Apr 17, 2023

How to ask for what you want...while you're still figuring out what you want

How can you answer the same questions you’re asking yourself? Ella Dorval Hall has some suggestions on how to express a self in progress.

One of the most important elements of creating enjoyable, fulfilling sexual experiences is being honest and upfront about your likes and dislikes. On dating apps, this is especially important when you're writing your profile and filtering who you’re compatible with. 

But what do you do if you aren't sure what you like in the bedroom or what you want in a relationship? Perhaps you've just begun exploring kink. Maybe you've been shedding layers of sexual shame for years or you’ve never had partnered sex before. How do you make an honest and intriguing profile when you have no idea where to start? 

And then how can you be upfront in the chat, or with a date, when you don't know what you do and don’t like? Here are a few ideas that might help: 

It’s okay if you still don’t “know” yourself. From firsthand experience, I can tell you just how hard it can be to know what your sexual preferences are. It’s actually been a source of a lot of shame for me. 

When I was 19, a partner asked me what turns me on. I froze. I had no idea. And I was so ashamed that I didn't know. 

Knowing yourself is cool. Being confident in the bedroom is hot. Having boundaries is in (for good reason, of course). But damn, it’s really hard to get there. 

We live in a world that encourages us to distrust our bodies and override our natural desires. Knowing what you enjoy in the bedroom can be extremely challenging when you’re told to shut down what your body wants, especially when it comes to pleasure, sex, and relationships. 

This only gets truer when you hold an identity or interest that is “taboo,” stigmatized, or at some point in your life you’ve been told is unacceptable or deviant, whether that’s being kinky, poly, queer, or trans. 

If you, my dear dating app user, are struggling to describe yourself, I want to share some strategies that can help you become more comfortable articulating your likes and dislikes. 

1. Fill out a yes/no/maybe list 

Not only does this help you communicate, but it can help you get a better sense of your sexual interests. A yes/no/maybe list is a list of sexual behaviors and activities that you mark with a yes, no, or maybe to indicate your level of interest in doing each. Some lists also allow you to mark what words you like used for your genitals. A yes/no/maybe can help you get in touch with your likes and dislikes because it prompts you with activities that perhaps you’ve never felt you had permission to consider before.

Once completed, voila! You have an entire list of activities and behaviors you do, don’t, and might like. You can actually bring this list to a sex-date (and they can fill out a list of their own!), or you can list some of your “yeses” and “nos” on your profile. 

2. Take a trip down memory lane

If you are trying to figure out how to describe your sexual preferences or even understand what they are, I invite you to partake in this short, guided trip down memory lane. Grab a pen and paper or your voice recorder, and close your eyes. Think back to one of your favorite sexual experiences, partnered or solo. Next:

  1. Notice how you felt (think: free, powerful, humiliated, silly, etc.). Write down, or say, one feeling you enjoyed. 
  2. Recall how you were touched. Write down, or say, one body part that you liked touched. Bonus if you add how you liked that body part touched. 
  3. Notice how you touched your partner (if it was partnered). Write down, or say, one way you liked touching a partner. 
  4. Think back to if you felt safe. Write down or say one thing that made you feel safe. 

Behold, another list of things you like in the bedroom. If you’ve never had partnered or solo sex, listen to erotica or watch porn (while also remembering its acting), and take note of what you like.

3. Pick an object, and write what you have in common with it

Ok, I know this sounds really strange. However, if you’re just trying to figure out how to describe who you are in your profile, it’s easy to get stuck in your head. Comparing yourself to a random object can actually get you thinking about your unique qualities. 

For example, I’m like a banana. I’m so sensitive. You know how a banana bruises just from sitting in a grocery bag the wrong way? That’s me. But it’s not my skin that bruises, I am physically and emotionally sensitive. I become over-stimulated so easily. Bright lights? No thank you. Loud noises? Definitely not. I’m incredibly attuned to how I’m feeling and what is making me feel off. I’m also sweet and I love yellow. 

Now, I’m not necessarily recommending that you write you’re like a banana in your profile. But this exercise may help you think of fun, unique things about yourself, like that I’m an easily stimulated, sensitive, sweet babe. And my fave color is yellow. 

4. It’s okay to say “I don’t know”

While we aren’t typically encouraged to say it, saying “I don’t know” can be much safer than guessing whether you do or don’t like something, and telling your partner. This can put you into a situation where you don’t feel comfortable, and your partner is surpassing one of your boundaries without knowing it. We’re all learning. It’s okay (and maybe it’ll even be a little hot) to say so!

Ella Dorval Hall is a sexuality educator and sex and relationship writer who helps people actually enjoy sex. In addition to being featured in leading lifestyle brands such as Insider, Refinery29, Well Good, and mindbodygreen, Ella is known for debunking sexual myths and messages, helping clients overcome shame and guilt, and working with people who want to stop people pleasing in the bedroom. Ella is trained in comprehensive, evidence-based sexuality education.

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