[Ed.: Dr. Lily A. Zehner is a therapist who specializes in sex, intimacy, and relationships. Her private practice is located in Denver, Colorado. She holds a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Human Sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and a Masters in Marriage & Family Therapy from Regis University.]
I recently gave a talk to a group of mothers on being brave in the bedroom. This is something I can talk about with anyone for hours on end. It is something I have talked about at length with my clients, with friends, and it's something I am constantly working on myself.
I know this is a very common goal and yet, it isn't always seen as obtainable. I believe it absolutely is. There isn't a perfect or easy formula, there isn't even just one way to do it, but it is possible.
Now, visualize a mountain. I like to think of being brave in the bedroom as the ultimate goal – the top of the mountain, a goal that one can achieve after building upon some very important preceding steps.
To get from the bottom to the top, you have to walk, hike, and push through the discomfort. At the top, you are able to take a look around, soak in the journey, appreciate every step of the way, and finally enjoy sexual freedom never previously experienced.
The first part of this journey for bravery in the bedroom begins with the self – you. Your self is the foundation upon which this all builds, so let's jump right into it.
Taking care of ourselves is the most important piece of this whole journey. If we are neglecting ourselves, this journey is impossible. Imagine trying to hike a mountain with no sleep, an empty stomach, very little water, and no oxygen. So, what are you doing to nurture yourself? How are you taking care of yourself?
Incorporate daily self-care, remembering that you must always put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping someone else put theirs on.
Confidence and self esteem
Are your self-esteem and confidence lower than you would like? Begin to boost them.
Here are just some ways to do so: focus on what you can do or did at the end of each day (especially at the end of tough days), develop purpose in your life, create goals (big and small) and note when you achieve them.
Finally, find a way to move your body: practicing yoga, running, stretching, walking, swimming – whatever movement feels good, continue to do that.
Examining and working on our body image is essential in this process because we have sex with our bodies.
Here are some helpful strategies in cultivating a positive body image: practice gratitude for what your body is capable of, wear things that make you feel sexy, focus on the positive or neutral rather than the negative (i.e. my hair looks fabulous today; if you cannot find something positive to say, choose something neutral such as "I have brown hair"), and fuel your body with foods that feel good in your body.
Three important questions to ask and answer yourself:
- Who are you?
- What are your likes in pleasure and sex?
- What are you dislikes in pleasure and sex?
The more you know about yourself, the better. This is especially true in becoming brave in the bedroom!
I encourage you to begin to implement and incorporate these first four suggestions immediately and notice how you feel once you do. Keep in mind that just like on any other trek, you may need to sit down and take a rest. You may have to ask for help. You may surprise yourself in your abilities.
Be open to the process and to the feelings that may emerge. Let's proceed.
Authenticity and vulnerability
Every time I ask what being brave in the bedroom looks like, I hear "leaving the lights on." I couldn't agree more. Allowing our authentic self to be seen in the flesh is one of the bravest and most intimate things we can do.
That being said, it isn't always the easiest because it can leave us feeling very vulnerable. There can be worry and fear that the person/people you are in front of may run away in horror or disgust; that they will reject you.
Here is what I can say: they want to see you, they are there because they want to be. And if for some reason they run, this tells you that they don't deserve to be with you.
Tip: if the lights are too much in the beginning, perhaps try using lamps with softer lighting or using candlelight.
As you begin to get more comfortable with the light, I encourage you to allow more light and see how you feel and how it impacts the experience.
Did you know that our pleasure is our responsibility? This means that if our sex life isn't what we want it to be, it is on us to make changes. I remember the first time I heard this and truly processed this concept. It was so empowering and continues to be.
In order to obtain the pleasure we desire, we first must know what we like and don't like. This also includes knowing every inch of our body and how we want body parts incorporated or not. This is where self exploration is necessary.
When is the last time you got a hand mirror out and explored your lovely bits? Have you ever? Get to know your body, every part of it, especially your genitals.
As you do this, I also encourage you to explore self pleasure (most commonly referred to as masturbation).
What arouses you? What turns you off? Self pleasure is a safe place where you can try all kinds of things to determine if they are things you enjoy or ever want to do with others. Remember, this time and space is yours to spend however you like, there is no right or wrong way to do it.
We are our best advocates and the only way to ensure that our needs will be met by others is to communicate them. Once we know what it is we need and desire, we then have to share them.
It can sound like, "I really like to have my neck kissed and caressed, it really helps me get into the mood." Verbalizing – or communicating our needs in other ways – can feel a little awkward at first, but like most things, with regularity it becomes more comfortable.
This concludes the second part of our journey for bravery in the bedroom. Again, I encourage you to begin to implement and incorporate these suggestions and notice how you feel once you do.
Keep in mind that just like any other trek, you may need to sit down and take a rest. You may have to ask for help. You may surprise yourself in your abilities. Be gentle with yourself. Be open to the process and to the feelings that may emerge.
Ready? Now comes a big one. Because typically when people want to be brave in the bedroom, it is because ultimately they want to be brave in their bodies while sharing the experience with others.
So this next part will explore this through communication, non-sex sex (NSS), and partner exploration.
When is the last time you had an honest conversation with your partner(s) about sex? Communication is at the core of a satisfying and enriching sex life with others. No one is a mind-reader, so just like we wouldn't expect someone to know our favorite food without telling them, we cannot expect them to know innately what we want and don't want in bed.
