What do you like in bed? Missionary? Doggy style? Cowgirl? For a lot of people, these might be the first, and perhaps only ways we think sex can or “should” happen. If you received any sex education at all, you probably learned what a period is, how to put on a condom, and how “scary” and “dangerous” STIs and pregnancy are. You likely weren’t taught about consent, pleasure, sexuality, gender identities, and the multitude of ways sex is expansive. The issue with this sort of education, whether formal or informal, is that it leaves a lot out of the picture.
Missionary, doggy style, and cowgirl all support a very heteronormative, penetration-focused, orgasm-motivated (particularly for penis-havers) sort of sexual experience. It ignores queerness, ability, creativity, gender identity, play, and much more. Now, if you enjoy these positions, there’s nothing wrong with that! My question would be, however, what else do you like? For some, this may be a question that provokes a plethora of responses, for others, it may seem confusing, or like a question you might not have considered before. So, how do you figure out what you like in bed?
Consider Shame and Stigma
When you first explore sexual interests, shame might play a role in where and how you’ve been limited. Because pleasure-positive sex education has been so rare to come by historically, and because sex is such a taboo topic, you might experience a great deal of discomfort when thinking about sex, let alone talking about it. I think of times when I’ve asked friends or clients what they like in bed. Some form of, “I don’t know, the normal stuff I guess,” is a fairly common response. As a sex therapist, this answer excites me because as you might imagine, I get to follow up with “so, what’s normal stuff?” Enter the big three mentioned above, sometimes head/oral as well. Shame and stigma govern a lot of how we see ourselves sexually.
Give yourself permission to access desire in ways that feel safe and fun for you.
Maybe you’ve thought about kinks or fetishes but immediately discarded those desires as perverse or problematic. Maybe you’re curious about group sex, swinging, or sex work, but those thoughts are followed up with fears about what people close to you would think if they found out. Shame is sneaky—it might pop up where you least expect it. The challenge is not necessarily to rid yourself of shame or stigma immediately or permanently but to have an awareness of where it shows up for you, and how to engage with it critically. Confronting shame can create a pathway toward figuring out what may genuinely feel good to you sexually.
When you start to think about what you might like in bed, give yourself permission to let all thoughts, interests, and fantasies come out, and try not to censor yourself. Think about creating a list in your notes app, journal, or voice notes. This is a way you can allow your creativity and curiosity to really flourish. If you find that you’re a bit stuck, and you’ve had sex before, think about your favorite parts of sex in past experiences. Did you like pleasing your partner? Hearing them moan or talk to you? Spontaneity? Routine? Experiencing pleasure? Making out? Being touched? Experimentation? Think about what made you feel good, remembering that sex is much more than penetration, so consider touch, kiss, cuddling, massage, anything that makes you feel connected to your erotic self.
If you haven’t had sex before, no problem! Think about what you’ve fantasized about, what you’ve heard friends talk about, what you’ve seen in porn, read in books, or seen on TV. Consult the internet! Search sexual fantasies, desires, practices, kinks, and fetishes. If anything piques your interest, throw it on the list. Follow some sex and pleasure positive Instagram accounts. Some of my favorites right now are: @queersextherapy, @thekinkeducator, @thesexpottherapist, @therealkingnoire, and @dameproducts. Remember, this list doesn’t have to be exhaustive, nor are you committing to doing everything or anything on it, (sometimes fantasy can just be fantasy), but this is a great place to start figuring out what might make you feel good.
Explore Solo Play
If you are or are not currently having sex, solo play is a fantastic way to get in touch with figuring out what you like in bed. Masturbation is a great way for you to experiment with your body in a way that is free of pressure and expectation. If you have a routine around masturbation, try to switch it up—get a new toy, watch or read different porn or erotica, or create a fantasy to masturbate to.
