How To Get What You Want In Bed, And Not Get What You Don’t Want

One of the themes running through discussions of sex, relationships, and gender is the notion of consent: what it means, what it looks like, how to recognize it, and how to respond to it. I’m really glad to see more conversations about it because consent is the foundation of a happy, thriving sex life. But I also see lots of confusion about it. Many of my clients struggle with consent, in many different ways. And I think it’s time to get a better handle on what we mean by it because it’s an essential part of getting what you want in bed (or on the couch, the kitchen table, or wherever).

A lot of the difficulty arises because giving consent actually requires two separate skill sets, and we live in a world that withholds both of them from people, in many different ways. So it’s no wonder that folks get stuck in their sex lives. Fortunately, while it can feel hard to learn these things, it’s not as tough as you might think. The first step is to understand what you’re trying to do.

If you want to have a fun, exciting, and fulfilling sex life, you need to be able to a) get what you want, and b) not get what you don’t want. The first one is your “yes.” It’s how you ask for the stuff you want to do or try. The second one is your “no.” It’s how you avoid the things you don’t like or stop the things that don’t work for you. And in sex, just like in any other aspect of our lives, we need two very different sets of tools to get both of those things.

Some of the things that help you get what you want are:

  • Knowing what your options are.
  • The ability to experiment and explore so you can find out what you enjoy.
  • The capacity to feel into your experience and know what brings you pleasure.
  • Enough comfort to be able to put your desires into words and tell a partner what feels good to you.
  • A foundation of trust with your partner so that you don’t worry about their response.
  • The belief that you deserve to receive it.
  • Freedom from the many messages that tell you that your desires and pleasures are scary, shameful, or bad.

And here are some of the things that help you not get what you don’t want:

  • Confidence that you don’t have to tolerate or endure anything that doesn’t feel good to you.
  • The space to try something and then stop it if it’s not what you’d hoped.
  • The ability to recognize when something doesn’t work, without tuning out or checking out.
  • The willingness to tell a partner what you want to change, even if they feel disappointed about that.
  • A foundation of trust with your partner so that you don’t worry about their response.
  • Sufficient communication skills to be able to be specific about what does and doesn’t work for you.

Obviously, there are some items on both of these lists. But although having a partner you can talk with about these things will help with both getting what you want and not getting what you don’t want, different defensive reactions, communication challenges, and triggers come up with each of those situations. When it comes down to it, there are different skills that we need for each side of the equation.

This is incredibly important because it means that we need to be holding onto both of these at the same time. In any given moment during a sexual experience, we need to be able to check and see: Am I getting what I want? Am I getting something that I don’t want? Some of us are much better at one of those than the other. And others need some help with both of them.

One thing that can make this tricky is that the somatic experience of desire, that felt sense that lets you know whether what you’re doing is working or not working, can be a lot more subtle than the input from sexual stimulation. If the physical sensation is giving you a louder signal than your internal sense of your desire, it’s all too easy to go along with what’s happening without noticing that you want something different. Not only can that make it hard to tune into your no, it can also keep you from asking for something that would make the experience even better. The somatic experience of your yes can be just as subtle as your no. We have to learn how to pay attention to those bodily messages, especially in the middle of sex.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to build those skills. A great place to start is to ask yourself whether your response is a “fuck yes!” That means that if a partner ask you if you want to do something, check and see if you want to say “fuck yes!” If you do, then you both know that you’re getting what you want. But if your response is mixed, like part of you wants to do it and part doesn’t, make it a no. That gives you some room to figure out what would turn that maybe into a “fuck, yes.” Or it gives you room to go do something else, if that’s a better choice.

This is a really good thing to try because the more you practice it, the easier it becomes to do in a sexual situation. It also takes some practice to hear your partner tell you that they aren’t feeling a “fuck, yes” without getting stuck in a rejection reaction. One way you can do that is by using it as an opportunity to look for things that you’re both a “fuck, yes” to.

Another way to learn how to do this is to practice telling a partner what you want them to do. Here’s how to make it happen:

  • Find a friend who’s willing to play along.
  • Set a timer for five minutes.
  • During that time, your friend will touch your lower arm (from elbow to hand) in any way you tell them, exactly as you tell them.
  • Your job is to explore what it’s like to give them specific directions. Some examples are: circles, scratching, long strokes, tapping, squeezing, tickles.
  • The purpose isn’t to stay with something that feels good. The purpose is to experiment with telling them what you want.

Some ways you can play with this:

  • Rather than asking them to do something (“could you please tap my arm?”), try telling them (“tap my arm.) See what it feels like to give directions instead of making requests.
  • You can refine what they’re doing by saying things like harder, softer, faster, slower. Be as precise as you can until they do it exactly like you want.
  • Pay attention to your habitual urges. Are you having the impulse to make your voice quiet? Do you want to make sure they feel good about your directions? Are you worried that they’re bored or not having fun? Are you putting up with something you don’t want? Are you getting something you do want?
  • When you’re done, change roles so you can see what it’s like on the other side. When you’ve both had a turn, take a few minutes to talk about what you noticed.

This might sound like a simple exercise, but you’ll probably be surprised at what you notice. I often do this with my my somatic sex education clients and all sorts of different things can come up. Some people feel apologetic about giving directions. Some people forget what their options are. Some people worry that they’re being demanding, even when I give them very specific permission. Some people get distracted or tell me to just do what I want. And many of them are startled to discover what habits they have around this. That’s what makes this such a powerful exercise. Until you can find your authentic voice and give words to your experience, you’ll face lots of challenges with getting what you want and not getting what you don’t want.

Now, imagine doing the same thing during an erotic massage. Try to envision telling a partner to make small circles on your clitoris or to grip the base of your penis while squeezing the head. Suddenly, this simple exercise becomes a lot scarier. But unless your partner can magically read your mind, the only way they’ll know how to give you the pleasure you deserve is if you can put your desires into words. When I work with clients in this more challenging way, it gives them new opportunities to figure out how to get what they want when the energy is high. And that is when things can get really interesting.

One of the advantages of these kinds of exercises is that they offer insight into any hurdles you face with getting what you want or not getting what you don’t want. That makes sense since any sexual experience blends both of those at the same time. But it can also make it hard to tease apart the different threads. So it’s worth taking some time to sit with whatever came up. Ask yourself- was there anything I could have done to get more of what I wanted? Could I have said something to stop getting what I didn’t want?

This is how you learn to tune into your inner sense of desire. This is how you discover what consent feels like in your body. And this is how you find ways to use that information to get what you want and not get what you don’t want.

If you’re looking for more opportunities to explore how this plays out in your sex life, let’s talk about how I can help you make that happen. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, my somatic sex coaching might be the right fit for you. Or we can do talk-based coaching over the phone or skype. I offer a free 30 minute Get Acquainted call to talk about your situation and how I can be of service, so get in touch and let’s figure out how you can get what you want.