To have the best sex with your romantic partners, you need to be honest about your wants and desires. That might not always come naturally, though, which is why Brown Girls Do It Too podcast co-host Poppy Jay is on hand to give you the tools and tips for starting conversations about sex – without ruining the mood.
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For many, sex is a big part of romantic relationships. And even if you have managed to make yourself physically vulnerable with your partner in this way, emotional vulnerability can be less common among many sexually active couples; particularly if you tend to feel awkward or uncomfortable opening up about your desires.
This, of course, isn’t helped by the fact that the orgasm gap continues to be such a pressing issue. Statistics have shown that 50-65% of women have faked an orgasm and much of this is down to misconceptions about female anatomy. For example, a study by Durex found that 3 out of 4 women can’t orgasm from penetrative sex, a fact many are unaware of. The g-spot and its function is also widely misunderstood.
Talking to your partner about what you enjoy sexually can therefore be highly beneficial to your sex life, as well as your self-esteem, and talking about sex with romantic partners is also a necessary part of looking after your sexual health.
Poppy Jay, the co-host of the award-winning podcast, Brown Girls Do It Too, grew up as a second-generation child of immigrants where sex – and discussing it openly – was an alien concept to her. Now, she’s not only in a healthy relationship with a man she is totally honest with about sex and her desires, but talking about porn, masturbation and orgasms is part of her day job, too.
“What tends to happen with women, I notice, is a repressed silence and then they just explode, which is not ideal,” Poppy says on why talking about sex with your partner is so vital. “Communication is so important. I think sometimes we forget the power of speaking and expressing what you want and expressing how you feel.”
Feeling nervous or uncomfortable? Poppy has some practical steps you can take to start talking to sexual and romantic partners to help you improve your sex life and your relationships.
Don’t be afraid to discuss sex early in a relationship
Talking about sex on a first date or at the beginning of a relationship can be difficult. You don’t know what the other person will be comfortable discussing and, often, you don’t want to have awkward conversations that might get in the way of the blissful ‘honeymoon period’.
It’s necessary to ask your sexual partner about their sexual health history, though, in order to keep yourself safe and conversations about contraception also should happen as soon as possible. Poppy recommends asking these questions, and any other questions you have about your partner’s sex life, right at the beginning of a relationship, in order to make sure they don’t have any views that might affect your sex life or level of comfort.
Poppy uses the example of body count (the term used to describe the number of people you have had sex with): “Personally, my body count is my business. It’s got nothing to do with you. But then sometimes this is a bit of a paradox,” she adds, “because I would use the body count quite quickly to weed out the dicks.”
“I would rather know you have a problem with my body count on date one,” she continues, “than [find out] on date fifteen and then you drop me.”
Start small when it comes to talking about your desires
Once you have had those initial conversations with your partner that ensure you’re engaging in safe, consensual sex and the relationship starts to develop, you can start talking in more detail about your specific desires and preferences.
It can be difficult to find a time to broach the subject, Poppy explains. “It’s like, when do you bring up these conversations? Over the dinner table? ‘Oh, by the way, I like roleplaying and I like cucumbers,’ as you walk out the door?”
Poppy suggests avoiding having these conversations just before you’re about to have sex, especially if what you’re proposing is a little bit unfamiliar. Your partner will already feel vulnerable as they’re about to have sex and you want to have these conversations when you both feel comfortable and are on equal footing.
“Start with baby steps, baby conversations,” she advises. “Maybe when you’re watching a movie and something sexual is happening, tell your partner, ‘I’m into that,’ and see how the conversation goes.” Ask if it’s something that they’re into or would be interested in trying in the first instance. Be mindful of insinuating that it’s something you necessarily want immediately, and be willing to return to the conversation later if testing the waters initially doesn’t give the result you were hoping for. Remember, baby steps for one person may be a leap for another – but you’ll only discover how much so when the conversation is put up for discussion.
Persevere with conversations about sex but be prepared to compromise
It’s not unusual for people to shut conversations about sex down, Poppy says. Many people react awkwardly to conversations about sex. But as long as you ensure that your partner is comfortable and the conversations aren’t triggering for them in any way, Poppy advises that you should try to persevere with them until the other person is ready to talk.
“I think what tends to happen is women start the conversation, it gets shut down and they don’t go back,” Poppy says. “You’ve got to keep trying and find out why they’re shutting you down.”
Ask if there’s anything in particular about what you’ve suggested that is making them uncomfortable. Ask if there is a circumstance or environment in which they’d feel more open to talking more. And ask if there’s anything on their minds that they might want to share or suggest to you, too. Asking your partner questions about what they like is also very important, don’t forget. “You’ve got to meet them halfway,” Poppy says.
Be clear and forthright about what you like in bed
“I don’t like nuance in sex,” Poppy says. “What you want and your desires shouldn’t be nuanced. Be clear. Tell them, ‘I like this - I want to hear what you are into’ and give it a whirl.”
“I’m very direct with my partner,” she continues, explaining that she outright told her partner she doesn’t enjoy giving blow jobs in order to avoid tension around the subject.
Though being emotionally vulnerable in this way might not be immediately easy, have confidence in the knowledge that, more often than not, opening yourself up will encourage the other person to do the same, if not at the very least offer a response that can help guide where you go next in your sexual relationship.
Don’t be deterred if they say no, or disagree, though. It’s easy to be caught up in the frustration of not being able to satisfy your own (or someone else’s) needs. But you’ll both be better placed to do so once even just the idea of talking about sex becomes more familiar.
Deal with ‘slut-shaming’ immediately
If your partner slut shames you when you share your desires and thoughts about sex with them, Poppy insists that you need to deal with it immediately. It’s a horrible thing to think about but being able to identify when someone is criticizing your wishes because they don’t align with their expectations of your sexual behaviour, is sadly an important consideration, too, because no one should be made to feel that way.
“I know that it’s easier said than done but my advice is that it’s only going to get worse so you need to nip it in the bud. Whether you do it now or in three years’ time, you need to have this conversation.”
“If they come back and say, ‘I’m genuinely not comfortable with that,’ then that’s fine because it has to be consensual. But then compromise, find something else that you might be into that you could do with them or by yourself,” Poppy says.
“But if the other person is shaming you that’s different,” she continues. “That is unacceptable and I think you need to call them out and find out why they have those attitudes because those attitudes could be deep-rooted and it could be to do with anything from misogyny to being selfish.”
5 simple tips to stop yourself from overthinking conversations about sex
Talking about sex with your partners can be overwhelming but it can actually end up being a fairly simple process if you go in with the right approach. Here are five tips to take away from Poppy’s advice that you can come back to before and during your conversations:
- Don’t put off conversations - the sooner you can open up about sex with your partners the better
- Try not to overwhelm your partner - share your desires gradually in a space that is comfortable for both of you
- Remember that compromise is key - if your partner is willing to try out the things you like, you should do the same for them if you feel comfortable
- Don’t beat around the bush - if you know what you like in bed, the best way to achieve that is by being honest about it
- Recognise unhealthy behaviours from your partner - don’t accept slut shaming just because they’re someone you care about
Poppy Jay, co-host of Brown Girls Do It Too
Poppy Jay is the co-host of the podcast Brown Girls Do it Too which aims to change the way South Asian women are expected to speak about sex. They discuss topics including masturbation, orgasms and porn and it was named Podcast of the Year at the 2020 British Podcast Awards. Poppy is also an established investigative journalist and producer.