Compared to our swipe-right dating scene and all the totally NSFW shows on TV (ahem, The Affair), your own sex life can seem as bland as a saltine cracker. And while you should never get wild just because pop culture tells you to, there's nothing wrong with getting creative in the bedroom.
"Research suggests that openness and spontaneity will lead to a lasting relationship," says Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D., a sex therapist and author of The Married Sex Solution. "Don't get caught up in judgments in your own head."
And as you get used to talking candidly with your partner about what you want to do (and what you've already done), it only gets easier. "A lot of partners really like empowered partners," she says. "That exchange builds communication and respect."
So go ahead and be adventurous. After all, it’s sex play—emphasis on play. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Bring it up casually.
All the experts we spoke with agreed that if you’re having trouble broaching the subject, you can let a movie, piece of erotica literature, or even a sexy song inspire you. Jane Greer, Ph.D., a marriage and sex therapist, and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, suggests starting with, “I was reading this in an article,” or, “I saw this on TV.”
Or the next time you’re strolling through a drugstore (it can be a little less intimidating than a sex shop), stop by the condom section, which often contains lubes and other small toys. “Say, ‘Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to try?’ or ‘We’ll each get to pick one thing,’” says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., sexologist, member of the Trojan™ Sexual Health Advisory Council, and author of How to Get Your Wife to Have Sex With You. “You’ll get a little variety, and you get to see what someone else wants to try.”
2. Ease in with lube.
One of the easiest things to incorporate is a lube. Usually water- or silicone-based, lubricants help everything feel more slippery.
“Water-based lubes are easy to clean up because the main element is water,” Levkoff says. They're also usually cheaper than other kinds. The one drawback? Water-based lubes dry up more quickly than silicone-based lubes, which are thicker and tend to last longer. “So if you are engaging in sex that's in the water, you're going to want something that doesn't wash off,” she says. “Or if you’re having anal sex, where lubricant is going to be important consistently, silicone-based lubricants can be a good option.”
Lubes come in a variety of flavors and sensations (think hot or cold), but it's really all about personal preference.
One thing you should probably avoid? Anything with oil—including coconut oil or whatever else you’ve got in the kitchen. “I would never recommend anything genitally that isn't designed to be used genitally,” Levkoff says. Plus, oils erode latex (the material most condoms are made from). No bueno.
If you already use lube, you’re not alone. About 65 percent of women and 70 percent of men report having used a lube before—usually to make sex feel more comfortable or pleasurable. Men's use and perceptions of commercial lubricants: prevalence and characteristics in a nationally representative sample of American adults. Reece M, Herbenick D, Schick V. The journal of sexual medicine, 2014, Feb.;11(5):1743-6109. Women's use and perceptions of commercial lubricants: prevalence and characteristics in a nationally representative sample of American adults. Herbenick D, Reece M, Schick V. The journal of sexual medicine, 2014, Feb.;11(3):1743-6109.
3. If you want to try a toy, start with something simple.
Gwyneth Paltrow would have you believe you need a $15,000 gold-plated vibrator. But there are way more accessible options out there.
“If you’re in a drugstore, you can try a vibrating ring,” Levkoff says. Vibrating rings fit over the penis and are safe to use with condoms.
“A lot of guys end up really liking [vibrating] rings,” Van Kirk says. “And because they vibrate, you’re going to have clitoral stimulation, so no matter what position you’re in, everyone’s a winner. It’s not about one person or the other.”
No penis involved? No problem! Vibrating rings don’t have to be used genitally—they can also double as a massager, Levkoff says.
4. Or skip toys altogether.
While it can be exciting to introduce something new, you don’t need a toy to crank up the heat.
“It doesn’t have to be about bringing things into the bedroom,” Levkoff says. “It could be about changing the location. It could be pornography or an erotic book. It could be making the greatest playlist of songs that really turn you on—and two songs in, who knows what can happen?”
One other fun idea that won’t cost a thing? Sexy talk. Though it can be a little tough to get started—what can I say that won’t sound stupid!?—there are ways around that. “If you read erotic lit or watch porn, you might find a phrase that makes you say, ‘That’s kinda hot,’” Van Kirk says. “Put it in your iPhone, write it down, whatever you need so you don’t forget. Start getting a script together.”
The main thing, Van Kirk says, is “you don’t want it to get too complicated.” She suggests aiming for one or two phrases that you feel capable of, and trying those out first.
If talking seems like too much, “just start verbalizing during sex,” Van Kirk says. “Groans and moans—that sound response helps to get people used to using their voice during sex.” Bonus: It also lets your partner know he or she is doing a good job.
5. Remember, communication is key.
This one should hopefully be a no-brainer, but consent is key anytime you start pushing bedroom boundaries.
“If you’re into any kind of fantasy play or verbalizing play that involves saying stop, you need an option to actually stop play,” Van Kirk says. Simply put: You need a safe word. Even if you’re not into bondage or discipline, you may still need a way to let your partner know it’s time to call it quits.
And if your partner brings up something you’re just not into? Greer suggests saying, “I appreciate your fantasy, and I’d be willing to explore it with you by talking about it. But for now, that’s not something I’d be comfortable trying.” By keeping it about your own discomfort, Greer says, you're letting your partner know there’s nothing wrong, and there's no need to feel guilty or ashamed about bringing something up.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, it's about what's comfortable and pleasurable for you and your partner. “There’s no way to be ‘advanced’ at having sex,” says Levkoff. “If you and a partner have sex in the same exact way, and it's fun and fulfilling, then it's OK." (And remember, according to one study, most couples have sex for an average of just over five minutes—not a lot of time for boot-knocking creativity.)
Most importantly, don't agree to try something new just to avoid a breakup.
“Whatever you’re exploring should be done in the context of enhancing your relationship—building on what you already have,” says Greer.