I can remember when I was younger, the way a frog would get stuck in my throat whenever I wanted to express something in the throes of a sexual situation. I now know that that feeling is not unusual. Many people struggle to tell a partner what they really want—whether it’s a tiny adjustment or an exotic fantasy. As a sexual empowerment coach, I help women find their “voice” to do just that.
It all starts with the way you talk to yourself, and the stories you carry with you. They are embedded with beliefs, some positive (I’m totally lovable, I am a fantastic kisser) and some negative (My belly’s too flabby, I’m defective because I don’t have orgasms). That internal voice affects your external one, and how you feel communicating about sex.
With my clients I’ve noticed that there are five common mental blocks that discourage women from sharing their desires. But if they can overcome those hang ups, the rewards reach far beyond the bedroom. The ability to talk openly with a partner about what gives you pleasure (and what doesn’t) is incredibly empowering, and ultimately leads to deeper and more meaningful intimacy.
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You’re afraid of being judged
This fear holds people back more than nearly anything else. The anxiety gets exacerbated because we don’t know how other people really have sex, or think about sex. So it’s easy to assume you’re somehow not “normal.” When you judge yourself, you worry your partner will think the same. The result: You filter all of your desires, and typically decide in the end they’re not worth saying out loud.
Try this: Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you didn’t fear judgment. Make a list of what you’d do—and how you’d feel—if you followed your sexual instincts. Inspired? Sometimes it’s enough to say to your partner, “I want to ask for something sexually, and I’m afraid of what you’ll think, but I’d like to be more honest.” Then see how your partner reacts. With the right person, showing a little vulnerability can lead to a more authentic relationship and far more satisfying sex.
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When it comes to sexuality, insecurity can be an enormous source of pain. Maybe you are afraid your partner won’t be happy with your request. Or you think you don’t deserve whatever it is you desire. Maybe you fear you can’t deliver what your partner desires. You might even convince yourself that he or she will stray for that reason. Clients come to me with that concern all the time: They don’t want to lose their partner, but worry they’re on different pages sexually.
Try this: Determine whether you feel insecure personally, or in the relationship. If it’s about you, you’ve got some work to do so you don’t end up projecting your self-doubt onto your partner. (“You think she’s prettier than me.” “If I were more [fill in the blank], you’d be more into me.”)
If your anxiety is rooted in the relationship, consider the possibilities: Is there a real threat? Do you think about cheating? Or are you just out of sync? Maybe your relationship is in need of a tune-up, or maybe you simply need more affirmation that your partner is attracted to you.
You’re not really sure what you want
Many women I work with aren’t even clear on what their sexual options are. How can you make inviting requests if you don’t’ know what’s available? But the trouble is, because you’re not talking about your desire at all, you stay stuck in a perpetual state of sexual confusion and dissatisfaction.
Try this: Read some erotica, watch racy movies. Talk to your friends about what they enjoy. Go to a workshop at your local feminist woman-owned-and-operated sex toy shop, like Sugar in Baltimore or Smitten Kitten in Minneapolis. Better yet, go to a sexuality conference for lay people, like Playground in Toronto or Sex Down South in Atlanta.
The point is to explore and get excited about the possibilities. If you don’t do the internal work of discovering and embracing your wishes, it will affect what you share with your partner, and all that you don’t.
You dread rejection
One of the most common reasons people avoid expressing their desires is fear of the word “no”—because “no” to them feels like rejection. You may even be projecting your fear onto your partner, by assuming that your feedback or instruction will somehow injure their feelings.
Try this: Stop taking “no” personally. There are so many reasons people say “no” that have nothing to do with you. Most of the time, “no” is is a form of self-care; the person is setting a boundary that they need, at that time. Learning to hear “no” and not feel hurt is a skill we all need to master, especially in the sexual realm. Because if you spend your life hiding from rejection, you’ll never get what you truly need. You have to actually ask before you get a “yes.”
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You’re doing what you think you’re supposed to do
As a society, we have a limited way of viewing sex and sexual pleasure. It’s known as the male model of sex. You know, the idea that intercourse (especially for heterosexuals) is the main event—despite the fact that “foreplay” is usually what gets women off—and sex ends when the man ejaculates. We learn this formula in sex ed, and are exposed to it constantly in the media. As a result, we’re conditioned to strive for vaginal orgasms that the majority of women never have.
Try this: Talk to your partner about trying sex that is not focused on intercourse. That conversation can open the door for the two of you to start thinking more creatively. Together, work on developing a menu of sexual options to order from. It can include some stuff you love, and some stuff you want to try. Remember that people of all genders get frustrated by that traditional model of sex. Your partner will probably thank you for being bold enough to question it.
Amy Jo Goodard is the author of “Woman on Fire: 9 Elements to Wake Up Your Erotic Energy, Personal Power, and Sexual Intelligence.”