When sex educator Wendy Petties began teaching women about condom usage in the 1980s, she discovered something surprising. Many of the Black women she spoke to didn’t associate sex with pleasure.
Sex was transactional. They wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible, Petties says. That’s common in our community. We grow up hearing more about the don’ts of sex than the do’s. “We're never taught anything about pleasure,” she says. The result is that many of us don’t know what we want, or like, in the bedroom.
But if you’re not getting your sexual needs met, it could affect your overall happiness. Petties, who is also a psychologist, says that leaning into our sexual desires can make us happier and more confident. So, if you want to increase your joy, one way to do that is to address what’s going on between the sheets. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Let your mind wander
An excellent way to tap into your desires is to explore your sexual fantasies. Keep in mind that sexual fantasies are just that — fantasies. While we certainly can act on some of them, others are just thoughts. “Fantasies are in our head; they're meant to titillate. They are not necessarily things that we actually want to happen,” Petties says.
And fantasies can be about anything pleasing to you sexually, says Wynn Helms, a licensed marriage and family therapist. We often think of sexual fantasies as elaborate scenarios involving costumes and role-playing. “It could be, but it doesn't have to be that serious and contrived,” says Petties, who’s based in New York. A fantasy can simply be trying a new position or exploring a new sensation (for example, cold or heat).
2. Use your senses to explore what you want
To help get in touch with your needs, Petties suggests starting with some questions. “What turns me on? What do I like doing with my partner? What parts of those things turn me on? What do I like doing alone?” A good way to answer those questions is to engage your senses. “I usually have my clients go through the five senses,” Petties says. “What do I like to look at? What smells do I like? What kind of touch do I like? What sounds?
“A different type of touch can spur arousal. A different taste, a different sight or no sight can encourage your body to light up. If you go through the five senses, that will help you think of things, and then you can explore.”
You deserve pleasure and satisfaction no matter your age, size or appearance. Think about it — would you deny yourself a good night’s rest, an exercise session or a healthy breakfast because you have stretch marks or cellulite? Sex is just as much a basic human need.
3. Drop the shame, embarrassment and self-judgment
Given that the message around sex was not positive for many of us growing up, there’s often a stigma attached to exploring your sexual desire. And in many cases, faith is a factor, says Helms, whose practice is in Sherman Oaks, California. “Give yourself permission to be adventurous,” she says. “Recognize that sex is not forbidden; it's not dirty. It's a part of who we are as humans.”
Also, let yourself relax into the experience of the moment as you shed any anxieties about your body. You deserve pleasure and satisfaction no matter your age, size or appearance. Think about it — would you deny yourself a good night’s rest, an exercise session or a healthy breakfast because you have stretch marks or cellulite? Sex is just as much a basic human need.
4. Bring your sex life into your everyday conversations
“When we talk about sex, [often], it's because something's going wrong,” Petties says. But she suggests making sex an everyday topic, the same way you would discuss your schedule or plans for the weekend. For example, over breakfast, you could let your partner know that what they did last night was on point. “I really liked when you did X, Y, Z. Next time, I'm going to… ,” Petties says. Or when you come across articles on sex topics that interest you, share them with your partner.
And when it comes to introducing a new sex act, Petties says avoid waiting until you’re in the moment to discuss it. Rather, bring it up ahead of time and in a neutral setting. “Don't talk about things you want to explore [when you’re] in the bedroom or a sexual situation,” she cautions. Doing so could trigger an unexpected or negative response, especially if you and your partner don’t usually mix things up.
5. Make it playful
Bring fun into exploring what you want and need in bed. That could mean trying an adult board game, exploring sex toys or coming up with your own games and challenges. For example, you and your partner could take turns having an “I-get-to-decide-what-we-do” night or a “seven-days-of-sex” challenge.
6. Keep checking in with yourself
Discovering your sexual needs is not a one-and-done event. Petties suggests revisiting the five whys and tapping into your senses regularly. Continue to explore what you like, and just as important, what you don’t.