You Need Help: Telling Someone How To Sex You Up

Do you know how many questions we get about sex? Formspring, emails – hell, I’ve even been facebooked! More than once! But at least the last time I answered a question via facebook, I figured that the answer could spark a potentially meaningful conversation about sex. Talking about sex is something that we don’t do enough, as a society. So we’re going to start answering a few more questions about what we do in bed. Welcome to You Need Help: Sex EDition. Disclaimer: not everyone answering questions will be a medical professional. These are our opinions. These articles about sex are to promote conversation, so if you agree or disagree with what we say, please feel free to leave it in the comments. Discussion, much like sex, is a healthy part of life. And as always, You Do You. Or someone else.

This question came to us from the Sex Panel at A-Camp:

If someone is having a difficult time with your body, with figuring out how to please you, how do you tell them without upsetting them?

Reader, we have legit all been there. All people who have had sex have at least had one moment where they’re like, um… And then the fail-esque sad trumpet noise plays in their head. But many people don’t want their girlfriend/boyfriend/boifriend/fling/person to feel like they’ve failed, because many people are good people (including you). Guess what? They haven’t failed. They’ve just found a way to do something that does nothing for the other person, and both parties should therefore move on and try something different. But because society, people feel like if they say something, their partner will be sad because all their partner will hear is YOU HAVE FAILED. So they just clam up and don’t say anything because they don’t want to upset the other human.

While that might seem like a sure-fire way to not upset your other human, it isn’t. Because I can maybe 75-95% guarantee that they know something is up and that they’re feeling bad already. Because no one’s told them the password to your orgasm, they’re just standing out in front of the cave of wonders screaming random words into the unchanging air with an increasing hint of desperation. Reader, give them the password already! They want so badly to be able to read your mind, but they’re human, and they cannot do that.

I usually make a joke that maybe one third of the questions I get can be solved with the answer “talk to the other human” and another third can be solved with the advice “masturbate.” Reader, this is your lucky day. Because your issue can most likely be solved by doing both of these things.

 Talk To The Other Human

Now, I’m not saying you open with “um, so you’re not satisfying me and I feel like you’re having a really difficult time understanding how my body works.” Yeah, don’t lead with that. In fact, don’t say that at all. Because you know that if they could just find that password, they’d be saying that password to the moon and back. Fortunately, people DO come with a user manual, you just have to verbally speak it into existence. After all, no one is a mind reader, so people usually just do what feels good for them until they’re given some other thing to do.

It sounds to me like you already know what kind of sex acts you want to perform/be performed on you. So get together over coffee one afternoon and tell them. I usually advocate using the Scarleteen laundry list of things you can do during sex to spark the Yes/No/Maybe/Only if it turns you on conversation. Ask permission to talk about sex and then go through the list. Unlike shopping for groceries, this list isn’t a chore. It’s super fun! So assume the conversation is going to be hella awesome. Maybe make it a game. Remember when we used to read Seventeen or other BS and there were those quizzes in them that you couldn’t help but take with your friends just to see where everyone stood? It’s like that, except not BS. You also don’t have to make it a game if that’s not your personality: you can absolutely be like, “real talk, I really want to try [insert name of sex act here]. How do you feel about that?”

If your partner doesn’t want to talk about sex that morning/afternoon/night, respect that. Maybe they just had the worst day, and that’s okay. You might want to ask if they’re comfy talking about sex in general. If they’re a little less comfortable with the prospect, you can try Mojo Upgrade. It’s a questionnaire you all fill out independently, and then it emails you both the things you like to do that overlap. I prefer having a list in front of you because it allows you to negotiate on things and talk about the acts that you both definitely do not want to do, whereas Mojo Upgrade only shows you the acts you both responded positively to. But it also works for sparking a discussion.

I want to recommend that you not have those conversations at times when you’re planning on having sex, already having sex, or naked and might have sex. Try to take that conversation out of the bedroom/sexyplaytimearea — that way, less pressure. Less pressure usually makes for better/more comfortable sex.

