Disclaimer: I write only from my own experiences, and I have blindspots and biases which prevent me from writing an anywhere-near authoritative guide. However, I have thought a lot about issues I discuss in this article, and I hope you find some of these thoughts helpful and instructive.
Learn your partner’s boundaries
In the lead up to a sexual act, create opportunities where both you and your partner can indicate what you are comfortable with, and what you enjoy. During foreplay, take time to explore each other’s bodies, while asking questions such as ‘does this feel good?’, ‘can I touch you here?’, and ‘are you enjoying this?’.
Sometimes I feel a little absurd saying these words – I worry I sound like a pornstar from the nineties, or worse – a doctor addressing a patient. In these times, I remind myself to be natural. Sex is not about performing a certain role (unless it is, but that is a different article), it is about being comfortable in your own skin.
It is also important to create ‘outs’ – moments where you and your partner both feel like you can de-escalate the situation, without feeling like you have completely killed the mood. Do this by taking a break from foreplay to light some candles, or put on some music – these ‘interruptions’ create opportunities for either person to change their mind about how far they are willing to go, without literally having to push the other person away. Respect your partner’s wishes if they change their mind about having sex, and feel comfortable letting your partner know the same.
2. Respond to your partner
Respond verbally and physically to your partner’s ministrations – there are few things in life more nerve wracking than stony silence when you are going down on someone. Respond particularly enthusiastically when they hit upon something that feels really good. Positive reinforcement is the gift that keeps on giving!
3. Provide guidance
Anatomy is confusing, and it is easy to get lost down there! So help your partner out with some navigational instructions. Take the second exit at the roundabout, and continue along Northbourne Avenue until you arrive at your final destination.
It is important to frame your suggestions as things you personally enjoy, rather than imply there is a ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ way to do things. This will help your partner feel at ease, and feel as though they are learning to be with you, rather than struggling to meet an objective standard – particularly because so called ‘objective’ standards are typically informed by heteronormative, patriarchal nonsense.
It is also good to comment on improvement! Holy shit, you have gotten really good at that.
4. Try new things together!
When there is a gap in experience, the inexperienced partner may feel like the experienced partner has done it all before, and that they provide only a pale imitation of something their partner has already experienced. In these situations, here are some things the experienced person can do to ease their partner’s anxiety.
For example, you can exclaim ‘Oh I know, what if we tried this!’ as though it were a totally novel idea that has only just occurred to you. But it is even better to genuinely attempt to explore uncharted territory together.
So embark on a road trip to Fyshwick! Experiment with toys, positions, roleplay scenarios, or exotic locations! (I personally recommend Bhutan – it’s carbon negative). After all, research has shown that people who have new and challenging experiences together develop a stronger bond.
5. Remember that sex is not just about achieving an orgasm
It is hard to shake the notion that sex is a build up to an orgasm – and to avoid the conclusion that sex which does not end in an orgasm is failed sex. Even though I understand this on an intellectual level, I still feel disheartened when my partner doesn’t orgasm (for whatever reason). Moreover, as a woman who struggles to orgasm from penetrative sex, I know my partners have shared this frustration.
To avoid these feelings of frustration and inadequacy, remind each other that the orgasm is not the only enjoyable part of sex. You can also reenact this belief with the sex that you have – don’t allow the orgasm to determine the point at which you stop! In discourse, we could stop using the euphemism ‘finish’ to describe the orgasm, as this reinforces the notion that sex is incomplete without it.
6. Have open conversations about sex
Talking about sex in a frank and open manner with your partner can be pretty awkward, but these conversations can also be enlightening and valuable. To broach the conversation, you can low key send some articles their way, report on something you were discussing with a friend, or saw in a movie. These conversations normalise talking about sex in an unobtrusive way, and can pave the way to more in depth conversations.
When you are comfortable, you can begin to broach conversations about what you have been enjoying, what hasn’t been going so well, and what you would like to try. Having these conversations can not only troubleshoot problems in the bedroom – but may also help to prevent resentment and bitterness from hanging over the relationship in general.