asking for what you want

I’ve been running the workshop program at Good Vibrations for 10 years and I’ve learned some interesting stuff as part of that.

One thing that I always tell my new workshop teachers is that if we put the word “communication” in a class blurb, we get a lot fewer people. We can use language like “talking about sex” or “getting what you want” or “sharing your desires and fantasies with a partner” and we’ll get a full house. But put the dreaded word “communication” in there, and nobody wants to come. It’s happened enough times that I’ve simply made it a policy to not use the word.

I find it sort of fascinating because in my experience, almost everyone could improve their communication when it comes to sex at some point in their lives. Even if your sexual communication works just fine today, your sexuality is going to change over time. What you like and dislike, how your body responds, what feelings arise, all of that will change. And sooner or later, you’ll probably come up against something that you find difficult to share with a partner.

Pretty much every sex educator I know has had the experience of having someone come to us with a problem or concern when they haven’t brought it to their partner. This is sort of ironic because one of the things that I’ve learned is that if you don’t ask for something, it’s not likely to happen. When we rely on our partner’s ability to guess what we want, the odds of getting it go way down. That makes sense to me- there are so many possibilities and the more specific our desires, the more “wrong” guesses there are.

So if communication is the key, why is it so hard? Well, there are lots of reasons, and that’s what makes it so tricky. Communication is as complex a mechanism as a car or a computer. In order for it to work, there are lots of pieces that all need to function (more or less). If any of them breaks down, the entire thing can seize up. But I think that there are two good places to start.

First off, accept the fact that you have room to improve. I think that part of why people avoid workshops with the word “communication” in the description is that many of us are convinced that we communicate just fine, thank you. And maybe you do. But if you’ve ever had a desire or a fantasy that you’ve withheld from a partner, or if you’ve simply wanted to have sex a little differently and you haven’t said anything, then perhaps there’s room for improvement.

Second, I once attended a workshop by Kevin Fortune in which he said that we don’t need to be perfect. All we need to do is move towards our joy. When something gets in the way, figure out what it needs and then move towards your joy. I think that the same thing holds for sexual communication. We don’t need to be perfect at it- we just need to deal with whatever hinders it. Once we let go of trying to be perfect, we can admit where there’s room to grow.

If you want to get what you want, the best thing to do is learn to ask for it.

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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