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Let’s talk about how to talk about sex. When you think of ‘the talk’ what do you think of? Most people probably think of an awkward conversation about sex with a parent, teacher, or other adult, and it probably left much to be desired, quite literally. A new initiative from the National Coalition for Sexual Health (NCHS) and Altarum, called the Five Action Steps, aims to flip the unhealthy and often silent culture around sexual pleasure on its head. The action steps focus on normalizing conversations around sex, and provide the real-life skills and information that people need to have healthy conversations about physical intimacy and sex.
Telling someone what you do and don’t like or want isn’t a mood killer, but a lack of comprehensive sex education has made young people feel like they’re in the dark about how to have a healthy, consensual romantic or sexual relationship. According to a recent study from Harvard, 70% of the 18 to 25-year-olds who responded wished they received more information from their parents about some emotional aspect of a romantic relationship, and 65% wished they received more emotional guidance from sex education classes in school. As the study notes, “sex education also tends not to engage young people in any depth about what mature love is or about how one develops a mature, healthy relationship.”
Being able to talk honestly and openly with partners about your sexual desires, boundaries, and safe sex and sexual health care are all elements of a healthy relationship. Good sex should is just as much about communication as the physical act. Sex educator Shan Boodram talked to Teen Vogue and gave three key tips on how to talk about your stimulation of choice, your partners likes and dislikes, and more.
Know your body’s recipe for pleasure
“You need specific instructions on how it can work. It might be different depending on the heat, the flour, the temperature. Results can vary,” she told Teen Vogue. “You could cook something and throw some salt and cheese on there and it might be okay, but what would happen if you had a recipe and knew exactly what ingredients you needed to mix together and how to bake them just right to give you pleasure?” Finding out what kind of stimulation your partner enjoys, what positions they like, and how you both feel most comfortable practicing safe sex can be pleasurable in and of itself. However, according to Shan, “If you’re not talking about it with your partner, you’re doing a drastic disservice to the act and the potential it could have.”
Start the conversation by talking about your own likes and dislikes
Having too much pride and not knowing how to advocate for yourself are two barriers that might make talking about sex feel terrifying or awkward, Shan explained. Starting the conversation by talking about your own likes and dislikes, fantasies, and ideas can make it easier. “It can be, ‘What’s the hottest thing someone’s ever done for you before?’ Start asking the questions you want to ask. And hopefully that person will pick up on it and start doing the same things for you,” Shan told Teen Vogue, adding, “You want to ensure this conversation feels like good sex. You’ve gotta approach it with curiosity. Good sex is when you’re a tourist and not a tour guide. And you also want to be a tourist in this conversation. You’re curious and in this new space and you should be excited because you don’t have all the answers.”
The Five Action Steps suggests that talking to your partner about sex is a part of learning to treat your partner well and expecting them to treat you well. Shan explains that learning how to advocate for yourself can begin with talking about smaller desires with your partner, like what you want to watch on Netflix or what you want to eat for dinner. Starting small can help you talk about things that feel more complicated, according to Shan.
Part of talking to your partner about sex is also establishing boundaries. The most important thing to remember is that you deserve to be in a relationship where the amount of sex you’re having and the ways you’re being intimate align with what both you and your partner want and need. Sex, like any part of a relationship, is something that requires work, but talking about it can be as simple as telling someone when they do something you really like.
“You can say ‘I don’t like what you’re doing,” or wait for a moment when they do something you like and say, ‘More of that,’” Shan says. Positive reinforcement can make your partner feel confident about their abilities. Learning together is an option, too. Shan suggests that mutual masturbation is a great way to “show each other how you like to be touched.”
Ultimately, the Five Action Steps provide a framework for how to begin that conversation, and build a fulfilling relationship or partnership. And while sex and physical intimacy don’t necessarily have to be present in a relationship to make it healthy, talking to your partner is the only way to know how high of a priority sex is, and what your partner does or doesn’t like. That means it’s also an opportunity to help your partner understand exactly what you find most pleasurable.
For more information on practicing safe sex check out:
- 20 of the Biggest Questions About Your First Time Having Sex, Answered
- Condom Use Survey Shows Women’s Opinions on Safe Sex
- Depression and Unsafe Sex Are Officially the Biggest Health Risks for Anyone Under 24