How Do I Get My Partner to Try New Things?
So you want to do something new or different in your relationship? Great! New and different can be exciting! But for some people, new things can feel uncomfortable or unappealing. Now you need to figure out how to have a conversation when you want to get your partner to try X, Y, or Z.
One big challenge in relationships can be navigating different desires: whether it's what to have for dinner, how to spend time together, or the kinds of sex to have. Of course, it’s important to speak up about our desires and communicate them with our partner/s, and it’s equally important to listen to and respect everyone’s preferences and boundaries. So let’s go over some tips to help talk about your desires.
Language is Important
How we frame a request matters. An invitation feels inclusive, open, and well—inviting. A true invitation means that a yes, no, or maybe answer is completely valid. It creates the groundwork for mutual exploration, and an opportunity to create a shared experience—even if that experience is just a discussion and learning more about one another. Being vulnerable, sharing fears and concerns, and hearing each other’s priorities are all great ways to build intimacy and trust. Here are some great variations on “How do I get my partner to do X, Y, or Z?”
- How do I ask my partner about trying a new activity?
- How do I let my partner know that a particular type of pleasure is important to me?
- How do I tell my partner what I like?
- How do I talk about expanding our sex life for mutual pleasure?
On the other hand, presenting our desires as the need to change a partner, giving an ultimatum, or demanding something isn't fair or respectful to your partner/s.
If you're asking “How do I get my partner to have anal sex/ go down on me/ allow me to tie them up/use sex toys/ go to a sex club/ do a lapdance for me?” that implies that you want to “make” a partner do something or convince them to want to try something. This may not be your intention, but it can be manipulative.
That isn’t to say that we’re not entitled to our own wants and desires, but they can’t impede upon someone else’s safety, and it isn’t someone else’s obligation to fulfill those desires.
There isn’t anything wrong with having desires, and requesting that they’re met. However, you have to ask yourself if a partner “should” do all of those things or whether we have a right to expect them. Sex can be negotiated, but everyone needs to know what's on the table ahead of time and be freely consenting to the negotiation, without feeling like they’ll be punished in some way for not meeting expectations. And to be clear, there’s no shame in not doing something sexually for a partner, and it doesn’t mean you love them any less.
For many of us, it can be hard to bring up our sexual desires. Communication on any topic can be difficult, let alone sex; we might have picked up bad habits, have valid traumas from previous relationships, or simply not had the opportunity to openly communicate about our desires. The taboo and shame around sex as well as “norms' of what we expect sex to look and feel like make it all the harder to communicate about sex and desire. And mainstream porn and Hollywood aren’t helping the fact.
But, the following are two communication strategies that can help to discuss sexual desire safely, and respectfully. And these ways of communication can be used in other aspects of our relationships, too.
Three Oranges and a Lemon:
In this exercise, all parties share three things they enjoy in their sexual relationship and one thing that they’d prefer or like differently.
An example might be: (oranges) “I love the way you touch my whole body when we're getting aroused; I love when you use a dildo while going down on me; I love how you send me a text earlier in the day about how you want to pleasure me later; and (lemon) I would really like to try tying you up/ I would really prefer if we took more time for me to get aroused with a vibrator before intercourse/ It would feel so affirming if you could initiate sex more often/ I miss having oral sex more frequently."
This way of communicating ensures that each partner gets three positive reinforcements about what’s working well and encourages them to keep doing those things. It then gives each person space to state a preference for something different. This method can open people up more easily to discussions, and communication, rather than feeling like your requests are criticisms or are too demanding of your partner.
Difficult Conversation Formula
- What you aren’t saying
- What you’re afraid might happen if you share your thoughts and desires
- What is your desired outcome
Find a good time for your partner, and not just you, to have the conversation, and frame it like this:
- I really want to talk about something, but it might be hard for me because of (things you listed in 2 above such as “you might reject me/ think I’m a pervert because I use vibrators/ I don’t want to hurt you.”)
