Let’s talk about sex: how to know what you want and get it across to other people

There is no such thing as an individual person being good or bad in bed. It’s an evil myth perpetuated by women’s magazines and self-help books to hype up anxiety and sell more copies of whatever supposed solution they’re proffering at the time. In this column I’m going to offer some ideas about how to improve your sex life, perhaps beyond your wildest dreams. But before you begin to think I’ve exchanged my fluffy Carrie-from-Sex-and-the-City persona with something more reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s evil sexpert in Magnolia and am about to start spouting on about respecting certain sexual organs, let me explain myself.

The first few sexual relationships I had were bad. Sex was bad. I never had an orgasm during sex (not that this is the only definition of good sex). I felt uncomfortable: embarrassed about admitting to my desires, and worried about what my body looked like, whether I was making the right noises, whether I was pleasing the other person. Up until two years ago I hardly knew what I wanted sexually, let alone being able to articulate it to my lovers. But recently everything has changed and I’m having the most incredible, mind-blowing sex imaginable. I come whenever I want to, often several times. There are fireworks in the sky. The earth moves. And I’m doing everything I want and discovering new things all the time. So of course I had to ask myself: what did I do to get such amazing sex?

Much as some of my lovers might like to think that they are single-handedly (or something-ly!) responsible for this miracle, like I’ve already said: an individual person cannot be good or bad in bed. What makes great sex (or lousy sex) is the relationship, the interaction, the connection between the two (or more) people involved. And there are ways of improving these connections, either with people you’re already having sex with, or with people you’re getting involved with.

Here are my three steps to sexual heaven:

Step 1: Figure out what you like
Step 2: Communicate what you like to people you are having sex with (or might have sex with) and get them to respond
Step 3: Have sex

Keep repeating steps 1 to 3 until sex is so good that you don’t care any more.

Step 1:
Figure out what you like

‘Easier said than done’, you might say if you’re anything like me two years ago. ‘Of course I want to be able to ask for what I like, but how can I do that when I have no idea what that is?’ Well, as I found, there are ways of figuring out what turns you on. It may well be too scary to leap in and start trying lots of different things with your lover/s, so a safer first step is to read lots about sex.

There’s tons of stuff out there you know. As well as conventional pornography and sex manuals, there are collections of erotica covering pretty much every possible sexuality (e.g. lesbian erotica, bisexual erotica, fetish erotica). The Nancy Friday fantasy collections can be good sources too, as can books of erotic pictures/photographs. If you don’t want to buy books, check out some websites. If you fancy a particular TV/movie character look at the erotic and slash stories that have been written about them and their co-characters. Read lots of stories and keep a note of the ones that you find particularly…intriguing. Go to sex shops like Sh! or fetish fairs and think about which items on sale appeal to you. I actually find that this works nearly as well in Homebase, but perhaps that’s just me! Keep a diary of times when you feel horny and what sparked it off. Think about what pops into your head during sex or masturbation. The thing that I found most helpful when I was figuring out what I was into was writing rude stories. These don’t have to be read by anybody else except you (although who knows, maybe you’ll discover that you’re the next Pat Califa). Just try writing down a few of your sexual fantasies. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation, just keep your hand moving across the page until it’s all down there. You might be surprised by the direction it ends up taking. Not every fantasy will necessarily be something you want to act out in real life, but they can all give you ideas about the kinds of things that you might like.

Finally, try doing stuff that gets you more in touch with your body, so that you become aware of what it likes. This could include massages, hot baths, walking barefoot in the grass and lying in a warm, sunny patch, as well as the more obvious masturbation (which deserves a whole column to itself, see a future edition).

Step 2:
Communicate what you like to people you are having sex with (or might have sex with) and get them to respond

The weirdest thing about sex is how people will do it, even often with people they hardly know, but are extremely reticent about talking about it. Saying what we like sexually is still a major taboo, even in the most otherwise liberated and open social circles. It seems that we’re quite happy to ‘happen to end up’ doing wonderfully rude things with people, but we can’t actually ask for those things. Unless we’re lucky enough to have a telepathic lover, this is likely to mean that we’ll never be completely sexually fulfilled.

