Talk to me in bed: The importance of erotic communication

Conversation is essential for good sex. But we resist because we’re afraid of hurt feelings and we assume that desire comes with the ability to read minds

Comunicacion pareja
A couple lying in bed.Franziska & Tom Werner (Getty Images)

For some strange reason, people tend to fall mute when they’re in bed with someone. Their vocabulary is reduced to interjections (“Ah! Oh! Uh!”) or repetitions of the same word (“Yes, yes, yes!”).

“Communication is essential for good sex,” says Miren Larrazabal, clinical psychologist, sexologist and president of Sísex (the International Society of Sexology Experts). “There are two reasons why people tend not to talk, although new generations do it more. The idea still persists that the kit of love or desire includes the ability to read the other’s mind, or telepathy. Others don’t express their preferences for fear of hurting the other’s feelings,” the expert explains.

If sex once tended to emerge from a certain level of friendship, dating or courtship, now, it is the opposite. Sex is now the first step on the path to a potential relationship. It becomes a test that everyone wants to pass with flying covers. “There are high expectations because if you fail on the first date, there may not be a second chance,” says Francisca Molero, gynecologist, sexologist, director of the Iberoamerican Sexology Institute and president of the Spanish Federation of Sexology Societies. “Sporadic sex, which was once something fun without consequences, has become a great responsibility, with real consequences, because even if we’re not looking for a lasting relationship, it’s a marker of our erotic self-esteem.”

“In that context, and without knowing much about the person in front of us, it’s important for them to give us some instructions about how to satisfy them, which they don’t always do in the best way. Many are incapable of expressing their tastes and desires. On the other hand, there are perfectionists with very high expectations, who start to give, or ask for, too many instructions. Sex then becomes very mechanical and bureaucratic, and desire gets lost,” Molero adds.

Hispanic couple holding hands in bed
For healthy sexual communication, it is essential to find a point between not saying anything and giving excessive explanations.Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images (Getty Images)

There is a midpoint between staying silent and turning sex into a drive with the GPS. The first is to establish general guidelines, like when we choose a restaurant knowing that our companion does not eat meat or is allergic to gluten. Once we choose the place, we don’t have to ask if they like every mouthful.

“We all have practices that we don’t like or that we don’t want to do that day for whatever reason,” Larrazabal says. “There are also issues, like condom use, that are important to clarify beforehand so there aren’t misunderstandings, but once agreed upon, it is best to create a space of relaxation, complicity, sensuality, more than pretending to know the other’s tastes exhaustively. And yes, there will be moments when it’s right to ask how our partner feels, but we don’t have to turn the moment into a questionnaire. Non-verbal communication and body language can give us clues, if we are observant and pay attention,” the sexologist says. In a world of screens and digital interactions, though, it becomes harder and harder to maintain eye contact during sex. “It’s like we think that we can’t read each other. But maintaining eye contact gives a lot of calm and excites us,” she says.

New generations seem to have it easier when it comes to talking in bed. According to Julia Fleta, sexologist and psychologist at the Amaltea Institute of Sexology and Psychotherapy, young people tend to think through and talk about their sex lives more. “They plan the first time, and they discuss what they will do, because they have porn, which generates high expectations and serves as a reference for sexual practices. We live in a society that does not invite us to communicate erotically and has taught us that we have to want everything and constantly be desiring,” she says.

Traditionally, men have been more prone to demanding things and sharing their tastes and fantasies. But that was before, when women were from Venus and men from Mars, and not now, when infinite genders come from all galaxies. “Men have begun to understand sexuality in a more holistic, global sense,” Fleta says. And though that is something to celebrate, there are also consequences to things being less clear. “Men have fewer fantasies because the stimuli they use are very explicit, like porn, and leave little to the imagination,” Molero says.

Two men embracing
One of the basic rules of asking for instructions is to listen and then put it into practice, but that isn’t always possible.Willie B. Thomas (Getty Images)

When it comes to communicating in bed, women tend to use more indirect language, offering more suggestions than demands. That isn’t always understandable to the other person. “I’ll give an example: if a woman is in a car and the open window bothers her, instead of asking for it to be closed, she may comment, ‘It’s getting cooler.’ As a woman, I understand that, but a man may not,” she says.

Common in erotic banter is the request that “you tell me what you like.” But, as Molero says, “we often know better what we don’t like than what we like, which tends to change based on the moment, our mood and our partners.” But even if we manage to compress all our preferences and fantasies into an erotic crash course, we often find our requests go unattended or even questioned.

One of the basic rules of asking for instructions is to listen and put them into practice, but that is not always possible. “Sometimes, the questions are meant not to discover the other’s preferences and fulfill them, but to get hints to pass the exam,” Miren Larrazabal says. Our sexual self-esteem is at a low point, Molero points out: “The more open we are and the more experience we have, the more we may feel how much we have to learn. And that happens with both sexes. Despite the fact that men come from a time of feeling very secure and thinking they know how to manage the encounter, all that security has disappeared. In general, most people perceive themselves as unskilled in sex.”

Once we’ve asked, it is important for us to avoid judging or expressing shock at the other person’s tastes. As every good boss knows, we shouldn’t criticize what the other does badly, but suggest ways to improve. There is always the option of having a talk about the issue.

Erotic communication should be more like poetry than prose. That doesn’t mean making it rhyme, but using an abstract, unstructured and honest way of communication. It’s not about writing an instructions manual, but proposing a new adventure, conscious that the trip may have some turbulence.

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