When I was younger, I was a sexual chameleon of sorts. What I was into was typically contingent on whom I was dating. When I dated the fellow who was into anal, I was into anal. When I dated a cuckold, I was into dominating and degrading my partner. When I was sleeping with the dude who enjoyed being dominant, I suddenly became submissive.
Part of this lack of consistency in my preferences speaks to the malleability of sexuality, as many of us are sexually fluid and can enjoy a vast array of experiences. However, it also speaks to the fact that I had not yet prioritized exploring my desires and discovering the type of sex I truly want.
Figuring out what we desire can be complex. Sex is portrayed in an idealized way in the media, and depending on your gender and sexual orientation, we are often shown a singular image of what sex “should” look like. For example, I am a straight woman, and the message that I received growing up was that two minutes of penetration is what it’s all about—that being sexually malleable and not having any precise desires of my own was sexy.
It wasn’t until I became a sex educator that I learned to be more in touch with how I felt during sex and began to understand my pleasure. As a result, I now have a much clearer understanding of what I want. It is tough to unlearn the messages we receive about sex, but it is worth taking the necessary steps to tap into our true desires.
While self-exploration can be a lifelong process, here are some tips to see through the haze and start to figure out what it is that you genuinely want.
For some, being asked, “What are you into?” can be a terrifying question. Often this is because we feel pressure to respond with a specific and elaborate desire, such as being super into BDSM or having a particular fetish.
Discovering what you desire doesn’t need to be overcomplicated. It can be as simple as noticing that you enjoy eye contact during sex. It can be learning that you enjoy having sex in the morning. It could be discovering that sex is more enjoyable after you have had a shower. All of these responses are valid and help a partner understand you better. Exploring your desires is as simple as putting words to what makes a sexual encounter pleasurable for you.
Consider previous experiences.
Think about the times in your life that you were most aroused, or your most positive sexual experiences to date. What made these experiences particularly sexy for you? Was there a nice slow build of tension with this person, or did it feel more fast and urgent? Did your relationship feel connected and romantic, or was there a level of degradation or submission? How did the person create an erotic space for you, and how did you feel when you were around that person?
A seemingly endless number of factors can impact the way you experience a sexual encounter, from hormone fluctuations to what you ate for lunch. By looking for patterns in your positive experiences, you can start to narrow down your preferences.
Stay in touch with your body while you’re getting down.
It’s common to disengage while hooking up and not feel how your body responds to different types of stimulation. I suggest checking in with yourself while you are having sex by asking yourself the following questions:
- Are you focusing on your pleasure, or does it feel more like a performance?
- What type of stimulation feels good for you, and what are you not enjoying?
- Is there a part of sex that you thought you were supposed to like but doesn’t feel enjoyable in your body? (For example, some women may not find intercourse as satisfying as other intimate activities. If this is the case, perhaps adding clitoral stimulation or exploring non-penetrative sex may help you enjoy the encounter more.)
When there is a moment that is particularly enjoyable during sex, take note of the context. For example, was that orgasm particularly intense because the foreplay was longer? Was there something about the environment that was different? Did you do something to shift your mindset?
When the sex is not positive, are you experiencing disruptive thoughts that are getting in the way of your enjoyment? Do you feel confident in your body during sex, or are you self-conscious? By narrowing down what may be blocking you from experiencing pleasure during sex, you can learn more about how you can create a space that will feel safe and pleasurable for you.
Fill out a yes/no/maybe list.
There is no shortage of ways to get sexy with another person, and sometimes it’s helpful to look at an extensive list of possible sexual activities to help narrow down what type of exploration feels right for you. Filling out a “Yes, No, Maybe” list can act as a “menu” for sex, with tons of possibilities to explore. For example, how do you feel about: masturbating in front of a partner? Being bitten by a partner? Having your movement restricted during intercourse? Yes, No, or Maybe?
Sometimes when going through a Yes, No, Maybe list, you may become intrigued by a concept that you haven’t engaged in or even thought about before. Couples can go through the list together and see which areas they are both interested in exploring. Folks can also fill out this list alone to get ideas for masturbation or fun activities to try during a subsequent sexual encounter.
Explore ethical porn and erotica.
A great way to learn more about your desires is to watch people have sex and see what arouses you. Not all of us can go to live sex shows, so exploring pornography or reading erotica are often the best options. Women-run porn platforms and homemade videos are a great way to explore more realistic, less staged types of sex. I would suggest spending a couple of hours seeing what is out there and learning more about what turns you on. (Some great resources include XOAfterGlow, Bellesa, and Dipsea.) If you find a scene sexy, analyze what excites you and see if you can replicate it in your life.
The best way to pinpoint the most enjoyable type of sex for you is to engage in varied sexual interactions. It is easy to fall into patterns—both in self-pleasure and sex with a partner—but I highly recommend switching up your routine on the regular. Look back on your Yes, No, Maybe list and experiment with some new types of sex. It may take a few times to find the kind of sex you enjoy, and perhaps your go-to moves are there for a reason. However, by experimenting, you can be more purposeful in your sexual decisions.
Through healthy exploration, you can ensure that you’re not just having the kind of sex your partner enjoys, or that you have been taught you should enjoy. By prioritizing your pleasure, you can have a more varied and fulfilling sex life. Trying some of the methods above should help you narrow down your desires so that next time someone asks you what you are into, you have an answer ready.