Ask the Doctors: Opening Up to Sex

How do I get more comfortable in my body, sexually? Thanks to resources like Good Vibes, thoughtful sexuality books, and positive role models, I respect and enjoy myself as a sexual being and enjoy the orgasms I’ve had by myself and with partners. But when I’m having sex I often find myself acting passive and feeling self-conscious about my body. I let the man take charge, and actually don’t particularly relish the “active” parts of sex (doing things to his body like giving him a hand job or blow job, taking the lead in kissing or initiating a new activity) although I don’t dislike them, either. I just feel kind of awkward; is he going to like this? Do I look silly? Will he still respect me if I act overtly, outgoingly sexual? Opening my mouth to talk about it is a challenge, as well. And I’m not getting much practice because I only want to have sex within a loving, committed relationship and haven’t been in one for a while.

I envision a sexual future in which I am empowered, comfortable, and playful in my sexuality with a partner. I’m able to show him what I like and how I like it, knowing that I’m attractive and cherished. I’m able to take the lead, and take pleasure in “doing” someone as well as having pleasurable things done to me. But I don’t really know where to begin on this path, especially now because I’m single. How can I grow into the kind of person I need to be to create such a sexually supportive, fun relationship with myself and a partner? Do you have any resources or suggestions that might help me “get off” to a good start?

First off, good for you for stepping out of your comfort zone and looking for ways to more deeply connect with your sexual pleasure! I know it can be hard to do, so I want you to know that the first step is often the hardest. And I’m glad that we’ve been helpful for you. Since you’re already coming from a place of self-respect and enjoying pleasure, you’re off to a great start.

Back in the day, Masters and Johnson pointed out that a lot of folks get caught up in spectatoring, which is when we spend so much time thinking about and worrying about what we’re doing that we disconnect from the pleasures and experiences of the moment. So I’m going to start off by saying something that you won’t hear many sex educators say too often. Sex looks silly. It doesn’t really matter who’s doing it or what they’re doing- it looks silly. The faces we make, the sounds we make, the things we do, all of it. So rather than worrying about whether you look silly, I invite you to consider the possibility that everyone does and there isn’t likely to be anything that you’re doing that is sillier than anyone else. I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of helpful.

From the way you phrased your question, I’m guessing that you’re a woman. While the concerns you describe aren’t limited to a certain gender, they are much more common among women. We live in a world that continues to tell girls and women that if they ask for what they want when it comes to sex, or for that matter, if they even admit that they want sex, then there’s something wrong with them. Sex-negativity and shaming female sexuality go hand in hand and I’m wondering if this has been part of your experience. If so, there are definitely some ways to overcome that.

Being upfront with yourself and with a partner can be a big help. Just admitting that you have difficulty asking for what you want can begin to make things change.

Another possibility is to talk about it before you’re actually in a sexual context. Part of why that’s useful is that neither of you is under the influence of sexual arousal, which means you’re more likely to be able to think and talk clearly. Another reason is that interrupting sex to talk about things can sometimes lead to more friction than having the exact same conversation over dinner. If you’re not sure how to get started, try using a yes/no/maybe list (click on the links at the bottom of that page for the actual list).

While I 100% support your desire to focus on sex within a relationship, getting some practice at asking for what you want might be helpful. Some people keep a journal, which gives them a chance to figure out how to phrase it. Another route is to find a therapist or a support group, so you could actually rehearse it. And I’ve also known a few people who role-played it with a close friend. If you’re comfortable with any of these possibilities, give it a try so that you feel more comfortable doing it in a real-life situation.

There are also a few books on our shelves that you might find helpful. Carol Queen’s Exhibitionism For The Shy is an amazing guide that covers a lot of the concerns and worries that people have about letting their sexy side show. Another great one is Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction, which has lots of great suggestions for how to talk about sex with a partner. Women’s Anatomy of Arousal: Secret Maps to Buried Pleasure is full of helpful info that can help you and your partner make sure you’re having plenty of fun.

And lastly, the fact that you’re not currently in a relationship doesn’t have to mean you don’t get to experience sexual pleasure. In fact, the more you know about what you like and don’t like, the easier it’ll be to tell someone. Tickle Your Fancy is a short, sweet book with lots of great ideas.

We’re dedicated to getting you the information you need about sex, pleasure and your health. If you have any questions, please email our staff experts, Dr. Carol Queen and Dr. Charlie Glickman, at! For product-related questions, please email or call our customer service staff at


Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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