Whether you're dating someone new or you've been married for 20 years and are just now feeling liberated (maybe it's the 50 Shades of Grey talking?), telling your partner that you'd like to try something different in the bedroom isn't always an easy task. You may be worried that he or she will be offended, or you're not sure when (or how) to bring it up. Or maybe you just feel too shy to put your fantasies into words.
But expressing yourself about sex doesn't have to be uncomfortable or embarrassing, says Ava Cadell, PhD, certified sex counselor and founder of Sexpert.com. In fact, it's an excellent opportunity for you and your main squeeze to learn more about each other and grow even closer, whether you're simply looking for more cuddling or want to try something a bit more unconventional or risqué.
Here's how to broach the topic so your partner is most receptive, and so you both come away satisfied.
Ask during foreplay
Don't wait until you're in the heat of the moment to spring something new and different on your partner; it may catch them off-guard and ruin the mood, says Cadell. On the other hand, don't bring it up out of the blue when their mind is probably focused on other things besides sex, either.
"You want to do it when he or she is listening and open to suggestions, and foreplay is the perfect time for that," she says. Foreplay doesn't have to mean only the moments immediately before sex, either. "Bring it up over a romantic dinner, when you're kissing, or even when you're in the car on your way to a romantic weekend or on the way home from the movies."
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Make it a game
If you're worried about flat-out asking your partner to do something differently, turn it around and offer to change something up yourself first. "I tell my clients to play a multiple-choice game," says Cadell. "The woman gives her husband three choices for something they can try in bed that night—maybe she gives him a lap dance, they use a new prop, or they try a new position—and he picks the one he wants."
Afterward, if all goes well, the woman tells her partner it's his turn to offer a multiple-choice scenario, and she can guide his actions from there. "It's a fun way to bring up the conversation where it's playful and low-pressure, so it's a win-win for both parties involved."
Have a guide
It can help to have visual aids or written descriptions of new positions or sexual activities you'd like to try, especially if you're not super comfortable talking about them yourselves. That could be an erotic novel, a sex scene from a movie, or a literal instruction manual, like Cadell's new book Idiot's Guides: Kama Sutra ($16, amazon.com).
Having a guide can also make bringing up the topic a bit easier: "You can say to your husband, 'I stumbled across this interesting thing today and I thought it sounded fun; maybe we could give it a try tonight,'" says Cadell. You could even browse sexy videos online together, and talk about things you'd both like to fantasize about or perhaps try in person.
You might also consider bringing a third person into your relationship—although not in the way you might think. Visiting a sex counselor together might help you open up with one another and express your true desires. Find one through the American College of Sexologists' searchable directory, or consider asking your primary care doctor or gynecologist for a recommendation.
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Frame it with compliments
Chances are, your partner will be intrigued by any ideas you have about changing things up between the sheets, but it's easy to worry that he or she might be intimidated or even insulted, instead. One way to prevent that, says Cadell, is to be sure you're also showering him or her with plenty of praise for what you love about them sexually, as well.
"Tell him he's the best lover you've ever had and that you fantasize about him when he's not there—anything to boost his ego so he's feeling confident in his abilities," she says. (The same goes for making women feel good about themselves, too.) When your partner's on the right track, let him or her know you'd like more where that came from, rather than focusing on what you haven't loved in the past.
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Reflect together afterward
Once you do try something totally new in bed, you may feel vulnerable afterward—even if the experience is overwhelmingly positive. That's what makes post-coital time so important for letting each other know, openly and honestly, how you felt about it. This activity can bring you and your partner closer together, says Cadell, and can set the stage for future sexual encounters.
Talking openly about sex can also help you become more comfortable with it and overcome any negative associations, Cadell says. "A lot of women especially suffer from guilt and shame from enjoying certain kinds of sex, and I think the only way to get over that is to keep doing it," she says. "Know that you're worthy of pleasure and that you're empowered, and if it makes you and your partner happy, don't let anyone tell you that it's bad."