points for my clients after sex.
Accolades- Tell them what you enjoyed. “I really like when you ____”.
Affirmations- “You're so (insert positive attribute)”. EX: sexy, beautiful, hott, great in bed!
Appreciation- Thank you. “Thank you for making me feel great” or “Thanks for the boink!”
These three talking points can be helpful if you feel like giving or receiving feedback - either positive or negative is difficult. While it's okay to give 'negative' feedback, it's important to keep it constructive and know when and how to give it. For example, giving negative feedback right after sex is not the best timing. No one likes to hear that they did something wrong, especially right after having sex which can be a very vulnerable time. Instead, it can be helpful to appreciate the time spent together, utilize the 3 A's, and then save the constructive feedback for later. Timing can make all the difference.
Talking about our sexual experiences shouldn't be limited to the moments right before and after sex.
Those conversations can be great at the breakfast table, during a car ride, or anytime during the day. Getting to a point where it's comfortable for you to have those conversations at any time of day can feel difficult. It can take time and practice to do something new, and let's be honest talking about sex (either during or outside of it) is new for a lot of us.
Ending sex on a positive note can make it even more likely sex will happen again, and practicing the 3As is a great way to center the positive post sex!
The Not So Sexy Valentine's Day
What’s a parent of a young kiddo to do, when Valentine’s Day is approaching, and you couldn’t be less interested in sex… but you know your partner will be.
Maybe you’re breastfeeding, touched-out, and can’t possibly think of a way you’d be in the mood on Valentine's Day? Maybe your boobs are huge and you’ve given up reminding your partner not to touch them during sex, so you just stopped having sex. Maybe you gave birth 6 weeks ago (left the hospital with 4 hemorrhoids that you still have) and just got cleared to have sex by your doctor… just in time for the 14th? Or maybe you’ve just not quite gotten those sexy feels back again since you had your kids 3 years ago, and you don’t know how to communicate this to your newest partner.
The hardest part about low desire when “sex is the last thing on your mind” is when it’s met with your partner’s higher desire – among all the things you’re juggling this can feel like a recipe for inadequacy, insecurity, resentment, guilt.
So this Valentine’s Day, I offer some alternative perspectives and approaches to help recenter pleasure in your life in a way that is sustainable and realistic. Don’t worry, this isn’t the “put on heels, tickle here, tickle there… oh that didn’t work? Sorry” sort of sex advice.
First knowledge is pleasure! When you can understand the changes that happen in your body after childbirth, you can also enlighten your partner. You can also see that your body is freaking amazing and a national treasure! Let’s start with the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a three layer system of muscles that have many roles. It provides stability, holds the bladder and uterus in place, and carries the weight of the baby during pregnancy. No matter how the baby is delivered, the pelvic floor muscles have been impacted. And just like any other muscle in your body these muscles can be too weak or too tight as a response to trauma. This can make sex uncomfortable or change the way you feel pleasure in your vagina, vulva, and clitoris. In addition, estrogen is the hormone responsible for keeping the skin of the vulva, vagina and perineum lubricated and robust. Estrogen plummets after giving birth, the skin of those areas often becomes dry and tender which can make sex painful. Why does the estrogen plummet? Many reasons, but one is to reduce the likelihood of another pregnancy during the time the breastfeeding parent is using all of their resources and energy to nourish the newborn. So it’s a biological response that literally discourages you from having penetrative sex, because the body doesn’t want you to get pregnant!!! Intelligent design? *eye roll* I beg to differ.
So here’s how you can communicate this to your partner:
Did you know there are hormonal changes that make the vagina less responsive to pleasure and makes penetrative sex uncomfortable? I’m definitely experiencing some of this. Next time we have sex, let’s take it really gently and slow and use lubrication.
Next, know you can say no. Repeat after me, “I cannot say yes to sex, if I cannot say no to sex”- now repeat that three times. Far too often I hear people tell me they go through with having sex to please their partners and then they tell me they don’t enjoy the sex they’re having or they feel check out during it. I completely understand how you would not want to have sex in the future. The first step in getting the sex that fills you up and gets you excited is saying no. Saying no to the sex you don’t want or saying no to all of it. Here’s how you can say no to sex,
“No thank you. I appreciate your advances, which make me feel good, but I can’t see myself having sex tonight.”
This might sound completely counter intuitive to the overall goal of increasing sexual desire. When you say no to sex, you reinforce for yourself that sex is an optional activity not obligatory or another chore you check off the list. Ok, so now that we’re reinforcing sex as a choice, we can start to consider what we want!
Thinking about, asking for, and saying yes to what you want. I always recommend exercising wants as integral to pleasure practices and routines. When we can consider our wants, it reinforces to us that pleasure matters in our lives and deserves equal footing next to the obligations, surviving, and caregiving new parents often find themselves in. Wants can be completely non-sexual. It’s normal to desire a clean house, 5 minutes of alone time, or a hot shower in order to help you transition into a sexy headspace. Or maybe you don’t want to have sex, but you want to cuddle or give/receive massages – ask for just exactly that. Here’s a way you can communicate this to your partner,
“I really like when you kiss my neck and earlobe before you go down on me, it helps me get in the mood. But please don’t touch my boobs during sex, it snaps me right out of it. Instead put your hands on my shoulders and arms – I love this.”
This begs the question, what do you want? Many times, it can feel hard to think about what you want and then communicate that to partners. If this or any other part of these suggestions feel like they’d be hard to implement, perhaps you’d be interested in sexual wellness counseling to work through these suggestions specific & authentic to you! Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a 15 minute consultation to chat more about sexual wellness counseling.
Happy Valentine's Day, Darling!
Dr. Kathryn Ellis
Occupational Therapist & Sexuality Counselor
Realistic sex advice for grown folks