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How to Get What You Want in Bed

Try these techniques to help improve communications

Would you change your sex life if you could? Would you like to figure out how to have your partner change the strength or direction of his or her caresses? Would you like to ask your lover to do something different or new?

You're not alone.

A new AARP study of people age 45+ shows that older sexual partners don't communicate very well about what does or doesn't work for them in bed. In the study, "Sex, Romance, and Relationships: 2009 AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults," more than half of the people, 54 percent, said their physical relationships are "very or extremely pleasurable." But only 34 percent of the respondents said their sex lives are "exciting"; only 36 percent said their partners are "skillful lovers"; and a disappointing 29 percent said their partners are "imaginative."

Some might dismiss this finding as expected of "older people." But I disagree.

People can change their sexual styles to be more exciting and imaginative, but only if they know there is room for improvement and their partners tell them what they would like. Just because partners have been in a rut a long time doesn't mean they can't get out of it. That would be like saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," even though you've never tried to teach him. The truth is that you can teach an older beagle to sit and stay; and you can do even more with a human being.

How? Easy: You have to talk without hurting each other's feelings, crushing egos, or making your lover feel he or she is always being criticized or graded. Here's how to start:

  • Never bring up anything while in bed. That ruins the mood, the evening, and can create anger and resentment. Talk about sex when you both are feeling warm and loved and no defensiveness is likely.
  • Mention the things you'd like to try. Use a provocative book or a sensual movie (if it's your taste, you could also try a porno). Make sure your partner knows where you got the idea, so he or she doesn't get suspicious or paranoid that you learned something from someone else.
  • Have them give it a go. Ask your partner what he or she would like to try in your book or movie. Don't act disgusted just because something doesn't appeal to you in the moment. Consider it. You don't have to do anything you don't want to, but don't make your partner feel bad about asking.
  • Offer constructive suggestions. If you want to correct something basic, such as the way your partner kisses or touches, try "Sensate Focus," as an arousing and instructive game. One person lies down and lets the other person pleasure her—touch her from head to toe, slowly, varying pressure and places and asking what feels good. Your partner should give directions, such as harder, slower, to the right, and the like. Then switch roles. You can do the same, playing with different kinds of kissing, or intercourse, or anything!
  • Be playful when you try something. Suggest an idea in bed in a playful way. If something doesn't work, laughing collaboratively encourages more experiments. For example, if you feel it would be fun to try a vibrator or some kind of sex toy, suggest shopping together (or browsing on the Internet if you would be too embarrassed to go to a local store). If your partner wants you to do the shopping, find a gadget and make a special night out of it. Even if the toy seems ridiculous and not at all erotic, it would still give you an intimate adventure together.

Problems such as performance issues need to be addressed another way. You need to say that something is bothering you, and you would like your partner to work on it with you. Give reassurance as you state the problem. Talk about a joint course of action.

For example, let's say the problem is premature ejaculation. Here is a good and fairly realistic dialogue about that issue:*

Partner No. 1: Honey, I want to talk to you about our sex life.
Partner No. 2: (Warily) What about it?
No. 1: You know I love our sex life, but I would like our intercourse to last longer. Could we try some ways to do that?
No. 2: I thought you were fine with the way we made love.
No. 1: I am, but I just want more of it.
No. 2: Well, this is the way I do it.
No. 1: Would you be willing just to try a few things?
No. 2: Like what?
No. 1: I'm not sure. Why don't we get a book? Trying might be fun.
No. 2: Have you been unsatisfied all these years?
No. 1: No. But I love it when we have sex, and I'd like it to go on longer. I guess I'm just eager to have as much of you as possible.
No. 2: OK, I'm up for it. (Both laugh.)

* Unless someone is really, really defensive or starts out angrily.

The point is to reassure your partner that you find him or her sexy or competent or both:

  • State the problem. Don't back down, but try not to make things sound dire or hopeless.
  • Make it a mutual project.
  • Finally, get professional advice (from a book or a therapist) if you think you need a third party to give information and guidance or need help keeping the project from being angry or accusatory.

If you communicate well, there is no reason to have a dull or unfulfilling sex life. Most people who don't have as good a sex life as they would like have never learned how to ask for what they want. If you do, you'll be surprised at how much better things can, and will, be.