Q: So I always hear people talk about exploring new things sexually, and over the pandemic there kept being articles about “now is a good time for you and your partner to try out new stuff.” But literally: how does that work? Maybe I’m just not very creative, but I don’t know where to start. What new stuff do I try? It would be easier if my boyfriend had ideas and took the lead and I just went along, but he’s pretty much satisfied with the regular stuff. The whole thing makes me feel super anxious.
I absolutely love this question. Every time I see pithy advice like “don’t be afraid to spice things up,” I always think: “OK, cool. Now this is where a helpful article would break this into steps.” So, let’s do that.
Step 1: What ‘Stuff’ Do I Try?
For some folks, there are fantasies perched in their brain, stacked atop each other in a libidinous heap, eagerly waiting for a green light. For other folks, the classic Insert-Tab-A-Into-Slot-B has been more than satisfactory and anything fancier would just make things complicated. Both are good – as long as everyone is happy.
If someone would like to expand their repertoire but doesn’t have a latent kink, they can always turn to adult content for inspiration. Porn exists for this very purpose: as entertainment, a hyperbolic imagining of sex, where practical considerations like having incredibly long fingernails or being step-siblings don’t get in the way of a good time.
Perhaps porn isn’t your thing. Maybe you just want a menu of options. A fun online tool for partners to use is Mojo Upgrade, where you both (separately) register your level of interest in an activity – like stripping, sensual massage, or role play – and it reports back the areas of overlap. And plenty of magazines – even Oprah! – have bucket lists of cute things to try.
Step 2: How Do I Bring This Up?
In a situation that is low pressure and private, discuss what kind of experience you desire. Be specific, rather than just saying the activity and assuming you both understand it to be the same thing. Take, for instance, spanking. You may envision some light taps with an open palm while a partner may think you want welts across your ass from a wooden paddle with spikes. Describe the sensation you’re looking for, the things you want/don’t want to have happen.
Sexual experimentation can be daunting because of fears of rejection, awkwardness, or even physical pain. Some folks also resist trying out things that their partners request because they are afraid that if they consent to an act once, they won’t be able to go back. If you’ve never had anal sex, it’s easier to keep not having it, for example.
This is why it’s important that trust and communication are established and maintained. If you don’t trust your partner to listen to your boundaries or respect your consent, then you probably shouldn’t experiment with them.
But if you do trust them, and you’re ready to embark on some science, make it easy to convey how the situation is going for you. If talking explicitly during the activity isn’t the vibe, use a series of safe words. Have some way to indicate things are going well and can be escalated, if things should stay at the current pace, or if the action should slow or halt entirely. A simple solution is saying “green,” “yellow” and “red,” like traffic signals. If what you’ll be doing makes it hard to speak – like someone is gagged – make sure there’s a non-verbal way to communicate.
Step 3: Read Up & Grab Your Gear
Go to a trusted sexuality education source for advice on safety, techniques and what toys are suggested. Bringing in a vibrator or dildo? Depending on what it’s made of, you might need to switch what type of lube you use. Silicone lube does not play well with silicone-based toys, for instance. Oil-based lubes are no good with latex – including condoms. Trying out something physically dangerous, like choking? Make sure you learn how to press in from the sides of the neck and not down on the windpipe. Trying ass play for the first time? Look up warm up methods before diving in too far.
Step 4: Remember This Is Supposed to Be Fun
Keep pleasure at the forefront of experimentation. This is less about getting a job done than about connecting, feeling sensations, and moving out of the comfort zone into a place where we’re less sure of what’s going to happen. Stay present in the experience, honor your limitations, and make it easy for your partner to know what’s working and what could be adjusted. Feel free to laugh if something silly happens. If it stops being fun, move on to something else.
Step 5: Debrief
Afterward, chat about how it went for you. What did you love? What was surprising? What would you have wanted more of? What would you like to try again? Discuss what transpired using “I statements” about what you felt, hold back on critiques. Few people are stellar at anything the first time. Don’t be afraid to try, and try again.
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