- The reason I want to talk about this is that I’m hoping (things you listed in 3 above such as “we will become closer/ we will have an awesome sexual connection/ because I want to be always honest with you.”)
- And what I want to share with you is that (answers from 1 above such as “I want more variety in our sex life, like using toys/ I don’t feel desired by you right now/ I have been faking orgasms/ I have a strong fantasy I want to share with you.”)
Be Creative about a Middle Ground
Some things can happen in degrees and others are more black-and-white. Like, you either you have children or you don’t (although lots of folks have found non-traditional ways to create families where only one partner wants to parent.) However, if you are creative and think outside the box, sometimes you can find a compromise where boundaries are set and the requesting partner feels like they’ve been heard. For example, if one partner really wants to try anal pleasure, they can stimulate themselves using anal sex toys, use a remote-controlled toy while having other kinds of sex, explore external anal pleasure only, or have sex while fantasizing about anal stimulation. These options may not be fully satisfying at first but are a good, respectful compromise.
As another example, if you are curious about sex with others, you can go together to a sex club and watch or be watched, you can pretend that someone else is in the room while one partner is blindfolded, use sex toys such as vibrators and dildos to simulate the touch of a stranger, or one partner can take on an alternative sexual persona. There’s not always an easy compromise to every situation, but even just understanding each other’s needs and boundaries while stretching a little can go a long way towards feeling safe, valued, and pleasured.
Sex Requires Consent
Not only is sexual consent the law, but it also leads to much more fun, better and deeper connection, and increased pleasure. Going through the process of discussing our sexual needs and desires can feel like a lot of work, but the payoff is always worth it. The conversations can be really hard to initiate, but once the ideas and thoughts start to flow, often the awkwardness melts away and the connection grows stronger. The key is owning one’s own vulnerabilities and barriers as well as making requests. It always takes two to tango.
If it doesn’t feel safe or comfortable for you to share your thoughts and ideas with a partner, then sharing them with a relationship therapist, and having them express your feelings can be a good, safe alternative. If that option still feels daunting, then it may be best to seek out your own therapist, or a trusted friend to help find your voice. Silencing your voice and not speaking up is a sure-fire way to build resentment, and stunt your sexual and personal growth.
But I Just Want my Partner to Try X, Y, or Z for their Own Pleasure!
A common example is asking “How do I make my partner squirt and/or orgasm?” This all sounds so thoughtful and selfless. And the desire might sound completely altruistic—you just want your partner to experience the maximum amount of pleasure possible. However, there is also often an underlying need for a partner’s body to do something for our own validation as a good lover, to satisfy our voyeuristic tendencies, or to appear normal because we believe that “everybody is doing it."
Always consider the underlying motives to this kind of question, though. We can’t control, or police another’s body, especially in order to satisfy our own needs, and it’s far from okay to pressure someone to do something sexually they’re not comfortable with doing, or simply cannot do. Consider if when you’re asking this question you want an authentic sexual connection, or you’re just seeking the performance of a certain kind of sex.
Of course, skill is important when it comes to pleasure, but sex isn’t a one-dimensional thing, and orgasms don’t have to be the end-goal. Not to mention, sometimes, things are simply out of our control, and there can be a million different circumstances that might mean orgasms simply aren’t on the table. And being okay with that is good, and healthy, for everyone involved. Not to mention, the pressure to perform and please a partner, or meet their needs, can cause problems down the line, and have a huge impact on someone’s ability to feel pleasure, and desire. Even if it comes from the “right” place, pressure can—and will—kill arousal.
What if You Feel Pressured?
If you feel pressured sexually and feel like your boundaries are being crossed, here are a few things you might say:
- I understand that this is something that you want, but I feel uncomfortable.
- I have already expressed my boundaries in (a) previous conversation/s. Please stop asking. I will let you know if I change my mind or want to talk about it again.
- Doing (the sexual act you want me to do) is not a way to prove my love for you.
Great sex involves a lot of vulnerable discussions, setting boundaries, and compromise. Using some of the tips we've outlined should make it a little easier for good conversations and great connections.