How to Tell Your Partner What You Want in Bed

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Sex should be fun, but it can also be complicated. Welcome to Sexual Resolution, a biweekly column by sex therapist Vanessa Marin answering your most confidential questions to help you achieve a healthy, joyful sex life. Here, she answers a question about how to talk to her partner in bed.

DEAR VANESSA: My partner wants to know what I like in bed, and I know he will do anything to please me. However, I’m a bit hesitant to say what I like when I don’t exactly know, and even when I do, sometimes I don’t know how to describe what I want. I don’t want to give him ineffective instructions. I feel like maybe that will make me frustrated, kill my mood, or make him confused or feel bad about himself. How do I learn how to talk to my partner in bed? – Feedback For Feedback, 23

DEAR FFF: A lot of people get really intimidated about the idea of giving feedback during sex, especially since you rarely see this kind of communication in a sex scene on TV or in the movies. There’s this stereotype that we’re supposed to be able to have amazing sex without any communication necessary. But feedback is an absolutely crucial component of great sex.

Here’s one of the things that most people get wrong about feedback: You’re not giving your partner a detailed, itemized, step-by-step description of exactly what to do. Instead, you’re sharing your feelings, desires, and experiences with your partner in the moment. It’s feedback, not instructions. You used the phrase “ineffective instructions,” so I think you may be putting too much pressure on yourself to give your partner perfect directions about exactly what you want. But feedback can be as simple as, “Can you try a little more pressure?” or “Keep doing that.”

Additionally, remember that by sharing a piece of feedback with your partner, you’re not promising that you’ll absolutely love what it ends up feeling like. It’s fine to ask for something, then tell your partner that you’d like to try something different. For example, you can ask your partner to try holding your hands above your head during sex, then realize you don’t actually like that and ask them to touch your body instead. Feedback is a suggestion, not a guarantee.

It sounds like you have some ideas of what you would like, but you’re not sure how to phrase your requests. It’s pretty stressful to try to come up with the right words in the moment, so what I would suggest is that you take some time on your own to figure out how to ask for what you want. It may even help to type it out so you can make edits as necessary. Once you feel more confident with how to phrase your requests, it’ll be a lot easier to share them in the moment.

You can also share with your partner that you’re struggling to verbalize your requests. There are lots of ways to get creative about sharing feedback with a partner. For example, you could decide that you will squeeze your partner’s wrist when you want him to use more pressure. Or you can show him how you masturbate, so he can learn how you like to have your clitoris touched. Or you can share that you’ve always been curious to play with BDSM, but you don’t know how exactly to do it.

I also want to address this idea that talking to your partner in bed will make them feel bad about how they interact with you. I think feedback actually does the exact opposite. Most of us are very self-conscious about our performance in the bedroom. Have you ever had a partner who was dead silent while you focused on them? It can be a nerve-wracking experience. You have absolutely no idea whether they’re loving or hating what you’re doing. On the other hand, when a partner gives you compliments and gentle feedback, like, “That feels amazing. Can you keep doing that and also kiss me?” it’s very helpful. It can feel great to have some guidance in the moment about how to bring your partner pleasure and some reassurance that they’re enjoying themselves.

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