COMMUNICATION: Getting comfortable with giving feedback in sex

Giving feedback in sex and speaking to our needs in the present moment is daunting terrain. Even the most vocal of women can suddenly fall quiet when asked what they like, what could be better or even responding to the question: how does that feel? generates a small mouse squeak.

What’s at the heart of our reluctance to give feedback is the worry that we will hurt someone’s feelings. To all the sexual partners of women reading this right now, know this:

We like to be liked and know that it takes a lot of guts to try and please us so we don’t want you to feel rejection – especially in sex. We would rather feel uncomfortable and a lesser experience of pleasure to protect you from feeling something crap.

I’ve been with my husband a loooooong time (he was my next door neighbour - swoon!). It’ll be our 10-year wedding anniversary this year. But time alone hasn’t absolved me from the discomfort of giving feedback in sex. It’s a learned behaviour that has been slowly integrated over time. My confidence to communicate really amplified when I started learning specific talk and consent practices through a certification process I learnt in 2014 (which I share with my 1:1 clients).

Rather than just continually learning from my own self-reflection, one night I decided to hand over the mike to my husband Ed to get his perspective on what it is like to get feedback from me in sex. You might find (like me) that your partner doesn’t feel as much rejection as you think. Keep in mind that we didn't start out talking about sex in this way from the beginning of our relationship - this conversation felt like 15 years in the making.

The biggest learnings from this snuggle time chat? That our intimate communication has formed over time and happened slowly. Because we know each other, we take our feedback more like directions than a personal attack. We agree that context is important as is word choice. Our chat also highlighted that there is power in speaking to sex when it is relevant – if not in the actual moment then straight afterwards.

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L: So, when I give you feedback, you try not to take it personally…

E: Yup. I try not to think about anything. I just hear it as….it’s like you’re directing me in traffic and you say, turn left here. I don’t wonder why you are asking me to turn left. So I turn left. I see it as an instruction to do rather than think about it.

L: Without some sort of feeling of rejection or hurt…

E: I’m not saying that there is never any rejection but I understand that it’s not personal.

L: I don’t get worried because I know that you take feedback with grace. Sometimes I am concerned that I am a little bit too direct…no, not direct. Not what I’m saying but how I deliver it. So, could my delivery use some work to be a little bit more compassionate?

E: No. That’s just because I know you. If we’d only just started dating, maybe I would think ‘oh, she’s just so blunt’ but we’ve had enough years together that I know not to take that to heart. And it’s like anything, as soon as you lose being present, you lose your rhythm, lose your focus on what you are doing, you get distracted so that’s why I try not to think about it. It could just be as simple as you saying I’ve got a cramp, I’ve got to stop. That’s no-ones fault but you just want to stop, readjust and go back to what you are doing.

L: During sex?

E: Yeah, you know if you are uncomfortable, you just want to stop and readjust because otherwise you lose the focus of the moment. That’s probably harder for a woman. But for me, as a guy, being present in that moment you can lose arousal when you get distracted and just lose motivation. Try not to confuse being blunt with being clear (in giving feedback).

L: Yeah. Yup. I think my words are clear, I just question if sometimes my delivery could be kinder.

E: And sometimes too, you have to readjust because in that split second you kinda go, oh well, it’s just not happening.

L: Oh, the arousal…

E: Yeah, the arousal. It could mean that you start from scratch and build up again. But I definitely know as a guy that if you hit that peak and you can either go over and try and maintain it but if you get distracted and lose arousal, you might still have an erection but then it’s just like oh, you’re just not going to come. It’s not a bad thing just oh well.

It’s easy to get distracted and lose focus being in the moment. That’s why when you were telling me before, I don’t think about it.

It’s like, can you move your hands up and down my body and I was like ‘meh, yeah sure’. Like, just do it. Just adjust. But that’s the same as a guy, I should be able to say oh, can you just go a bit tighter, slower or softer. I mean it’s not personal; it’s just every single time will be different. Every orgasm.

L: Yeah, I’m also really conscious that right not I am in the luteal phase of my cycle, which is generally notorious for taking longer to build arousal. So I think all of that initial feedback is really important if anything is going to happen otherwise I will just shut down and turn off.

E: I have to be careful because I was trying not to rush it with you as well. I could see the way your body was moving and listening to you, your vocal cues…and I’d slow down a little and I would change the way I was licking you or touching you but I know I have to be really careful that when I see certain cues that I don’t mistake that for I can keep you there for no, don’t stop.

