If you’ve never held a flaccid penis between your very dry and CrossFit-calloused hands and wondered, “Am I doing this right,” or laid with The Butch Of Your Dreams and had her say, “No teeth! Just tongue!”
I envy you.
Since my first smash, I’ve carried around a definitive self-knowledge that I am bad in bed. Blow jobs? I gag. Kissing? I’ve bitten no less than five lovers. Sex? Envision a beached stingray humping its way back to the ocean, and you’ve got a decent visual of what I look like getting it on.
And because sex ed in school was going to be nowhere as comprehensive with the info on how to (*gasp*) enjoy sex, my career as a sex writer acts as my genius, compensatory plan on how to be better in bed.
So, when my editor asked if I wanted to ring up some of Greatist’s fave sexperts for their top tips, I said YES. For the folks who think they’re lousy lovers, for folks who get too caught up in their heads to give head, let’s get more confident.
For starters, we don’t use this curse lightly, but when I asked the three sexperts for their number one tip, they all practically shouted “Communicate!” before the Q was out of my mouth.
“Communication is key for consent,” says sex educator Tara Struyk, co-founder of Kinkly, an online sexual wellness resource.
Yes, what you’ve heard is true, consent is and can be sexy (case in point: “Can I feel how *** you are?” or “Do you want to feel my ****?”). But more importantly, it’s mandatory.
“You aren’t even a good person if you’re coaxing someone into a sexual act they don’t want, or want to perform, let alone good in bed,” Struyk says. “And the only way to know that for sure is to ask.”
And “yes” doesn’t operate as a blanket statement. As you move forward in the sexual encounter, you need to continue to communicate.
Second, unless your boo is a literal mind reader, they’re not going to know what you like right now or what you’re not feeling, unless you tell them. Sometimes the same trick doesn’t do the trick.
“Communicating those things is going to result in a better, more pleasurable sexual experience,” says Struyk. Makes sense.
Cool cool, so your partner is telling you what they like vs what’ll immediately lead them to call an uber back home. Your move: listen. And, ask follow-up questions if you have them, says Dr. Jill McDevitt, Ph.D, and resident sexologist.
“If they hint at something they like or don’t like, you can ask them about it,” she says. “Conversation is how sex becomes a pleasurable collaboration.”
BTW: listening doesn’t just happen with your ears. “Listening means taking their words, cues, and body language into account,” says Struyk.
For instance, are they making sounds that suggest they’re into it, or are they very quiet? Are they pushing your head away or pulling your mouth closer?
Tuning into these cues gives you the tools you need to make your partner feel great and help you both feel more connected to each other, she says. “What’s hotter than feeling connected to a partner giving you pleasure?”
Congrats, you scored a boo who’s an A+ communicator. But if you don’t know how you like to be touched, no matter how much they ask, it’s going to be fruitless.
“Knowing very clearly what it is that you like can help your partner give to that,” says Struyk.
Your homework assignment? Masturbate. “Touching yourself will teach you where you prefer more or less pressure, what angles you like, and more,” she says.
“A lot of people think making their partners climax makes them ‘good’ in bed, and their desire to be ‘good’ in bed is driven by their ego,” Struyk says.
Sure, orgasms can be awesome, but Struyk also follows up with some math: “They only account for a few seconds in an entire sexual experience with someone.”
So, if you’re measuring your own worth or sexual adequacy based on how many times your partner orgasms, stop.
Also, slow down on the Q’s like “Are you close?” or “Did you finish?” or “Can you come from this?” Unless your partner is announcing it, it pressures your partner to climax and takes them out of the moment.
And remember sometimes the O is a no-go, and that’s okay!
Struyk explains: It could be stress, certain medication, pelvic floor tension, a medical condition, or dehydration. “If they communicate to you that they’ve had a great time, but orgasm just isn’t in the cards today, move on without hard feelings!” she suggests.
Playing dead might be a neat trick when Scout does it. But if you’re lying there with your mind elsewhere mid-romp (and being a non-participant is not part of a scene you and your partner having mutually agreed to), chances are the sex is going to be mediocre… at best.
“People find reciprocal and engaged sex to be good sex,” confirms Dr. McDevitt.
Too tired for sex? No big. let your partner know. But if you wanna be there, get in there!
Anyone who’s seen Euphoria will remember that scene where Maddy mimics the moves she’s seen choreographed in porn. Acclaimed indie adult filmmaker Erika Lust says porn is often mistaken as an instruction manual for sex.
“Because proper comprehensive and inclusive sex ed is lacking in most places, porn steps in as the de facto sex educator,” she acknowledges. The problem, according to her, is that folks don’t take time to distinguish reality and film.
“Pornography isn’t real and [the] relationships depicted in these films are nothing like sex and relationships in real life.”
If you enjoy porn (especially if it’s ethical porn!), continue enjoying it! “But enjoy it the way you’d enjoy a romantic comedy: with the full and complete understanding that these are actors performing a role,” she says.
If you and your boo are communicating up the wazoo, but the sex wilts like a campfire during a thunderstorm… well, in many cases, bad is just relative. As long as nobody feels hurt or trivialized at the end, don’t worry too much about it.
“It could just be a chemistry issue,” says Struyk says. “Sometimes you just don’t connect with someone sexually no matter how their technique is.”
Being good at sex doesn’t mean you have to be good at having sex with everyone.
Your plan of action depends on how important sex is to you — and what the rules and negotiations are in your relationship. Personally, I want to feel more like a gazelle-like dom than out-of-water marine creature. So, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some hand-er, homework to complete.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.