Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted anonymously through Formspring. This week’s question is:
How can I get my partner to be more adventurous in bed?
This question comes up quite often in sex advice forums, so it seemed to be about time to respond to this inquiry. I believe that the prevalence of this issue is in part due to the poor quality of sexual health education in the United States, which to me would encompass not only behaviors but also how to communicate about the range of topics that arise within discussions of human sexuality. To be more specific: a whole lot of people are engaging in sexual activity and remaining in sexual relationships without resources, education, experience in talking about sex. This can lead to sexual dissatisfaction and relationship issues, which many times only grow more severe as the parties grow more invested in the relationship due to marriage, children, etc.
With that said, my first suggestion is for you to figure out what you mean by “adventurous.” Clarifying your own desires before involving your partner is incredibly important, as it can be extremely difficult to talk about or ask for something you cannot put into words. Furthermore, keep in mind that personal definitions of “adventurous” are not uniform– you could be referring to a lot of behaviors and actions, and your sense of what is “adventurous” could be vanilla to some while extreme to others. In this sense, it’s less useful to utilize terms such as “adventurous,” or even “kinky,” when defining your desires; opt instead for concrete actions, behaviors, and scenes, which will help both you and your partner understand exactly what you want.
My second recommendation is to communicate with your partner, and not just about sexual activity. Good communication is absolutely vital to the health of a relationship, and is marked by willingness to discuss issues, active listening, being mindful of one’s words, and being respectful so that you and your partner feel comfortable talking openly, without worry of judgment or retribution. Furthermore, key to good communication is the use of I-statements, which require that the speaker focus on their feelings and beliefs as opposed to the actions of others. For example, while the statement “You don’t care about our relationship” can come across as accusatory, saying “I feel _____ when you _____, because ____” better explains your emotions and the roots of your feelings. People who practice open communication in their relationships, whose conversations are based in mutual trust and regard, are better able to discuss potentially difficult subjects. When you decide to have a conversation about your sexuality and the sex you two are having, keep in mind my suggestions for good communication.
Moreover, this discussion can happen in multiple ways: while some people are more comfortable with topics like this in casual settings—such as in the home—others may appreciate a conversation over dinner or another neutral territory. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t recommend that these discussions take place in the bedroom, as this can increase feelings of tension while also associating the bedroom with negativity. You may find it beneficial to jot notes down beforehand, as to help guide the conversation. One resource that I strongly recommend is MojoUpgrade, which while hetero- and cis-normative, is a great way to compare and contrast you and your partner’s fantasies and desires. Similar sexual activity checklists include the BDSM Resource Center Checklist, this easy-to-print Yes-No-Maybe Kinky List, and a personal favorite, Scarleteen’s Yes, No, Maybe So Sexual Inventory Stocklist, which includes subjects including triggers, preferred words and terms, and safer sex.
After having a discussion about both of your desires, you may find that your partner isn’t very sexually exploratory at all, preferring familiar ground. This may be due to a lack of experience– do you know whether your partner has experimented sexually in the past? Does your partner masturbate and fantasize? In this regard, I think it could be beneficial for you to encourage your partner to explore their own desires and fantasies apart from you. You can suggest pornography and erotica, the latter of which has recently entered mainstream America in part due to the prevalence of e-readers and the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. Sex toys can also be a great tool for people who want to explore their sexuality, so you may want to propose an adventure to a local sex toy shop.
In addition to these techniques, I recommend moving slow. Sexuality can be a tricky subject, and it’s possible that your partner has never thought to explore themselves sexually. Therefore, this process of learning one’s desires and fantasies can be difficult and time-consuming. You should be mindful of this, and make an effort to be understanding and supportive of their journey, wherever their course may take them.
With that said, it’s also wholly possible that your partner is experienced and does not need time/space to explore their sexuality. Indeed, some people simply don’t like kinky sex, or any type of sex that is outside of their comfort zone. Therefore, while self-exploration may be beneficial in certain circumstances, I urge you to keep in mind that your partner is not entitled to do so. Indeed, pressuring your partner to explore their sexual self can be perceived as condescending and patronizing, and may convey that you assume that your partner doesn’t know any better and therefore requires your guidance. This is not the message you should be trying to send, and thus, I implore you to trust your partner at their word– if they say they aren’t interested, that may be the end of the conversation, depending on their own desire to compromise and test their boundaries.
