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’I’m too embarrassed to talk dirty. How can I get what I want in bed?’

I’m looking for help in talking about sex. I’ve found lots of advice online that says you should say what you want, but I have no idea how to do that. I’m not very confident and get embarrassed easily. Sex is often disappointing because it isn’t how I want it. But I don’t know what to say to make it better.

Why is communication difficult?

Before thinking about how to talk about sex, it is worth noting why it’s difficult for you.
Do any of these apply?

• A fear of rejection, looking silly, or saying the wrong thing

• You may have been raised to view sexual words as rude or disgusting, or inappropriate to use. Or you may simply not know what to say

• If you are in a new relationship, have recently started to come out as LGBT, or have not had a sexual relationship before then you may feel under confident about what you should expect sexually and how to mention pleasure

• You may have been with someone for a while but not shared what you like (or dislike). In long-term relationships it can feel awkward if things have got a bit stale and you worry mentioning this might upset a partner

• If you have a past history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse then you may struggle with the confidence to speak about your desires, or be anxious that some of the things you wish to talk about or do are confused with past coercive experiences

• You may have been raised in a community or culture where particular sexual pleasures are considered wrong or bad, yet you would like to try them and fear being judged or shamed if you mention it.

All of these are understandable reasons why you might struggle to talk about sex.
You may want to address any underlying barriers to communication using the resources linked to below.

What do you like?
To help you think about expressing your desires it’s a good idea to know what you like first. To do this you might want to explore:

Mapping your body: Draw an outline of your body (front and back) and colour in where you love being touched and what parts are off limits. Alternatively you can use a ‘traffic light’ system where you use stickers or colours of red (stop), amber (so-so) and green (let’s go!)

This might show you what you like and could be something you show to a partner or complete together – perhaps seeing if you can guess what each other likes.

You could extend this to making lists of words you feel comfortable, or turned on, using and a separate list of ones you dislike, and would prefer a partner to avoid.
Penetrative sex may or may not be an important part of your list, but other non-penetrative pleasures including kissing, talking, massage, using sex toys may appeal.
You might also want to think about what positions suit your needs, shape and physical ability. You could also think about ‘sex’ as more than physical, using Gina Ogden’s ‘Isis Wheel’ approach.

You may want to capture all this in a diary the dates/times when you felt turned on, noting what excited you and what you did about it.

Ways to communicate

If you don’t feel able to say outright what you would like, then you may want to share things via email, text or letter.

When having sex with someone you don’t have to talk dirty at length. Simple statements like ‘that feels good’ or ‘more please’ can be as effective.
Scarleteen has a useful guide on how to talk about sex generally while Carol Queen’s Exhibitionism for the Shy and Bish give more specific guidance around stating your sexual desires.

Some people enjoy doing quizzes in magazines or online about their turn-ons or devising their own for a partner to complete. Or write your own user manual setting out what you do/don’t like, ask your partner to do the same, then swap and learn.
You could mention something you’d like to try when you aren’t having sex – for example something you spot in a film, TV show, book or a newspaper or magazine article.

If your partner reacts positively or doesn’t seem bothered you may feel more confident to later say this appeals to you also. If they react negatively you may still want to mention it again later, as it may be the idea in general doesn’t appeal to them, but it would be something they might explore with you.

Next steps
It’s easy to overthink these kinds of issues and spend so much time preparing conversations you can feel even more self-conscious.

It might be you decide not to read through the resources here and just see what happens and say what you feel like in the moment.

Ultimately the more of an issue you make this the more difficult it may be. Knowing and saying what feels good is no bad thing. As is keeping a sense of humour so if something doesn’t work you can laugh it off and try something else next time.

Dr Petra Boynton, Sex and Relationships expert

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