Negotiating Sex: Let’s talk…

Sex is a taboo subject.  I know, believe me.

We have been taught by parents, teachers, society, and other authorities that it’s so wrong, bad, dirty, disgusting and that it ought not be talked about aloud.

Oh…and by the way, you should also be amazing at it, men know exactly what women want without any discussion, and it sex will be mind-blowing when with the right partner.

These messages make NO SENSE.


As Dr. Justin Lehmiller eloquently puts it in his highly recommended book of sex research, Tell Me What You Want:

“For Centuries, political, religious, and medical authorities in the Unites States have argued that what’s acceptable to desire when it comes to sex is very narrow.  They’ve pretty much told us that we shouldn’t do anything other than put penises in vaginas and even that, ideally, should only take place within the confines of a heterosexual, monogamous marriage.  Desires for any other sexual activities have been deemed unnatural, immoral and unhealthy…”


This definitely rings true in our society; however, it clearly isn’t getting us anywhere.  We need to be talking about sex, our fantasies, or desires, pleasures, wants/needs openly, and be free to explore these all with our sexual partners (whether they be short-term, long-term partner, or our spouse, whom you may never have spoken to openly with about such sexual topics).

We also need to broaden our definition of sex.  As Dan Savage says, “the broader your definition of sex, the better sex you will have.”

 How do we talk about sex?

In my last post, we discussed the concept of aftercare.  In the kink community, aftercare is an essential part of sex because it helps each of the participants feel cared for after the act of sex (or scene). Another essential component of sex (and consent) from the world of kink that we should all be adopting is…negotiation.

Negotiation, when it comes to sex, is all about discussing your limits and desires together.  A discussion might sound like this…


What do you want to do together?  What are your interests? These are mine.  What gets you off?  This works well for me usually.  

Do you have limits that you’d like to set? Does your partner?  What are they?  How far do you want to go this time?  Then stick with it, even when it feels like you and/or your partner(s) want to go further than you discussed.  Do your best not to change when caught up in the moment.

How might this look and/or feel to each of you as you move forward?  Do you have some safety precautions to use (insist on)?

For the first time together…Are you currently using a form of birth control?  What will we use for preventing STIs?  When were you last tested for STIs?  Who will supply the condoms?  

How will you let me know if you’d like to slow down or stop?

And… encouraged continued conversation throughout the sexual time together.


Negotiation is about having one or multiple discussions around all these topics before any article of clothing comes off.  Many people jump into having sex with an extremely shortened version of the above or absolutely no discussion at all.  It may feel as though there’s more risk involved in having this discussion and negotiating sex than there is in the act itself.  This isn’t true though, is it?


This kind of a discussion/negotiation makes one feel vulnerable…because you are.  You’re vulnerable in sex as an act as well, but we often push away that vulnerability and don’t acknowledge it due to the shame we’ve internalized about sex from society (remember the Justin Lehmiller quote above).  We compartmentalize and pretend that we aren’t vulnerable during sex (sometimes).  Without negotiation, there is too much room for misinterpretation, miscommunication, mixed messages, and lack of consent (#metoo).


By the way, the negotiation discussions can be sexy-as-hell and get you really turned on.  It’s a part of the sex act itself– it can be considered foreplay.  You know…foreplay…I hope.  This is a great way to include more foreplay into our repertoires and insert more imagination into our sex lives.  You may blush a little too, and that’s okay.

Getting to better communication

Best communication practices consist of radical honesty, candid conversation, expressed consent, safety practices, trust, and full knowledge and disclosure of risk.  Can you honestly say that you do (or ever did) all this with your partner(s)?  Most people cannot (unless they’re part of the kink community because this communication comes standard).

Give this all a try and open up to your partner and explore what you might want to try or aren’t really sure if you’d like, but want to negotiate.

Red, Yellow, Green

One of the best ways I’ve come across to begin having these negotiation talks is by expressing some sexual acts you’ve considered/fantasized about with your partner(s).  Then, you and your partner(s) discuss them as being in the “red, yellow or green” categories.

Green – absolutely, let’s try that one soon.  Yellow – Maybe, I’m intrigued, but can’t guarantee I’ll like that one.  Red – Ummm, nah!  I’ll pass on that one.  It’s a hard nope.

You can make up a different way to talk about it, if this doesn’t work for you.  The point is just to start talking.  If you can’t think of many acts or things you’re interested in…just Google it.  That’s what Google’s for, right?


Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist working in private practice in Princeton, NJ.  She also provides online therapy with clients living in Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.  She specializes in sexual health, intimacy and relationship issues.  For more information, please check out her website.