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The Crave for Sexual Healing

Sex expert Pepper Schwartz answers readers' questions about fantasizing during sex and how to ask for what you need in bed

Why Many Partners Don’t Ask for What They Need in Bed

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Good communication in the bedroom leads to happiness and fulfillment.

Q: Is it OK to have fantasies about a movie star while making love to your husband? I find it very arousing, but I'm feeling guilty.

A: The short answer is yes. That's because the thrill of an imagined encounter can be as good as — possibly better than, what do I know? — the real thing. Thanks to the wonders of the human imagination, we can have sex with Denzel Washington or Johnny Depp — Tarzan or Jane, even — despite the fact that none of them will ever realize the event "happened."

Sex is a terrific connector. When you have an orgasm, or simply when you feel loving, powerful hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin shoot through your body, making you crave your partner even more. After having an orgasm, we often experience such emotions as gratitude, contentment or bliss. (For more on the power of erotic hormones, see Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher). These hormonal states bring us closer to our lover.

If that entire exchange occurred between you and some fantasy partner, by contrast, it may not confer the same benefits on your relationship. If, in other words, you are using your sexual fantasies as an escape from your partner rather than a harmless erotic interlude, you may be missing out on two things: You are ignoring the difficulty of connecting emotionally with your husband, and you are missing the ecstatic intimacy that comes from having a orgasm with your guy.

Don't waste time on guilt, though. A research study I coauthored found that 61 percent of women fantasized about people they had met, yet these thoughts did not indicate dissatisfaction with their relationship. Additionally, 38 percent of the wives surveyed reported they occasionally think about someone else while making love to their spouse.

So enjoy a bit of erotic freedom — and accept that it goes both ways. The next time you and your husband are at your most intimate together, you might be Helen Mirren in his mind!

Q: I would like my lady of two years' duration to tell me what she wants during sex, but she will not peep one word. I'm just guessing, but I don't think I am doing what she needs. How can I get her to tell me what she needs?

A: Sadly, your problem is very common. Many partners refuse to specify what they need in bed, leaving their lover to try interpreting the random grunt or moan. Even happily married spouses have been known to spend a lifetime together without articulating what they truly want. That's like expecting your partner to be a mind reader. Not only is it unfair, it's ineffective.

If you ask me, people want to be made love to in very specific ways. So why don't they just come out and say so? It may have something to do with one of these misperceptions:

  • If I ask my partner for something in particular, it may spoil the mood.
  • If I ask for something different, I risk insulting my partner about what we've always done.
  • Getting that granular about sex is just plain smutty.

If any of those apply to you, try this exercise: Before making love, say something like, "I'd like to get to know your body better. Allow me to touch different parts of your body in three different ways, then tell me which way you like best. After that, perhaps you can return the favor." If this sounds unappealing to your partner — or she wonders aloud where you learned it — explain that it was pioneered by renowned sex therapists William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson.

Here's how things might unfold: You brush her nipples at first, then squeeze them slightly and finally pinch them harder (but not painfully). Ask her which of the three she likes best. You can do this on any (or every) part of her body, including gently touching the clitoris, then stroking it, then fondling it between the labia. Never has turn-taking been so sexy — believe me! — and the overall exercise should be illuminating to both of you. At the very least, it will open up a dialogue that makes feedback more likely to occur during sex.

If she is loath to do this exercise or it produces no results, consult a sex therapist or psychologist together, or consider a sexual enhancement weekend with trained professionals. (You can find them through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.)

The ultimate goal is to understand your partner's reluctance to speak her mind. The therapist can then guide a productive conversation between you, helping you learn which techniques should be added or discarded. It will be time well spent.

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