Getting intimate may not be the most difficult thing in the world, but talking about getting intimate? All bets are off. Whether you’re in bed with a spouse or a short-term acquaintance, figuring out how to talk about sex with your partner—or asking for what you want in bed—can be more challenging than sex itself.
For many folks, asking for what you want in bed is a touchy subject. “I find that lots of people are afraid of hurting their partner's feelings, thinking that if they make a specific request their partner will think it's a critique of their performance or sexual IQ,” says sex expert Ev’Yan Whitney. “Some folks are afraid of being rejected. Asking for what you want in any capacity, but especially in the bedroom, is a vulnerable thing; I think a lot of people shy away from asking because that leaves it open for their partner to say no or not understand.”
Another common reason? Simply not knowing how to ask for what you want and advocate for your needs and desires. “I find that people who have trouble asking for what they want in bed have trouble asking for what they want in general—in their friendships, from their co-workers, even from themselves,” Whitney says. “They'll either dismiss their wants because they don't see them as being important or they'll gaslight themselves into thinking that they actually don't want what they want.”
To help you overcome some of these potential barriers, we talked to a few experts to learn a little more about how to ask for what you want in bed. Because yes, you deserve it.
1. Try talking about sex outside the bedroom
Not all bedroom talk has to be relegated to the bedroom, says sexologist Sadie Allison, PhD. “Talk about sex over a coffee or cocktail,” she says. “This will make for a more comfortable conversation since it’s not in the middle of being intimate, where your partner could feel inadequate. Be compassionate and gentle with your words, and share how happy and fulfilled these things will make you feel.”
2. Do a little show and tell
“If there’s something specific you want to try, find an adult entertainment video and show your partner the scene where it’s being performed,” offers Allison. “Ask them what they think and if it seems like it would be something fun to try. You can even suggest that it looks interesting to you and you might be interested in trying it.”
Allison also suggests literal demonstrations. “If you want to be licked, ask your partner if it's ok to do that to them, and then let them know that you'd love for them to try the same thing on you,” she suggests. Or try saying "can I show you what feels good to me"? These are playful, explorative ways where you can really embark on the journey as partners, ensuring nobody feels left out or rebuked.
3. Use a yes/no/maybe list
If you’re not sure of where to start when it comes to what you do (or don’t) want in bed, psychotherapist and sex therapist Tamara Pincus suggests using a yes/no/maybe list. “You don’t create your own list,” she explains, “You find one that works for you, like the one from Bex Caputo.”
4. Read together
Several experts recommend reading a book on sex together to increase your knowledge base (and potentially set the mood). Dr Allison recommends an illustrated sex tip book (like Dr Sadie’s 6 bestsellers), while Pincus offers Come As You Are by Emily Nagoskii.
5. Write about what you want
Once you’ve read the written word, think about writing the written word. “Leave a post-it note where your partner will see when you’re not around—maybe on the bathroom mirror, in their lunch, or on their steering wheel,” says Dr Allison. “This turns it into a fun little game and helps lean into the suspense and desire.” If you want something that feels a bit more intimate or romantic, try writing a note in a card. “The hand-written touch will be unique and thoughtful and offer a more sincere approach/connection than text or email,” she adds.
6. Play a little game
Keeping things light and playful is always key to having a healthy conversation about sex and intimacy, Whitney notes. One way to ensure that you maintain this atmosphere is by literally playing a game...perhaps of the more erotic nature. “Ideally, you want a game that lends itself to veer into sexual conversations and allows you to casually bring it up,” says Allison. “Involving laughter and lightness is a great way to touch upon what you enjoy.”
Exploring your sexuality with your partner and learning what you want and how to ask for it can pave the way for enormous growth both personally and for your relationship, says Pincus. “I've seen people make tremendous strides in their own journey just by being able to explore what's pleasurable for them,” Pincus notes. “Too often, we tend to focus on the same things in sex, but broadening the definition of intimacy is important.”
“Simply put, if you don't ask for what you want in bed, you're not going to have the sexual experiences you want, desire, and need to have a pleasurable time,” Whitney adds. “This isn't just about getting what you want either, it's about creating and normalising discussions about sex and consent. It's about creating a muscle memory of asking for what we want that we can then translate into other areas of our lives outside of the bedroom.”
By getting comfortable with conversations about what you want in the bedroom, you may also pave the way to prioritising other individual needs as well. “When you create a safe space for your wants in the bedroom to be entertained, you're also creating a safe space for your partners' wants to be considered too.” After all, they point out, “Sex between two or more people is meant to be collaborative.”