L: I was just thinking about the importance of word choice in giving feedback. As long as it’s not really bad, not saying ‘don’t. Stop’ because I don’t think it is very constructive so I choose words like (but I’m asking for your feedback as well) – I choose words like slower, softer, be gentle. I don’t want you to see me as a little flower but there are times where tenderness is important.

E: Yeah, there are times where you can say can you do something firmer and I’m like oh, I didn’t know. I was worried about being too rough and you’re like, no go harder. Those cues are really good because then I know that you use touch or give another verbal cue to go softer if you need to. When you say go harder, I’m really conscious of not hurting you but it means that you are (in your head) saying why isn’t he just going harder and I’m like I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to hurt you. Then the next time you’ll be like, no I can’t go hard. Go soft.

This has just developed over time. If we had just started dating, whether we just had a couple of simple cue words…whether you can be hard or soft, I’ll just tell you. That way when you say it, you know and you are expecting - you’re not being surprised.

Maybe it’s a surprise the first time people hear it and they aren’t sure how to react. So I’m not surprised if you say anything. But if we were just starting to date and we had sex a few times and all of a sudden you go, no slower, I might be like ‘oh, you’ve never said that before’.

L: Do you think after sex is a good time to talk about sex? When do you think the optimal time to talk about sex is?

E: Good question.

L: I was just thinking, but I don’t want to influence your decision, that this time is good because it’s relevant and it’s fresh in our minds and we are in that space of bonding. And it’s not like coming in from the cold just trying to talk about it.

E: Yeah probably. Because I imagine, in the throes of passion, if you didn’t really have clear dialogue and likes and dislikes before, it can get lost in translation and being in the moment – saying no not like that! and I’m like ‘what just happened?’ and that’s just killed the moment. But after it might be like, I really like that, that angle, so the next time you go on that angle; I know what you are talking about. That would be like any kind of activity.

You might only be adding words to your vocabulary with sex one or two words at a time. So we’re not creating a lexicon of what we like and dislike after one session.

Maybe it is like I really like what you did there. Or when you went harder or when you started softer then the next time you say go soft and now can you go faster - you have already expressed what you are expecting or what you like. You are not going to do every position and every activity and remember it all afterwards. Maybe the dialogue happens over time just because that is the way it is. When I say slower, it might mean something different. Slower is contextual as well: slower penetration, slower doggy style, slower missionary, slower side-by-side, slower cowgirl. Slower might be different every time.

L: Oh so you can’t just say it up front. You need to say it in that moment to what has been propositioned...

E: Yeah. If you want softer, it might be moving my mouth away and using lighter touch or only my tongue. While I was on your back there, slower might relate to the movement as well or the angle of the movement. Maybe you can’t just say slower. What I meant is for you to move in this way slowly so there could be context around it too. Slower could still mean maybe a fast, deep thrust but slowly not like bang, bang, bang, bang or it might mean slowly out or slowly in. It could be related to what you like.

L: That really helps. I think speaking to the moment is an important skill. I think that’s all you can do. You can have a sense of anticipation of what you want in sex but for me that changes. I try not to plan, we’ll do this, this and this. Because I don’t actually know that in 5 minutes I’m going to actually want to do that.

E: Yeah. It might change. What if I went down on you and all of a sudden it got really sensitive – then it would be like oh should we do this position. You just want to be fluid with what you feel like.

L: Fluid. I think that’s a good word.

E: Yeah, it’s not a porno. Who’s to say that if you start with oral that it is so good for both of you that’s actually it.

L: Thank you. Let’s have a rest.

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I want to thank Ed for being so candid. I can’t recommend speaking openly and being vulnerable after sex enough. Because of this conversation, I will now remember the sex that we had that night and this creates an incentive for me to keep returning to sex (because that’s how it works biologically. No incentive = no interest in doing it again).

Lauren xo

P.S. Libido need a boost to get you to communicating? Introducing Conversations : a LIVE webinar series on the 13th February that gives you the time and space to learn, ask and share wisdom around hot topics in female sexuality. Think everything you have ever wanted to know about your body, sexual skills, communication, touch and getting out of your head and into your arousal. In the first session for 2018, we will talk love, libido and life and the ways that these can flow more readily and abundantly into your intimate life. 

Give your libido a little Valentine's-Galentine's Day love this year (not that we fall for it all) and come along. Head straight to the Conversations page to join.

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1.1 Sessions: Learning communication skills is at the heart of owning your libido and being an active part of your committed relationship. It can be really easy to learn communication skills when you feel safe and when you can practice before bringing them into your real life. If you need help, stepping forward into 1.1 sessions is the simplest and most effective way to dissolve your blocks around speak up. Read more here.