In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.

By Dr. Jenn Mann
Updated May 13, 2020 @ 3:00 pm
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My partner and I are living separately right now during the pandemic. Fortunately, we are both safe and healthy, but being apart sucks. She wants me to talk dirty to her which is great… except that I'm not very experienced at it and am nervous I’ll say the wrong thing, or take things too far and freak her out. Help! —Zippermouth


It is great she wants to stay connected during this time in your relationship. Talking dirty is a fun way to meet each other’s sexual needs and even learn new things about one another. It's also a great tool for making a long-distance relationship work.

You are not alone in your dirty talk anxiety. Until you have thrown yourself in the dirty talk pool and swum around a bit, most people are scared to put their toe in.

There are three common fears that I see over and over again. One, “I am going to freak my partner out.” This is particularly common for people in the beginning of a new relationship and those who have been together for many years but have kept their mouths shut during sex. Introducing a new language in the bedroom can be very nerve wracking. Second, “my partner is going to view me differently.” What if he thinks I am a slut? What if he doesn’t respect me because of what I say? What if my wife thinks I am a pervert for using those words? Third, like you mentioned “what if I get carried away and cross a line I shouldn’t cross?” (For this one, the episode of Sex and the City in which Miranda dates a dirty-talking man comes to mind. At first, she’s shy and nervous giving it a go, but once she gets started, she finds she’s opened a Pandora’s box and never sees her skittish friend again.)

How Dirty Talk Can Improve Your Relationship

Here’s why it’s worth moving past those fears: Adding verbal play to physical sexual activity creates a powerful, erotic combination. Dirty talk creates the best kind of tension, lacing sex with fantasy and anticipation. It also helps you express what you like and want in bed, serving not only as seduction but also as instruction. For that reason, it’s often lauded as a sexy, non-awkward, and non-disruptive way to give and receive sexual consent. (There’s no clearer way to express your desire, after all, than looking someone in the eye and saying “f—ck me.”)

And while apart, combining some solo activity with something verbal and erotic can be an exciting change. Because you don't talk like this with other people, this private, shared language can be a source of closeness, and provide intimacy when you can’t be physically intimate. By verbalizing your desires, it’ll make your reunion all the more exciting.

So how do you begin?

1. Simply describe what you're doing.

If you’re a complete beginner, you’ll want to start small and gauge how you feel and your partner reacts, especially if it’s something you’ve never spoken about before. An easy way to do that? Simply describe what you’re doing or want to do with them. (Just make sure you are not too clinical sounding. This is a fun way to get her off, not a trip to the gynecologist — unless that is her fantasy).

This is a failsafe phone sex technique (when describing what you’re doing is key), but it can also be hot to introduce while you’re already in the act IRL.

If you are too nervous to start off face-to-face, test the waters with a text message. Jump in and wait for that dot dot dot. That can be the most anxiety-inducing part. Unless he types and then stops, types and then goes dark, resits the urge to “LOL jk”/“wrong text”/“my friend stole my phone” it away. Give him a chance to come up with something equally as titillating to respond with.

You may want to start with a basic “Can’t wait to see you and tear your clothes off” before working your way up to an intermediate “I can’t wait to have your __ in my __.” Don’t, though, skip straight to a “You're a dirty little $#@! I want you to #$%^ all over my %$#@.” That’s for partners who’ve figured out their lexicon already and can be too big of a shock to the system if you're venturing into new territory.

2. Prepare phrases.

Once you've initiated banter, you can start to use it more regularly. Since you're new to this, plan a few phrases you can handle in advance. Write them down in the notes section of your phone so you can refer to them if you get tongue tied. Really. Do this.

Talking dirty is a learned skill. When in doubt, revert back to the above: describe what you are doing, what you want to do to your partner, what he is doing to you, or what you want done to yourself. Need a script? Check out the book 131 Dirty Talk Examples.

3. Work your way up the rauchiness totem pole.

In general, I like to think of the sex words we use as falling into one of four categories: romantic terms (e.g. "making love"), clinical terms (e.g. "having sex," "having in sexual intercourse"), slang terms (e.g. "doing it"), and raunchy terms (e.g. "f-cking"). If you're new to dirty talk, you may want to start with more subdued words before progressing to the more graphic. Sometimes people think that they have to go all the way in order to succeed at dirty talk, but dirty talk is a continuum, and all levels of vulgarity work.

If you're shy, start by telling your partner what you're hoping to do with him tonight using a romantic or clinical term. Once you gain confidence, up the raunchiness until you feel like you've hit your sweet spot. Most people have a raunchiness threshold, when dirty talk stops feeling hot and starts feeling uncomfortable, and it takes a bit of experimentation to find out where yours and your partner's is. Which brings us here...

4. Define what's off-limits.

Sexual fantasies aren't always politically correct, and words that can be offensive in day-to-day life can be really hot in bed. (For example, nobody wants to be called the “c word” in real life. But being told how hot and wet our “c word” is in bed can be a real turn on.) But there's no standard line in the sand; every couple needs to draw it themselves. Once you know that you are both on board for some dirty talk, I recommend sitting down together and going through a list of body parts and sexual activities, asking each other which words and phrases are particularly exciting or complete turn-offs. It may seem awkward to discuss at first, but you can turn it into dirty talk foreplay (“You know which word I really like when you say it?”) or make it a quick, Band-Aid rip-off situation (“P.S. Never call me a ^&%$. That one’s off limits.”) Need a list? Check out the sexual inventory in my book, The Relationship Fix.

5. Read erotic novels together.

Another way to introduce sexual verbiage with a partner is by reading erotic novels together. I always recommend a collection of short fantasy stories like Nancy Friday’s Forbidden Flowers: More Women’s Sexual Fantasies. Reading these kinds of books together can help you both learn what turns both of you on and what just makes you LOL. It's also a way to inject a little humor into the whole experiment, which can take the pressure off.

6. Role play.

Role play can be a fun way not to have to take full responsibility for your choice of words because your "character" is picking them. If one of you is pretending to be the dungeon master, you may feel more free to use words that you might not otherwise. After all, you had to stay in character! Role play often frees us to go outside of our comfort zone and try things we wouldn't without the crutch. If it works, you can always reprise the role at a future time. If it doesn't, you can retire it.