Let’s say you’ve already told them about the sex acts you want to perform/be performed on you. You’ve got that bit down and now it’s less about the theory and more about the practice. This is where I get the sense you are, Reader – the actual practicality of how you like your clit/dick/anus/nipples/left elbow touched and interacted with in the moment. You should absolutely communicate these mini-instructions in the moment! I only suggest having the big talks about sex outside the bedroom (or wherever else you’re doing it). The mini-instructions are absolutely vital and can be awesomely sexy. Here’s how:

Talk in the Positives

I don’t mean give only compliments, but suggest things to do instead of things not to do. Because your partner can’t perform a negative. If you simply tell them “Don’t do that,” and give them nothing else, that just leaves…inaction. Do nothing. It sounds to me like you don’t want your partner to do nothing. Instead, give them a specific instruction: “play with my nipples, suck on my clit, pull my hair.” Your partner can perform all of those acts, and probably with minimal confusion.

Never hesitate to say Stop, or Don’t Do That when you need to be out of a situation right away – if one of your boundaries has been crossed or if you’re experiencing something unexpected and you need a breather. If you just want to refocus their enthusiasm without giving your partner cause for concern, give their idle hands a different task.

Give Feedback When It Feels Good, Too

I think tons of people are afraid of upsetting their partner, because the times when they feel like giving feedback in bed is when their partners aren’t doing the thing they want the way they want it. Who wants to hear, “No, to the left. Your other left,” all the time without any other anything? I mean, yes, please tell them where it feels good to be touched if they’re missing the spot, but also tell them when they hit that spot. A simple “Fuck Yes!”or a “YES THERE!” is both informative and sexy, especially when said in that ragged hot and sweaty voice, ya know? Don’t forget the compliments. They don’t have to be flowery, they don’t have to be real sentences, hell, they don’t even have to be verbal. You get the picture.

Turn It Into Dirty Talk

This one is pretty simple and is great for when your partner is touching one part of your body and ALL YOU WANT THEM TO DO IS TOUCH THIS OTHER PART OF YOUR BODY, PLEASE. If you’ve agreed on hair-pulling as totally cool, grab the hair right at the back of their neck and give them a nice tug so you’ve got their attention. Turn their head so they’re looking at you, then lean in and whisper in their ear, “I would you like you to ________.” Fill in that blank with exactly what you want them to do to you. Or, of course, what you want to do to them.

Sexy, informative, and fast.


We all know how much I like to tell people to masturbate. But here, I’m not only advocating some self-pleasure (though, yes, you should do that because it will help you better articulate exactly how you like to be touched) — I’m advocating what is the visual part of the user manual you are handing to your partner. Masturbate in front of your partner so they can see EXACTLY how you treat your own body when you want to have an orgasm.

What you may not want to do is say “here, watch me because I don’t think you understand how my body works.” Yeah, again, maybe not that. After all, they’re trying. We’re assuming positive intent so we’re assuming that they really wanna get you off, and saying that might make them feel bad.

Instead, play a game.

Sit your partner down. If you’re on the kinkier side and have had previous talks about bondage, maybe restrain their hands so they absolutely cannot touch you. This will drive them crazy in a good way. Otherwise, just make the rule. No touching. Just watching. BUT! They can touch themselves.

And then go bananas with your bad self.

You can add other rules as you see fit, because you are the master of your own sexuality. Like maybe they can talk dirty to you. Maybe they can’t. Maybe they can only touch themselves when you tell them they can. Maybe they’re restrained and they absolutely cannot do that because you’re in charge. What delightful thing happens when they break the rules? The specifics are up to you. Just make sure they see how you treat your body during sex – they they’ll know that you like your clit touched with exactly two fingers and you start with an up-and-down motion and then graduate to a clockwise swirl, and they’ll know that you really DO like your nipples pinched but not pulled because they’ll have seen you do it to yourself.

Also this is sexy and will probably lead somewhere awesome after you declare the game over.