I understand that there are often reasons why we don't have these essential conversations. For one, talking about sex can be awkward or seem impossible especially since we likely weren't taught how to have these intimate conversations. You may have every desire to start talking about sex and yet aren't sure how to.
Here is my best tip: be honest. Start by sharing that this conversation makes you feel nervous, scared, embarrassed, _____ (fill in the blank) and yet, you know how important it is so you're going to start it. Chances are, your partner will feel similarly and feel relieved you've started it. This is a great opportunity to deepen your bond and intimacy.
Sometimes we don't have these conversations because we don't feel safe being so vulnerable. Perhaps you have tried before and it didn't go so well and you're now terrified to talk about it. I would encourage you to take time to get clear about what you want to communicate and again, begin with honesty.
Non-sex sex (NSS)
Non-Sex Sex (NSS) is a term I coined for what are essentially the acts we do for our sweeties – and what they do for us – that build emotional intimacy, which directly encourages physical intimacy.
By showing our sweeties we cherish them, it invites true intimacy, both emotional and physical. Largely, the more emotionally connected we feel with our sweeties, the more physically intimate we will be.
Have you ever really explored your sweetie's body? Has your partner ever really explored your body? Even if you have, I encourage you to try it again with curiosity and the intention of discovery. Slow way down. Notice every curve.
Continue to check-in with your partner by asking if they like what you are doing, if they would like you to change anything about your touch. Once you are done exploring, invite your partner to do the same to you. You may discover new areas and sensations that you or your partner enjoys that you may not have known before.
Additionally, in tying communication and exploration together, you can do the "yes/no/maybe" exercise. Grab a piece of paper and draw two lines to create three columns. Write "yes," "no," "maybe," at the top of each column. In your own time and space, go through and write down everything you are willing to do in the "yes" column, everything that you absolutely won't do in the "no" column and anything you are open to trying with the right circumstances in the "maybe" column.
Once you have completed it, share it with your partner and compare your lists. Be gentle, open, and honest with one another allowing this to also begin a conversation about sex.
Congratulations! You are nearing the end of this hike, the journey to being brave in the bedroom! Thus far, we have covered ground on your self – the foundation of this ultimate goal; daring to be you; and sharing it with a partner.
Finally, we will cover ground on how to truly thrive in your body and sexuality with your partners.
In the beginning, things tend to be hot, hot, hot! The passion and lust is thick, a blazing fire. As time goes on, the fire begins to cool and things can become comfortable and monotonous.
That is OK, it happens to everyone. However, for many, this isn't ideal. They want to keep things hot, adventurous, and exciting.
This is where creating novelty is key. Switch things up – when we get creative and move away from predictability, we ignite excitement and adventure. Not sure how? I've got some ideas, but don't just stop here – add a large dose of imagination and you'll be well on your way.
There is safety and endless fun to be had in fantasy – it doesn't have to become a reality unless you want it to. Fantasy is a fantastic way to get your engines revving and juices flowing. It can be experienced through using your imagination to visualize and bring yourself into the erotic experiences you crave without having to actually do them. You can do it solo or invite your partner into it.
Tips: sharing fantasies can be incredibly vulnerable. Before sharing, it is helpful to create a safe container to share without judgment or shame. You can also ask if you can share by saying, "I have a fantasy, may I share it with you?"
Also, if you find you are bothered or shocked by your partner's fantasy, remind yourself it's fantasy and doesn't necessarily mean they want it in real life. (And if you are concerned, it's worth bringing up with them for discussion).
Role play can be a helpful vehicle to allow for fantasy to come to life between you and your partners. Perhaps you have always fantasized about having sex with a firefighter – through the use of clothing and imagination a role play can bring this fantasy to life.
Add sexy additions
There are so many yummy additions you can incorporate into your sexual play. From toys and vibrators; to porn/erotica; sensations such as hot and cold; different textures; lingerie; so forth, the possibilities are endless.
For some genius (and sometimes hilarious) suggestions on toys to add to the mix, check out our 15 best ways technology can give you an orgasm article.
Another very important yet often neglected option to elevate pleasure is lube. Lube can enhance sensations and bring things to a whole new level. If you're not sure what lube you like, buy several single serve lube packets and have fun trying them.
But remember, don't mix silicone lube with silicone toys, it'll ruin them. Water based lube is fair game with all toys although it may not last as long.
Tip: before you add any of these, be sure to check-in with your partners about using them. This is where the "yes/no/maybe" exercise from earlier can be really helpful.
Get out of your bedroom! Remember how hot it was to fool around in the car when you were a teen and had nowhere else to go? You can recreate that feeling and excitement simply by changing your scenery.
Perhaps you have roommates (in the form of adults, teens, or kiddos). No problem! If you can't get out of your bedroom, at minimum, get out of the bed. Any piece of furniture or surface can be fair game for gettin' it on!
Last, but not least, re-define sex. Whatever brings you pleasure, do that. Intercourse ain't your thing? Fabulous, you've got millions of ways to have sexy fun! Indulge yourself in exploration and define sex as you see fit.
So, what does being brave in the bedroom look like? It is knowing who you are, your needs, and desires. It is asking for these unapologetically knowing this too is self care. It is sharing yourself with your partner through emotional and physical intimacy. Ultimately, it is choosing to stay curious, playful, and authentic.
Hooray! You made it to the top. Take a look around, breathe it in. Enjoy the view as you reflect back on the journey of getting to this point!
I sincerely hope this guide has been enlightening and has encouraged you to step into your bravery.