On this week’s episode of Sex.Right.Now., we chatted with experts and educators about why sexual pleasure is an important part of sexual health—and why a safe, healthy, and consensual sex life is the most pleasurable one of all. But if topics like condoms and consent still feel a little intimidating or unsexy, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with a slew of strategies from two top sex educators.
Not sure what to ask? The first step to good sex is figuring out what actually turns you—and your partner—on. “It’s really important for people to realize that everyone has different pleasure zones on their bodies and enjoys different things,” says Afrosexology co-founder Dalychia Saah. “To go into an experience and think that everyone wants to have sex the same way—that’s a myth we need to work on breaking.” In her workshops, Saah often asks participants if they’ve ever had a disappointing sexual experience, one where they didn’t get what they wanted or felt let down. Not surprisingly, most participants have been through that—often because of lack of communication.
Before exploring what your partner is into, take some time to figure out what you find sexy: Afrosexology offers an erotic care plan that can guide you through figuring out your likes and dislikes. But how to kick off the conversation from there? Afrosexology also offers a Yass… or nah? worksheet that makes it easy—and fun!—to open up about things you do, and don’t, want to explore in bed.
Not sure how to ask? Educators often recommend keeping consent sexy by folding it into dirty talk—but if the only dirty talk you’ve experienced is in porn movies, that might feel a little intimidating.
“I had this perception that dirty talk was this really complicated thing, and you had to be sexy. And I’m someone who’s really nerdy and awkward,” Saah says. “This idea that I had to put on this sexy voice and do this whole performance was really weird to me. Once I realized that dirty talk was just being way more descriptive, it made it a lot easier.”
Dirty talk can be as basic as saying “I want you to do this here, at this speed, until this”—with you filling in those blanks with your own personal preferences.
For Seattle-based sex and relationships coach Charlie Glickman, the key to consent is to express your desires confidently while leaving space for your partner to say no or make a counteroffer. One way to do this? Pairing an “if” statement with a statement of your desire. Phrases like “If you’re in the mood, I’d love to go down on you” or “If it would turn you on, I’d really be into pegging you” allow you to open up about what you want without putting pressure on your partner to do anything they’re not super into.
Another strategy? Make them beg for what they want. That’s asking for consent and explicit instruction, Glickman notes, “but in a totally sexy way that a lot of folks really enjoy.”
Not sure how long you need to keep asking? “My partner and I have been together for twenty-six years. I still can’t order Chinese takeout without asking what she wants that night,” says Glickman. “It could be any of three or four things, and I don’t know what she’s in the mood for.” The same goes for sex: even if we know our partners super well, even if we have amazing chemistry, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to know exactly what they’re itching for at any given moment—especially since desires can change over time. So keep asking, no matter how long you’ve been banging.
What about safer sex? Condoms, dental dams, and other safer sex accoutrements are often treated as a buzzkill—a necessary evil that dampens intimacy and sensation for the sake of sexual health. But Glickman thinks that’s the wrong mindset. “Using condoms can go a long way towards helping both partners feel more relaxed, safer, more comfortable,” he says. “And sex is just better when that happens. If you’re not worried about STIs or pregnancy, then you’re going to be able to have more fun.”
For some people, the biggest impediment to safer sex is a fear that stopping to put on a condom or grab a glove or dam will break the flow of the action. If that’s your worry, Glickman suggests keeping your safer sex supplies nearby and incorporating application into the action. Make out while rolling on the condom, or keep talking dirty—telling your partner all the things you plan to do to them—while putting on a glove. “The more you can keep the level of sexual energy up, the less of an interruption it is,” Glickman says.
And if you’re worried about the change in sensation? Remember that not all safer sex supplies are created equally, and many people find that different brands, styles, and materials can make a major difference in experience.
Finally, when in doubt, use lube. “People miss out on how much more pleasurable things are when you use lube,” Saah says. “For me, sex with condoms and lube feels very similar to sex without condoms.” Glickman recommends putting extra lube on the condom—both inside and outside—before penetrating your partner. “You take an extra five seconds to put a little dollop of lube inside the condom and it feels a million times better,” Glickman says.