As such, throughout this journey, I really want to stress the necessity of being respectful of your partner and their desires, even if these desires differ from yours or are not as adventurous as you would like. Informed, affirmative consent should be the prerequisite to any sexual activity. At the end of the day, if your partner is interested in challenging their boundaries and becoming more sexually adventurous, great! If not, however, you should not attempt to push them to change in order to better fit your personal desires. For example, repeatedly propositioning something that your partner has already said “no” to implies that you are not willing to listen to or respect your partner’s opinions. Similarly, passive-aggressive comments and pejorative remarks about your partner’s non-kinky sexual desires (“You’re so vanilla/boring,” “Why can’t you be more exciting?” “Other people would do this for me,” etc.) should be avoided. Indeed, it should be remembered that even if your partner eventually “gives in” due to your pushing, this consent was not freely given, which may potentially hinder the future and health of your relationship, thereby making willing sexual exploration less likely. More importantly, however, this behavior is coercive; if you feel you must rape your partner in order to fulfill your sexual desires, I’d hasten to suggest that you should re-evaluate not only your desires, but also your perspective on relationships, sex, and entitlement.
Furthermore, despite the frustration—and perhaps resentment—you may feel, I think it’s important for you to understand that this is not your partner’s fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. The fact of the matter is that not everyone is compatible in all ways. Thus, while you and your partner may be wonderful together outside the bedroom, you can definitely be sexually incompatible, and that’s normal and natural, and is a fact in many romantic and sexual relationships. Thankfully, sexual incompatibility isn’t an automatic death sentence for the relationship. Compromise is possible, as long as both you and your partner are willing to try and make an effort to meet each other halfway. I will also add that compromise is not about being equal, but rather is about being fair. In other words, compromise isn’t about both parties taking the same strides or making the same sacrifices, but is instead about finding the things people on both sides are willing to budge on.
One suggestion I have in terms of compromise is to alternate who is “in charge” of each sexual encounter, which will enable both of you to explore the type of sexual activity you want. Of course, it should be understood that this negotiation is not binding; both you and your partner are allowed to say “no,” and doing so should never result in retribution of any kind. Just as with open communication, becoming sexually explorative requires mutual trust and respect. Still, as you navigate your desires and limits, keep in mind my previous statement to take things slow. For example, while you may be interested in cock and ball torture, it is not a good idea to immediately bring out the needles or ask your partner to step on you with high heels. Instead, try encouraging your partner to become more rough during oral sex: suggest a little teeth, some nails, a bit of squeezing tighter than usual. Starting off slow is an important component to helping your partner become more comfortable with the sexual activities you desire.
You may also want to explore consensual non-monogamy, which will enable you to have the kind of sex you desire without infringing on your partner’s boundaries. Of course, non-monogamy can be difficult for many people, and the decision to open one’s relationship is a major step, requiring much thought, negotiation, and even research. Furthermore, non-monogamy may not offer an actual solution to your issue, especially if you specifically desire certain sex acts with your current partner, as opposed to with another person or new partner. If non-monogamy is not an option, then I would suggest other avenues of compromise that will allow you to fulfill your desire on your own. Porn and erotica may help in this regard, and has the benefit of being a potential partnered activity.
Lastly, if non-monogamy is not something either of you are comfortable with, and compromising is proving to be impossible, it’s up to both of you to decide whether remaining in the relationship is a good idea. This is especially true if the situation moves beyond mere “adventurousness” and involves core desires that aren’t being fulfilled and are not going to go away. Indeed, these issues can breed resentment, which is unhealthy to the well-being of not only the relationship, but also you and your partner. Moreover, if you decide to stay together, understand that you may be making the decision to not have the type of sexual activity that you desire for the duration of the relationship.
That said, sexual incompatibility is wholly understandable and a legitimate reason to end a relationship. Neither of you should feel guilty if this is what you decide to do, and again, I stress that it be understood that this is no one’s fault. People deserve to be happy, and sometimes what makes people happy are so different that there is no compromise, and that is okay.