It’s the classic sex act every woman hopes she’s never asked to perform.
“Tonight, I’d like to pretend we’re strangers—you’ll be wearing a gigantic raccoon costume answering to the name ‘Mayuka,’ and I’ll be in a studded leather diaper—we’ll meet at a boarding school for kid wizards and spank each other with stiletto heels while Teletubbies plays in the background. And let’s film it!”
OK, so your partner has never approached you with a bedroom request quite that elaborate…at least, one would hope he hasn’t. But chances are, at some point, he’ll reveal a desire to you that at best catches you off guard, and at worst makes you wonder whether you should alert the authorities. When that happens, the way you react could have ramifications not only on your sex life, but on your relationship as a whole.
“Negotiating about one’s sexual repertoire in an honest, and respectful manner is a necessity for any couple,” says Erika Pluhar, PhD, an Atlanta couples and sex therapist and adjunct assistant professor at Emory University. “A woman can respond that she is uncomfortable with a particular idea, or she may decide that she could become comfortable with the behavior. But she should be careful that her response doesn’t shame her partner for asking.”
In other words, no face making, pretend vomiting, or merciless taunting. Sharing sexual desires, especially those that may carry a stigma, is an intensely personal act that may leave your partner feeling vulnerable. Even so, you should never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. But rejecting the act without seeming as though you’re also rejecting your partner can be more difficult than it seems.
One way to handle the situation is to deal with your partner the way you’d deal with a petulant 3-year-old. That’s not to say you should be condescending, or scold him, or spank him…unless that’s what he was asking for in the first place. Instead, tell him you’ll have to think about it, then shift the focus by asking him questions—what sparked his interest in this fantasy? How long has he been fantasizing about it? How does he see it playing out? Doing so may help you understand and accept his desire, and it’ll also help him understand that while you may not want to do what he wants, you don’t judge him for it, either.
“It’s OK to tell him that the sloppy way he loads the dishwasher makes you angry, but with sex, the talk should always be positive,” explains Alex Caroline Robboy, a Philadelphia sex therapist and founder of howtohavegoodsex.com. “Your partner is taking a risk, and you don’t want to slam the door so hard that he stops taking risks.”
In fact, unless what he’s proposing is against the law even in New England and the Far East, you should always leave that door open just a crack—never say never. Not only is it incredibly negative, it also eliminates the possibility of compromise or change.
And as Marie* found out, the right changes can make you do things you never thought you’d do. “I was lying in bed with a guy I hadn’t been dating all that long when he asked me, with the annoying earnestness of a puppy, if I’d pee on him,” says the 30-year-old real estate broker.
“I laughed uncomfortably, but when I realized he was serious, I told him I would never, ever do something so disgusting. Which turned him into a sad and even more annoying puppy.” Sing this—I’d do it.”
Though urination may not be one of them, many acts can be modified to be more palatable and less scary. Think of early-morning workout shows where leotard-clad health nuts do the same exercise in three varying degrees of intensity: If he wants to have sex with the lights on, but you’re worried about the unforgiving glare of the overhead light, start out with candles instead. And if he’s interested in anal sex, start out with fingers or toys, and read up to assuage your fears and avoid painful, off-putting mistakes.
But perhaps the best way for you to make your partner’s desires more appealing is to create an incentive for yourself. “As unromantic as it sounds, striking a bargain can work very nicely,” says Aline Zoldbrod, PhD, a Boston sex therapist and author of Sex Talk: Uncensored Exercises for Exploring What Really Turns You On. “Getting to look forward to something you really like is delicious.”
That can be the case even when two desires are seemingly at odds with each other. When Lauren’s* boyfriend confessed a desire to sometimes be dominated in bed, she was initially crestfallen. “I had been psyching myself up to ask the same thing from him,” explains the 27-year-old graphic artist.
“Initially I kept quiet because I wanted to please him, but I eventually broke down and told him. He said he was actually relieved, because he’d been wanting to do something for me as well.” Both the acts of giving and receiving, Lauren says, were made more enjoyable because of the balance created by both gestures.
When you do ask for something, remember that it’s best to do so outside the bedroom to lower the stakes—unless you’re certain your partner will be totally turned on instead of vaguely unsettled by your request. Feel free to preface it by telling him that you’re scared he’ll react badly. And lastly, it wouldn’t hurt to “accidentally” leave this article somewhere he’s sure to see it.