Asking For What You Want
Published in Alternative Medicine magazine,
August 2002 - ©Johanina Wikoff. All rights reserved.
Whether you have been taught not to ask for anything, or are afraid you might take the magic out of the moment, discovering the art of gently conversing in the bedroom can enhance your life.
When it comes to pleasure, we all have some preferences that we wish our partners were more attuned to. Expressing this to another, whether we are making love for the first, or perhaps for the many hundredth time, is still a challenge for many people. In sex, as in every area of relationship, a passive approach to getting our wishes fulfilled is a recipe for disappointment, frustration and loss of interest in sex.
Ideally, talking about sex could be as easy as discussing your dinner menu. “I have a taste for a wonderful hearty soup with lots of vegetables, a loaf of sourdough bread, a bottle of that wine you bought last week, and strawberries for dessert. How does that sound to you?” “Mmmm. Yes, that sounds yummy. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Let’s have chocolate with the strawberries,” you reply to the suggestion with great anticipation. Of course, more often than not, it’s not that simple.
Sexual attraction, the ineffable qualities that ignite passion, and the particular combination of emotional elements that make sexual love come alive throughout the course of relationship are part of the mystery of love. We instinctively want to preserve the mystery and the romance; yet if we can1t speak and understand the language of sexual love, we are frequently disappointed and dissatisfied.
This language is expressed and read by paying attention to the breath, to movements of the body, to sounds. But it is also expressed in the requests of your beloved. The Kama Sutra, the ancient Indian manual of lovemaking, says: “There is a language of the body that speaks without words. Through touches, gestures, and signals, couples express their desire for each other. Lovers understand and enjoy these unspoken messages.” Still, even though your body speaks volumes about your arousal with deepening breath, flushing skin, swelling lips, dilating pupils, lubricating genitals and sounds, sighs and grunts — talking, specifically making requests, empowers you and your beloved by demystifying pleasure.
Many people actually don’t want to demystify sex, fearing they will lose the romance and magic. This is the paradox: in order to be touched by love, we must be sensitive to the mysterious qualities of loving. The way he laughs that touches a chord of recognition and is unique to him alone, or the way she touches her hand to her lips while she is speaking, is so characteristic and so endearing. But there is another realm to relationship besides the heart and soul mystery of love. On a personality level, we need ways to communicate clearly so that we can grow up as lovers and not be locked into childhood expectations or fears, perhaps related to criticism, rejection or abandonment.
Unfortunately, many of us received messages throughout our lives that we have no right to ask for the things we want, in any arena of life. Perhaps as a child you were shamed and humiliated when asking for something, and felt the sting of responses such as “Who do you think you are?” or “All you think of is yourself,” or “You already have too much stuff.”. Since being loved and approved of by your caregivers was vital to your well being, you stopped asking. And these old fears can be triggered when you feel vulnerable. Perhaps as an adult you thought that if someone really loved you they would know intuitively just what you wanted without you needing to spell it out.
Most likely, you found this expectation left you disappointed. And for many people, brought up with a puritanical notion of the taboo nature of sexual pleasure, there is another hindrance to asking for something new. You may fear the embarrassment of having your partner think you are weird or perverted because you want to explore the use of sex toys, for example, or other dimensions of sexual interaction, and feel too vulnerable to approach the subject.
Learning to ask for what you want does not detract from the magic of sexual love. Rather, it allows you to be specific about what you are sharing and experiencing; and that can be both bonding and liberating. But how you ask can make a difference.
For example, let’s look at what is happening in Joe and Karen’s bedroom. Joe and Karen have been together for four years. While they agree they had a great sexual connection in the first two years of their relationship, for the past two years Joe has complained that Karen has begun to spend more time at work and is rarely available for lovemaking. What is really disappointing for Joe is that she doesn’t seem to respond to him sexually the way she used to.
As we spoke in my office, it became clear that Joe and Karen could talk to each other fairly easily out of bed. So why couldn1t they continue the conversation while they were making love? Karen admitted that she wasn’t enjoying their lovemaking the way she used to. She felt Joe’s lovemaking with her had become routine. She said that her one attempt to ask him for something different had gone badly. And she was reluctant to talk about what she wanted, partly because she had promised herself that she wouldn1t be a nag like her mother had been with her father.