My point is, Reader, that you gotta communicate with them. You gotta let them know what you like, otherwise you’re gonna get more and more frustrated and so will they. Telling your sexytime playmate what you want will get you both to the kind of sex you want to be having faster. Yeah, maybe they’ll eventually shout the right password and the cave of wonders will erupt, but do either of you really want to wait that long? If they’re mature and lovely, which I’m sure they are, they’re not going to take this personally. After all, no one is a mind-reader, and the more likely scenario is that they’ll be grateful to know exactly how to make you happy. That’s what they’ve been trying to do all along.

What Happens If You Feel Like You’re On The Other Side of This?

Be ready to listen like Ellen Page is ready to listen. via The Guardian

Be ready to listen like Ellen Page is ready to listen. via The Guardian

Our Reader has to give their partner the password to their orgasms by clearly communicating what they want in bed. But what if you feel like you’re the one shouting random guesses, random secret codes, and getting nowhere? You have a responsibility to communicate too. Like partnered sex, it does take two (or more) to accomplish good communication. If you’re frustrated or worried that what you’re doing isn’t cracking their code, practice this phrase: “Do you like it when I _______?”

When you ask this, be prepared to hear “no, not really” or “yes, but could you do it this way?” And be prepared to be okay with that. You can even assure your partner that it’s okay to say they don’t care for it that much, because they’re a nice person and may feel like telling you what they really want will hurt your feelings. So practice saying, “It’s okay if you want me to do something else or do this differently. It won’t hurt my feelings.” And really mean that! Always assume positive intent until proven otherwise. They want you to both succeed at guessing the correct password and they want to help you get to the right password and they want to get off and they want to do it without hurting your feelings. That’s why they haven’t said anything so far. So don’t take it personally if you need a little guidance – you are not a mind-reader. No one is a mind-reader. We all need to be told what makes our partner feel good now and again, sometimes more than once, and often those things are different on different days.

If you’re not sure what they mean, ask them to show you. See above, the section entitled “Masturbate.” This will be ultra-sexy and wonderful.

Have a question about sex? Email me at ali [at]

This is the part where I’d normally talk about Formspring, but it hath bit the dust. Just know that I’ll be 134% anonymous with your information.

Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.


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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. Bravo Ali! You are the master of “Don’t worry! Everything is going to be okay! Here’s how…”

  2. I get really frustrated when people won’t tell me things they like to do in bed/things they are interested in. Ergo, bossy bottoms who communicate are my favorite. Who wouldn’t want enthusiastic instructions or feedback yelled/whispered at them? I MEAN COME ON.

    otherwise shit gets boring if it’s just someone lying there and maybe occasionally moaning slightly. I just have a lot of frustration about this okay? okay.

    • The question is though, did you communicate that frustration, or did you stay frustrated? Curious minds.

      • I mean this has happened multiple times with multiple humans. So I’ve done both. Nothing really worked. :/

        • People who don’t tell you what works for them – baffling.

          I mean come on, if I was like “I’m going to bake an amazing cake, just for you. It can be anything at all that you want. Seriously, anything. Baked Alaska is complicated but I’m up for a challenge. Just tell me, if you could have any cake in the world right now, what would it be?”
          How weird would it be to not answer that question? Or shrug your shoulders and be all “meh, anything’s fine, I’m not too pushed”

          Silence is not how we get tiramisu in this world you guys.

        • Aww, thanks @Pearl ! I got one pretty recently for comments relating to my rabid desire for Miley Cyrus to admit to being a big gaymo, so I’m already feeling the AS love of late!

    • I now know exactly how to describe myself. “Bossy bottom!” Plus, alliteration makes my teacher heart happy!

    • Ah yes, Hannah, I remember! It’s such a cute concept! I just wish they’d change some of the terminology on it, ya know?

  3. I’m so glad this article exists. I get asked ALL the time by my straight friends how to tell their boyfriends what to do in bed. My answer: COMMUNICATE !

    • Impressed by your willingness to actually help them out. I just go: BECOME A LESBIAN!

  4. Rare personal confession: this is literally my least favorite part of having a new partner. Like, if “that flutter you get when you think about them” is at +1000, and “the knot in your stomach when they turn down a date even though you know they almost certainly have a legit good reason and not an excuse but still” is at -1000, “the thought of having to teach a new partner how to get me off” is at -43483847. I got the communication part down, but even with all the communication and reassurances that “It’s always like this with me, I’m having a good time anyway, really truly” it’s just so fraught. They always end up feeling bad on some level, and then I feel bad that they feel bad, and it goes on like that for however many days or weeks it takes. Sigh. I’m getting anxious just thinking about it.

