How to Ask for What You Want in Bed
Welcome to Hump Day, where award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sexiest questions—unjudged and unfiltered. Have a quandary? Email us anonymously at HumpDay@instyle.com.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I'm confident in my skills in bed, and I'm pretty sure my boyfriend is satisfied with them too. Where I struggle is asking for what I want. I don’t want to seem high maintenance or make my S.O. feel bad, but I often feel frustrated during sex. Help! —At a Loss for Words
DEAR AT A LOSS,
Porn and mainstream entertainment offer their perks, but they've also done us a disservice; they've given us the impression that a few thrusts of the pelvis from a partner should get us to the finish line. That is just not the case. Most women require a more complex mixture of techniques, along with the right mindset, in order to climax.
Understand that most people do want to please their lovers, especially when there's an emotional attachment between them. In addition to making the person they desire happy, who doesn’t want to feel like a masterful, competent lover? Don't deny your bae this opportunity by holding back on your requests.
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How exactly do you do that? There many ways you can put in a request without treading on the insulting, awkward, or embarrassing. Just follow these dos and don'ts.
- Give him positive reinforcement. Talk about the things he has done that you like. “I love the way you kissed my neck last night!” Say it in person, text him, write him a note, have a skywriter print it in the sky, throw a parade. We all respond well to positive feedback. If that's a little too implicit for your boyfriend, let him know you would like to see that move again during some sexy post-game analysis. An encouraging “Babe, it was so hot when you ... I hope you'll do that again" can go a long way to turn your favorite act into a recurring part of his sexual repertoire.
- Ask him to build on a move you loved that he's already done, adding how you'd like him to take it to the next level. “I love the way you licked my ____. Could you do that to my ____, too? That would be amazing!”
- Make your request gently. A gentle request is not a command or an order. Try posing your wants as an “I would love it if you would...” or an “It would really turn me on if you..."
- Tell your SO you had a sexy dream about trying a certain activity if you'd like to test it out IRL but are too embarrassed to request directly. “Honey, I had this crazy dream that you tied me up and spanked me. That is why I was all over you this morning. There was something really hot about it.” See how your partner reacts. If he seems open to it, ask him to make your dream come true.
- Try the “instead of” technique. Telling a partner to stop doing something you don’t like is essential, but it can come across as hurtful if they've been doing it for a long time and you haven’t said anything. Try phrasing your request as an “instead of”: “Instead of ____, I’d love it if you would ____.” Rather than shutting them down, you're asking them to experiment with you.
- Moan and groan. Signaling to your partner that he's doing something you like with some sexy sounds can be super helpful. This less direct method can be misinterpreted, though, especially when there is more than one thing going on at a time (“Did she like the motions I was doing with my right hand, or was it what I did with my left finger that she was responding to?”).
- Take your partner’s hand and, if that's met with enthusiasm, guide it toward the area where you'd like to be touched. This is even more effective if you can show the amount of pressure, speed, and rhythm you most enjoy.
- Use one-word corrections. Less is more. It is generally better to give feedback postmortem, but if you must do it during the act, go for one-word suggestions like “harder,” “higher,” or “gentler.” Sometimes you need a little more description. But keep your words to a minimum. “Farther left,” “circular motions,” and “don’t stop” are all very clear.
- Use the Gottman ratio. Relationship researcher John Gottman says that couples' relationships do best when they follow a 5:1 positive-to-negative ratio. I believe this applies to sex too. For every piece of negative feedback, try to offer five positives. This ratio will keep your partner feeling optimistic, inspired, and appreciated, which we all like in bed.
- Compare your partner’s performance to that of past partners. Most people are not virgins when they come into their adult relationships, but we don’t need to be reminded of our partner’s previous lovers. That does more to make someone feel self-conscious or inadequate than it does to provide a useful example to emulate.
- Demand. Asking for what you want is great, but no one is inspired by a long list of performance requirements or an entitled attitude. Make this a collaborative experience.
- Criticize or condescend. Sex makes us sensitive, so proceed with kindness. Criticism hurts, discourages, and makes people withdraw. So does lecturing. This comes across as disdainful and is likely to discourage your partner from trying to meet your needs.
- Get wordy. Getting into lengthy explanations during sex can be distracting and pull you both out of the moment. Save lectures, charts, and graphs for the next day. Better yet, boil it down to a one-or-two-word suggestion.
- Be vague. Brevity is not the same as vagueness, which doesn't tend to get you results. Comments like “I don’t know—just be more passionate,” are too general and set your lover up to fail.
- Threaten. Telling someone that if they don't agree to a certain act, you will find someone who will or leave is out of bounds. If you've tried everything you can to build an enjoyable sex life together, and you feel it's time to throw in the towel, that's understandable. But emotionally manipulating someone into participating in a sex act they're not comfortable with is never okay.
- Get frustrated. No matter how annoyed or frustrated you get, be patient with your partner. Don’t roll your eyes or let out exasperated sighs. That's not going to get either of you where you want to be. Keep in mind that this is someone who loves you and is trying to please you.
By making your needs known, not only are you getting one step closer to total pleasure, you're also opening up a new channel of communication with your partner and, in the process, turning up the intimacy. Try asking him whether there's any feedback he might like to offer in return. The strongest couples are always eager to learn new things about one another.