“I tried to say something to you once while we were making love and you got hurt and pulled away from me,” Karen said to Joe. “Karen, when you asked me to slow down, I heard this tone in your voice, and I guess I reacted to that and shut down. I think this is my internalized critical parent again, but at the time I got triggered.” Joe revealed that he had felt inadequate and confused. He also felt that, just as in other areas of his life, he fell short as a lover. Joe projected this belief onto his relationship with Karen. He thought her desires meant he wasn1t a good enough lover.
Karen could empathize with Joe. And she could also see her own part in the problem. “I have trouble asking for what I want, and so when I do ask, it frequently sounds like a demand. I wish I could let you see how vulnerable I feel.” As they communicated openly, they began to see the issue more clearly. That awareness is an important step. But, then the next question is: how do we change the way we communicate while we are making love?
Some Ideas For Asking For What You Want
When making requests, make the request positive and doable. Rather than saying “I wish you would stop doing that so roughly,” try saying, “I love that you are touching my nipples. Could you do it lightly?”
What you focus on expands. If you focus on pleasure, then it becomes stronger. Let your partner know that you are feeling pleasure. A simple statement such as “That’s wonderful, I love what you are doing”, goes a long way toward inviting openness in communication.
Express your pleasure with sounds. Oohs, aahs and yesses help you focus on your own pleasure while also letting your partner know what you are feeling. In the same vein, when you are having an orgasm, relax the muscles of your throat and let sound out on the extended exhale. Then your orgasm will become more intense. Include your emotions in your lovemaking. Sometimes we neglect to notice what we feel and focus instead on physical sensations or the goal of having an orgasm. But, if you are breath to bone with your beloved, making love with eyes open, looking into your partner’s eyes, you will feel vulnerable and unexpected feelings will come up.
You might have a memory of something painful that happened to you, or you might have a twinge of fear or resentment. And for the sake of “making love” you might be tempted to override the “negative feeling.” But, if you are a man, your penis knows, and you might lose your erection or ejaculate sooner than you’d like, or not at all. You might notice that when your female partner is making love with you, her vaginal lubrication suddenly disappears and that being inside of her feels different and unwelcoming. When this happens, pay attention and acknowledge what you are experiencing. Rather than losing the passion, you will almost always feel more authentically connected to your partner.
Karen and Joe told me that once they began paying attention to their feelings during sex, they agreed to allow themselves to go wherever they needed in the moment as feelings surfaced. I encouraged them to acknowledge their feelings without processing or analyzing. Joe said to Karen, “I can feel your energy change. Its as though you aren1t all here with me. Even the way I feel inside of you is different. I feel pushed out.” “Wow, you can feel that too? I was feeling a little twinge of fear that you won’t love me if I ask you to slow down now. And then I became less lubricated.” “I do love you, Karen. How about we stop moving for a moment. Let’s just hold each other and be together. Nothing in particular needs to happen.”
As Joe and Karen lay together breathing and looking into each other’s eyes, Karen would quietly mention a passing feeling and Joe would continue to hold her and occasionally say some supportive words, such as “I am happy you are saying these things.” After a bit, Karen noticed her fear passing and she felt her desire for Joe come back. “I’d like to have you inside me, Joe.”
It is important that you remember to honor the mystery even while you are communicating clearly. Don’t try and figure out what is happening, or analyze it. Stay connected by breathing and simply stating what you are feeling. “I feel scared you will leave me,” is a simply unarguable truth and does not require an answer or a statement to the contrary.
When we love another with our whole heart, we love in ways that are beyond reason, and rational explanations do not do our feelings justice. Without an awareness of this mystery, our relationships would not touch us deeply, nor would they evoke the pain or growth that are inevitable when we love deeply. When it comes to the mystery of sex, it takes a lifetime to become sensitive to the conversation between two people. It’s never too soon or too late to start the conversation.