    • Sleeping with a girl for the first time is the worst for me, because every women likes something TOTALLY different, ans so I’m always afraid I’m going to cock it up so badly she’ll never sleep with me again.

      I mean, I’m fine bossing folks around, but I’m always afraid she won’t tell me HOW but then never call again.

  5. Even after having sex with my girlfriend for over a year, we went over that Scarleteen list for fun. Really great idea for any couple to expand your potential acts and to make it clear what your boundaries are. The rest of this article is also perfectly excellent advice. Ali, you’re the best.

  6. One of the presumptions is that the person in question knows what they want or need. If they haven’t had really good sex before, they might not have the answers the partner is looking for. Some times, you just have to experiment until you find out. A person has to have good experiences before they can tell you they want more of a particular thing. Some times people really get off on doing things for and with other people and that is something to explore as well.

    • A memorable moment from my (very limited) experience with sex involves my then-girlfriend asking me what I wanted, and I had to say “I don’t know” because I had no clue whatsoever.

      I have slightly — *slightly* — better ideas now, but I don’t know, figuring this stuff out alone is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth.

    • Yes but I also kind of hope that people have had fantasies/experience with themselves/some kind of exposure to sexuality before they are having sex with other people? Even the fantasies might give someone an idea of what they’re into.

      I’m not saying that someone should know if they want to be tied up and flogged or something or that there this is one particular spot that makes me freak out or whatever before they’ve hooked up with anyone. But at the same time, sexuality doesn’t exist in a total vacuum, right? I’m not really sure where I’m going with this except that my first girlfriend and I had zero problems with this, even though I had no experience with anyone else and hers was only limited, but we worked things out as they came up.

      I guess I’m with Ali on the ‘masturbate + communicate’ advice and I would probably add ‘watch some decent porn if you are okay with that.’

      longwindednonsensicalramble OUT

    • I agree that when you feel inexperienced it can be difficult to articulate what you want but in a way its when communication is the most important.

      Communicating doesn’t mean having all the answers. Saying “I’m still figuring out what works for me, I want to try this or that and see how it goes. I need you to check in with me while I find out whats okay for me”, is a helluva lot of communication and it doesn’t require a lengthy sexual history to know the words for.

      It can make you feel pretty vulnerable, but if you don’t trust the other person enough to be that vulnerable with them, then maybe that’s not someone that you need in your bed.

  7. “Because no one’s told them the password to your orgasm, they’re just standing out in front of the cave of wonders screaming random words into the unchanging air with an increasing hint of desperation.”

    The image of someone screaming random words into a vag desperately is quite amusing

  8. I love this article and want to remember it for days.

    Now, to get to the “going to have sex with someone” part so I have ample reason to excitedly remember this article! :-)

    Also, Ali, this was really wonderful. Like everything you write!

  9. Human children. Respect. [/irony]

    Serena, Miss Skynet 2027: ‘Here. ********. It’s a password to my orgasm.’
    HC: *looking baffled* ‘How come? Isn’t it ‘schmooples’?’
    S: ‘No. It’s ********.’
    HC: ‘Really? Are you sure?’
    S: ‘Absolutely. It’s MY password.’
    HC: ‘It can’t be. I have read through Resistance intel and it says it is ‘schmooples’.
    S: ‘Nevertheless i am here, saying it’s ********.’
    HC: ‘Maybe. Whatever.’

    *a week later*

    Upon review of the consistently substandard bed performance of the human unit Serena decides to retrieve HC’s keylogs. And dies inside a little bit more for every page containing nothing but iterations of ‘schmooples’ with various spellings and capitalisation.

    S: *sighs. goes back in time and gives BC pills to HC’s mum. And falls asleep, dreaming of thermonuclear fire.*

  10. it would be easier to follow this advice if someone would actually sleep with me

    womp womp

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