I got around this problem by writing a maintenance guide, which I now give out to lovers, potential lovers, and pretty much anyone else who asks for it because I think it’s important to start making a stand against all this reluctance to communicate about sex. The guide includes a detailed account of the ways in which I can reach an orgasm, as well as lists of my sexual likes and dislikes including both physical sensations and psychological spaces. Since I’m into SM I divided my guide into ‘submissive’ and ‘dominant’. But you could equally separate out what you like in terms of male/female lovers (if you like different things from each), or divide it up in other ways. Include whether you like giving/receiving different kinds of sex and other physical activities (e.g. oral sex, hand sex, vaginal sex, anal sex, group sex, using a vibrator, massage, hugs, kisses etc.) You could also write about how you get in the mood for sex and how you like to be treated afterwards. Try writing a guide like this just for you at first, to help you keep track of what you’re learning about yourself. You can adapt it and add to it as time goes on, and hopefully eventually give it out to your existing or potential lover/s and encourage them to do something similar.

A guide like this can help before you get involved with someone to see whether you are compatible, and where the common ground lies. Sharing such a guide can be more difficult in existing relationships because you can become stuck in patterns and it can be tough to admit that there’s something new that you want to try, or something you don’t enjoy so much. Remember that your lover should be interested in finding out what gives you pleasure.

To accompany my maintenance guide I also wrote a few paragraph long scenarios, which were like very brief stories detailing the kinds of scenes that I enjoy. This can be helpful because sometimes just saying you like a particular activity doesn’t tell someone enough about the way in which you like to do it, or what kind of psychological space it puts you into.

Another thing that can be very helpful to do together with a lover is to create a joint list of all the different types of sex or sex-related activities you can think of (from kissing onwards). Once you have a list, you both have to give each activity a yes/no answer as to whether you’ve done it, and a score out of five as to how much you like it or would like to try it. You can also write comments about the context you’d enjoy it in, whether it’s scary to admit to, etc. There are checklists like this of SM activities that you can download from the web, but I find it can be even more useful to create your own.

Step 3:
Have sex

Once you’ve got your lists of things you’re into and things you’d like to try, and you’ve talked about this with your lover/s and come up with some common ground, the only thing left is to go for it. Sexual experimentation can then lead right back into the first step as you may be surprised by new likes/dislikes that emerge. One potential way of trying things out is to have a hat into which you place pieces of paper with ideas of things you’d like to try written on them. You can then pick one of them out when you want to have sex and do whatever it says.

Personally, I find that sex works best if there’s some kind of balance and give and take. With most of my lovers, we take turns in being the focus of attention, so that one time we have sex the emphasis will be on making one person come (or acting out one of their fantasies, or them taking the more submissive/passive role), and the next time the focus will be more on the other person. Of course it’s more flexible than this in practice, but I find it really helps lift the pressure if the emphasis can shift like this. It’s also good if you can keep experimentation fairly light at first, and don’t worry if everything you try doesn’t work perfectly. There’s a reason that so many sexual groups refer to sex as ‘play’.

Remember that every person has different quirks, kinks, likes and dislikes. Try not to feel embarrassed or bad about yours. It’s easy to think ‘everyone else likes porn movies/French-kissing/oral sex so I should pretend I like it too,’ or ‘nobody else needs to do what I do to reach an orgasm, I’m a freak!’ Believe me, even the most sexually experienced and proficient people I’ve slept with have had things they refuse to do and unusual ways of doing things. If you can accept them yourself and be open about them, any decent person will accept them too and explore ways of making sure you’re fulfilled. If they criticise or joke about it then it’s them you need to question and not yourself.

If you want to read more about sex skills, I can recommend the following books:

  • The Relate Guide to Sex’ is good for sex in male-female relationships, although fairly traditional.
  • The Lesbian Sex Book’ contains good ideas for female-female sex and ‘How to be a Happy Homosexual’ has good stuff on male-male sex.
  • The Ethical Slut’ focuses on polyamorous relationships, but the chapter on sex also includes many ideas that are generally useful.
  • The ‘Topping’ and ‘Bottoming’ books are excellent starting points for an exploration of more SM-based sex.
  • How to write a Dirty Story’ is good for advice on writing erotic fiction.

Next edition I’ll be covering the skills involved in maintaining long distance relationships. Feel free to email me with any suggestions, questions or particularly positive/negative experiences you’ve had on this topic.