For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be great at sex. As a tween, I’d watch early 2000s romantic comedies and take mental notes on how the heroines made the jaws of their love interests drop. As a teen, I’d read and reread Cosmo articles with titles promising to reveal, “8 Secret Desires Every Man Has” and “75 Ways to Turn Him On.” I paid attention to all the information I could get my hands on, even if not all of it put me on a good path.
Picture this: I’m 22 years old and it’s Valentine’s Day. I’m in a loving relationship and ready to give my boyfriend a mind-blowing night. Per a Cosmo suggestion that I remember from back in the day, I blindfolded my boyfriend, put a piece of ice in my mouth, and started performing oral sex on him. (If you’re wondering whether I should have talked with him about this plan first, the answer is a resounding yes. It’s a problem that I didn’t.)
As soon as my mouth touches his skin, his body recoils. I stop and look up in despair, “That didn’t feel good?” He replies, “Um, not really.” How embarrassing. I didn’t know what had gone wrong. Did the experts mislead me? Did my technique need work? Or maybe he just needed to work on enjoying it more? I put the questions out of my mind, spit out the ice, and the night continued.
Let’s talk pleasure
This experience wasn’t the anomaly I wish it was. I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of “this should feel good” too many times to count. But pleasure doesn’t live in the realm of “shoulds.” Pleasure is a physiological experience. Like any other feeling, pleasure arises. We don’t choose our responses to sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or touches; we observe them.
Our ability to notice pleasure and report back is a significant contributor to pleasure science. In the 2017 article, “Women's Experiences With Genital Touching, Sexual Pleasure, and Orgasm: Results From a U.S. Probability Sample of Women Ages 18 to 94,” researchers surveyed cis women about their experiences of genital pleasure. They gathered data on the location, pressure, and styles of genital touch that participants enjoyed most and found that many participants rated up-and-down and circular movements on their genitals as pleasurable, while only a small percentage rated pulling and pinching as pleasurable.
Let’s be clear on what these results indicate and what they don’t. While it’s more common for cis women to experience pleasure when their genitals are stimulated by up-and-down and circular movements, it’s not wrong for a cis woman to find these forms of stimulation uncomfortable. It’s more common for people to like vanilla ice cream, but it’s not wrong for someone to really dislike vanilla.
Similarly, it’s less common for cis women to experience genital pulling and pinching as pleasurable. And still, if you’re a cis woman and you want a partner to squeeze your clit as hard as they can because that brings you to the best orgasms, go get it! The general population’s dislike of rum raisin ice cream doesn’t get to dictate your dessert order.
Now, if someone offers you a million dollars if you can correctly guess how a random cis woman likes to have her genitals touched, I don’t recommend guessing it is pinching or pulling. However, our activities in the bedroom don’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, driven by guessing games and trends. There’s no shortage of wellness influencers, writers, and even educators ready to tell you what sexual techniques will bring your partner to their knees. Their directives might even be rooted in solid scientific research. But these experts alone can’t give you what you need to increase pleasure because they don’t know your partner’s unique pleasure map.
Conversations with your partners
If you want your partner to feel good, you need to talk to your partner about their likes and dislikes (and about yours). Research, kink education classes, and pleasure classes offer great insights into sexual safety and technique. However, without talking to each partner about their specific interests and limits, they might have a mediocre time, at best, and experience harm, at worst. You may get it right just by following mainstream advice and paying attention to moans, but with how common faked orgasms are and how complicated sexual desire is, talking it out is a safer bet (and likely a more fun one).
Tips to get you started
Talking with your partners about your pleasure is often easier said than done. Here are some tips to help you out:
Ask open-ended questions
- How do you like your [body part] played with?
- What does brat-play look like for you?
- Would you like me to use my fingers or just my mouth?
- Do you like when spanking is stingy or thuddy?
- Would you like more pressure or less pressure?
- On a scale of 1-5 how intense does this feel?
Remember that they’re the expert on their body
- Will you show me how you like to be touched?
- I like kissing like this, how do you like to kiss?
- I read about this technique, how does that sound to you?
Know that their desires aren’t your obligation
- Thanks for sharing that. I’m not interested in anal play tonight but I’m excited to play with your bits the way you showed me.
- Choking is really hot. I’m not sure how to do it safely, though. I’d feel more comfortable not putting any pressure on your neck tonight.
- You’d like me to stay down there longer but I’ve hit my limit. Let’s find another way to keep having fun.
Keep an open heart in these conversations. Even if you’re not interested in engaging in the kind of play your partner wants, you can still greet their desires with care. Be ready to discover that what this partner finds pleasurable might be totally different from what previous partners have enjoyed and from what the experts say a person “should” enjoy.