As long-time readers of this blog will know, I have a strong aversion to articles, blog posts and advice columns that talk in prescriptive terms about sex and dating, or which make sweeping, universal statements about the way we fuck. It’s not just that they’re often preachy, prudish and judgemental; more fundamentally, human sexuality covers such a broad spectrum of kinks, desires, and interests that the Venn diagram of what I like in bed versus what you like in bed will always contain a healthy amount of symmetric difference.
For that reason, I’ve always tried to avoid using my own sexual experiences as a template for what other people should do or what other people enjoy. That’s occasionally a bit of a balancing act: when I wrote about hand jobs, for example, or about vaginal ‘tightness’, part of my aim was to reassure people who’d been fed damaging messages about what men want from women, so I consciously chose to discuss both subjects in more general terms. However, I consider those posts to be exceptions rather than the rule; I use this space to share stories from my sex life, not to tell my readers what they should do with theirs.
The reason for bringing all of that up now is that I read something on Twitter recently that made me sad. Someone I follow was expressing frustration with her lack of sexual experience, and questioning why men would want her when she is “all enthusiasm but no technique”. It wasn’t quite a lightbulb moment, but the more I thought about it afterwards, the more angry I got with the way mainstream sex advice has created this notion that there is a right and a wrong way to ‘do’ sex – a standard user manual for the human body, which can be studied and applied to each new partner.
It’s the same kind of thinking that allows Cosmo to publish endless articles on how to give the perfect blow job or which new position will drive your man – your man – wild in bed. It tells us that one size fits all; at the very least, that sexual pleasure comes ready-made or off-the-peg, rather than bespoke. Figure out which rack you need to shop from, then do a, b and c till you both x, y and z. Job done.
And look, I can see why that might be comforting. If you don’t have much experience, or sexual confidence, then the idea that it all boils down to technique – to something that can be learned from a book or magazine – offers a weird kind of reassurance. Study hard enough, or just watch a whole load of porn, and you’ll be fine! You’ll nail the basics, at least…right?
Well, yes and no. I’m certainly not going to dismiss the importance of a rudimentary grasp of human anatomy, nor of a well-rounded perspective on consent, kink and sexual politics. All those things are helpful, in the bedroom and beyond, which is why compulsory sex education is something we ought to fight for. Encouraging teenagers (and adults!) to bone up before they actually bone will help in all sorts of ways, including the quality of the sex they ultimately have.
What it won’t do is give them some sort of skeleton key to other people’s pleasure. Nor to their own, for that matter. It won’t show them how someone likes to be kissed…or where, or when, or in what context. Until they know how their body will actually fit together with their next partner’s, it also can’t tell them much about which positions will feel good – or will even be physically possible/practical, given potential differences in height, weight, and mobility. It won’t let them know that one woman they fuck can only come with constant, deep penetration, while another needs to have penetration withdrawn right before she climaxes – and the one after that doesn’t want to be fucked at all, but instead would rather be spanked hard and called a filthy little slut as she brings herself to orgasm with a vibrator.
Technique alone can’t help you to understand your partner’s kinks or preferences, and in fact the more you rely on a portfolio of standard ‘moves’, the less likely you are to be curious about their preferences in the first place. I’ve met those people, and trust me, they’re far too busy swirling their tongue round my cock in a figure-of-eight or ‘playfully’ biting and twisting my nipples to ask what I actually enjoy in bed. What turns me on, what gets me off, and just as importantly, what really doesn’t. If I’m fucking someone, half the fun lies in figuring out all that stuff together, and I’d far rather have it go wrong every now and then than have to spend time unpicking a load of stubbornly rehearsed moves that I know just aren’t going to work on me.
It can be daunting to try and see a new sexual relationship as a blank canvas, and a lot of those questions – the hows and the wheres that come with initial exploration – aren’t always easy to vocalise. However, even when that’s the case, a little bit of trial-and-error really does go a long way. Certainly further than the 10 sex tips inspired by ‘Titanic’ that you got from an old issue of Cosmo. If you’re brave enough to freestyle it – and to listen to what your partner wants, rather than what a magazine/sex manual/boring ex-boyfriend told you to do – you’re far more likely to have a good time.
(Assuming you’re with the right person, of course: the freedom to experiment depends on the freedom to fail, and any partner who doesn’t realise or respect that isn’t worth your time in the first place!)
So if technique is basically meaningless when it comes to sex, what sort of qualities do have actual, tangible value? Well let’s go back to that tweet, because as far as I’m concerned ‘enthusiasm’ is number fucking one on the list. Give me enthusiasm over technique every single day of the week and at least twice on Sundays! Enthusiastic partners are the absolute best, for one simple reason: they make it very clear just how happy they are to be in bed with you – and that’s a huge aphrodisiac. Being desired, being wanted by someone, even if it’s ‘just’ for your body, is really empowering, and actually makes it easier to explore, experiment, and open up to them. Plus they make everything a helluva lot of fun.
Alongside enthusiasm, you can stick open-mindedness, curiosity, empathy, ability (and willingness) to communicate, patience, self-love, confidence…a whole bunch of things, to be honest, which matter way more than technique. Some of those things don’t come easily, especially to people who haven’t had good sexual experiences or who’ve been shamed for what they enjoy (and how often they enjoy it). It can be hard to communicate clearly with a new partner, harder still to be patient when you’re nervous/horny/over-stimulated, and nigh-on impossible to feel confident when all you’ve been fed is negativity. I know that for a fact because I’ve been in all three situations.
I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re worried about not being ‘good’ in bed, or about what other people will think of you, obsessing over your sexual technique is not the answer – however loudly certain magazines may try to persuade you otherwise. Learn to love yourself, but just as importantly, learn to see sex as something happy and fun, with no pre-defined outcome – then find partners who feel the same way. There’s isn’t a whole lot more to it than that.