Solo play also doesn’t have to involve genitals at all. Run your fingertips over the inside of your thigh, arms, feet, and neck. Do you like light pressure or more firm pressure? Look in the mirror and notice your favorite parts of your body. This could be your hair, chin, elbows, nipples, butt, anything! Touch that part of your body, allow yourself to connect with your body, and notice what makes you feel aroused, sexy, safe, pleasured. Solo play is a great way to begin or enhance your pleasure journey.
Put it into Practice
If you’re partnered or have a person or people you feel sexually free and safe with, ask them to also come up with a list of things they like or would like to try in bed. Together, you can talk about where your interests align. Consider making a game out of it if you’re feeling tense about having the conversation. Each of you can share a desire, and use red (absolutely no interest), yellow (tell me more), and green (sounds fun), flashcards to share where you stand on that desire. Making it a fun date night game can also help you tap into levity and playfulness, which is great for deepening connection. You don’t have to integrate these desires into your play right away, you can ease into it. Here are some suggestions of some things to check out, and how to start exploring them. These can be done partnered or solo!
- Explore erogenous zones – There are many places in our bodies that may be sensitive to stimulation that don’t include genitals:
Try running, or having your partner run their fingertips, hair, feather, silk scarf, or thin chain from a necklace over the inside of your wrist, nape of your neck, behind your knee, across your nipples, arch of your foot, back, or butt. Remember to breathe deeply or intentionally, this can help you get out of your head and focus more on the pleasure in your body.
- Blindfolding (sensory deprivation) – Try wearing a blindfold (could be a scarf or sleep mask) while your partner gives you a massage, or while touching yourself. Try putting the blindfold on your partner and notice how it feels to be in charge of what happens next. This is also a fun way to identify if you like submitting to your partner or being in control to tap into submissive or dominant preferences. Doing something like this in an erotic, but non-penetrative way is a lower-stakes way of figuring out if you like it or not!
- Impact play – If you’re exploring spanking, try sticking to the butt and thighs. Try using various levels of spanking, maybe you like a full hand or a few fingers. You can also integrate paddles and other impact toys if that interests you!
- Temperature play – Grab an ice cube out of the freezer and after a few seconds, try running it over your lips, neck, or back. You could also light some candles and take a steamy shower with your partner. When you get out, try dripping some of the melted wax on the back of your hands, back, butt, or thighs. (Test the temperature on the back of your hand first).
- Anal play – Start by using a finger on the outside of the anus, apply pressure or tap it gently and notice how that feels externally. Experiment with rimming or analingus (licking the anus) of your partner or have them do it to you. If you want to try inserting something, start with a finger, and then explore butt plugs with a flared base (this is crucial, because flared toys won’t disappear and send you on an uncomfortable trip to the hospital). Lube is your best friend when entering the anal play world!
These are a few ways to get you started on figuring out what you like in bed, but by no means is this an exhaustive list. Give yourself permission to access desire in ways that feel safe and fun for you!
Dialogue, Safe words, Aftercare
Incorporating dialogue and verbal communication into sex is often severely underutilized. Having conversations before, dialogue during, and sharing reflections after sex, especially when trying something new, can make a world of difference. Talk with your partner about what your limits and interests are before trying something new; this can help you feel safe and connected.
Safe words are pre-determined words between you and your partners that can communicate limits while having sex. Together, come up with a word that signals when a boundary is nearing, and one for when you need a hard stop. I suggest using non-sexual words like “elephant” or “red,” or using numbers. Safe words are great to indicate where you are feeling, both to yourself and your partner.
Aftercare is another essential, yet often-underutilized component of sex. Aftercare is the process of coming together after sex and checking in with each other. This can be a dialogue, or it can be something like cuddling, playing video games together, showering together, eating, or reading. Really, it’s anything you and your partner decide you need after having sex. Aftercare is a great way to extend sexual connection and make you feel seen and cared for.
Remember, your sexuality is yours! Exploring it in ways that feel safe and approachable for you is a wonderful way to put the emphasis on pleasure, and not on what you feel like you “should” do. Have fun and enjoy!