Ask A Sex Therapist: Why Is It So Hard to Ask for What You Want In Bed?

Don’t conflate sexual compatibility with mind reading.

by Madison Malone Kircher
Sex experts explain why it's so hard to ask for what you want in bed.

The short answer is … you’ve been lied to. So don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault!

“We live in a culture that tricked us into believing that when you're with somebody who is compatible, they should just be able to read your mind. This is BS,” Cyndi Darnell, a New York-based sex therapist, tells Bustle. On the contrary, the couples who have the hottest sex are probably also the ones who talk the most about it.

That’s not to say it’s easy. Asking for what you want in bed requires “an extraordinary degree of vulnerability,” Darnell says, and your partner needs to be vulnerable, too — willing to hear what you are asking for and where you’re coming from. Mind reading may not be an accurate predictor of compatibility, but the ability to actually talk — and listen — to your partner most certainly is.

It takes practice. Even if it makes you feel oh, God, my face is turning tomato red-level uncomfortable at first, the more you do it, the more natural these conversations should feel. If the idea of initiating one of those conversations feels insurmountable, start small.

You could, for example, talk with your partner about what you’ve already enjoyed about your sex life together. It’s a way of easing into vulnerability: It’s scary to feel like you’re going out on a limb by revealing your deepest, unspoken desires. What if they’re not interested or turned off? It’s less scary, on the other hand, to simply reminisce about hot stuff the two of you have already done! Be specific about what you liked, and from there, you can start talking about what else you might like.

These conversations should be happening outside of the bedroom, Darnell stresses. “Waiting until you’re in bed with somebody to start talking about what you like — it’s too late at that point,” she says. If you’re on an app arranging a hookup, that’s where you talk about it. If you’re in an established relationship, talk about it over lunch, in the car, on a walk — anywhere you’re not nude and horny and trying to impress each other. Just make sure “there’s enough physical space between you,” Darnell says, “where you can take the time to have a conversation and slow down.”

Before you do any of that, though, take a moment to have a conversation with yourself, says Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, a director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. Start by posing the question to yourself: Why is it so hard for me to ask for what I want in bed? Try journaling your answer. Are you afraid of rejection or embarrassment? Or are you not even fully aware of what you want? “Then consider how you were raised, what you learned about pleasure and your sexuality, and what narratives you learned about asking for what you like,” Kahn says. You’re the only one who can answer those questions, so start with yourself.