By Miriam Levitin, Sexual Health Promotion Coordinator, Habif Health and Wellness Center
MSW Candidate 2021
People have different sexual preferences, and these can also change over time. How do you talk to your partner about making changes in the bedroom? Whether it’s something completely new or a variation on something you’ve tried together before, a lot of people feel nervous about how their partner might react. Here are some tips to make it easier.
Think about what you want
Doing some research and exploration on your own can make it easier to talk to a partner about the changes you’d like to see. Making a yes/no/maybe list is a great place to start. Think about whether it’s just a fantasy or something that you actually want to try with this particular person. Be ready to answer any questions they might have.
Set aside intentional time to talk
Bringing up something new when you’re already hot and heavy isn’t the best idea — the heat of the moment can impede informed consent. You also don’t want to catch your partner when they are rushed or stressed. Ask them in advance for a good time to talk, and then set up a time and place where everyone feels comfortable and consents to discussing this topic.
Prepare for the conversation
Think ahead about what you want to say to your partner. You can start with something like, “I want to talk to you about trying something new in bed, is now a good time?”
If you’re feeling nervous, don’t be afraid to acknowledge it! You could say, “I’ve been nervous about bringing this up because…” or “Talking about what I want during sex is new to me, so I’m nervous about it.”
Preparing an “I” statement is a great way to bring up the thing you want to try. Here are some examples:
· I’ve been reading about ___ online. Is that something you’d be interested in exploring?
· I enjoy ___, and I’m wondering if you do too?
· If you’re into it, I’d enjoy trying ____ with you.
· I’ve been fantasizing a lot about ___, and I would love to try it with you, if you’re interested!
Give them time to think
Make it clear that you don’t expect an answer right away, but you are there for them if they have questions or want to discuss.
Let them know that you don’t want to pressure them, and they can take all the time they need to decide. Ask them if they want you to bring it up again in the future, or if they want to let you know when they are ready to circle back.
You can also offer resources for them to learn more about the sex you’re interested in, why it might be enjoyable, and how you can explore it safely.
Coping with rejection
What if your partner says no? You might feel disappointed, which is completely understandable. Trying to change your partner’s mind, however, will only make things worse for both of you. Instead, thank them for being honest with you, and then do what you need to process how you feel and take care of yourself.
Being careful to avoid pressuring your partner, you may want to ask if they feel comfortable sharing why they don’t want to try it. Maybe they have specific concerns that you can work through together, such as creating a safety plan before trying a roleplaying scene. It’s possible that you could find common ground and agree on something new to try that feels comfortable for both of you — for example, while anal penetration might be off the table, maybe they are interested in trying external anal stimulation.
But if your partner has no desire to explore the thing you are interested in, it’s important to accept that and find other sexual activities to do together that you both enjoy. It’s not a rejection of you as a person — you just have different interests, and that’s okay.
Next steps if it’s a yes
If your partner is down, there may be more things to talk about before getting started. Think about some questions you might want to ask. For example, have you done this before? If yes, what did you like or dislike about it? What are you curious about? What would make this feel good for you?
Communicating about why you’re both into this thing can help you figure out how to best enjoy the experience together. It can also help you make sure that they are definitely interested, as opposed to just going along with it—which is bound to make it a less enjoyable experience.
Be patient and ease into it. For example, you might want to try gentle restraint with a tie or scarf and see how it goes before buying rope or handcuffs. Maybe what you are exploring is new to both of you, and you don’t end up liking it as much as you hoped you would. If at any point either of you are no longer interested, know that you can stop and pursue things that you both enjoy instead.
If you don’t feel ready to share a fantasy or desire with your partner upfront, there are sources that can help. You can find quizzes online that allow partners to each fill out their interests and disinterests, and at the end you only see the things that everyone wanted to do. Email [email protected] for links to other tools that you can use to get the conversation started.
While asking for what you want can be hard, taking some time to think and prepare can make you feel more comfortable. If you find that your partner can’t have a respectful conversation with you about your desires, maybe that person isn’t worth your energy.