The balance between giving and receiving in bed is always a delicate one. I started out at the extreme end of the spectrum, not even allowing myself to feel desire, but eventually found my way back to the sweet spot—here’s how.
My whole life I was uncomfortable with receiving pleasure. Coming from a conservative background, sex and pleasure were always taboo topics for me. When I finally did start having sex, there was always an element of guilt to it. I was never quite comfortable receiving pleasure even though I was more than happy to give it. I was especially afraid of coming across as selfish, so swinging to the opposite extreme, I made sure never to ask for anything.
I would always focus on my partner’s pleasure. What I did get pleasure from was making sure my partner was having a good time. I was always attentive to his needs, learning the cues and signals that made sure he was getting what he wanted. I’d generally be up for almost anything if I knew my partner would enjoy it—that is until he wanted to know how to please me, in which case I went blank.
It ruined oral sex for me. I struggled to enjoy receiving oral for the longest time and sometimes still do. It’s an inherently selfish act and I felt so uncomfortable with the thought of receiving pleasure that I would stop my boyfriend after a few minutes almost every time. The only way I could justify receiving that kind of pleasure was if I returned the favor. Even then, I barely allowed myself to enjoy it since I was too busy tallying sexual favors instead of getting lost in waves of bliss. Basically, I was short-changing us both.
I rarely had orgasms during sex. Because of this discomfort with receiving pleasure and the amount of stress that came along with it, I rarely came during sex. I couldn’t let go and that tension got the better of me. I did enjoy sex, don’t get me wrong, but there was a shroud of guilt that came with it. What could have been moments of ecstatic bliss and reckless abandon were infiltrated by a self-conscious fear of indulgence.
I was so scared of being selfish. Selfishness is a word that usually comes with pretty negative connotations. I thought that looking out for myself, advocating for my needs and expressing my desires (or even having desires) equaled selfishness, and selfishness was automatically bad. I didn’t know that you could be benevolently selfish and generously giving at the same time.
I didn’t express what I wanted because I didn’t even know. I didn’t even know what pleasure looked like to me. I was totally disconnected from my body and my desires, happy (on the surface) to just let my partner do whatever he felt like. Even when asked what I wanted, I usually just deferred to his expertise on female pleasure. I didn’t trust myself to know what would feel good for me and looking back, I wish I’d known that I’m the only expert on my own body.
Finally, I had a lover who taught me it’s OK to want pleasure. Eventually, I ended up dating a tantric masseur and with him, I finally started to explore my own desires. It was a FWB arrangement and this made it way easier to let go. We explored sex like a hobby and played games based on different roles—giving, receiving, taking and allowing. I remember playing the receiving role, so tense about the thought of being too selfish. But somehow, the framework of the game helped me feel safer. When I finally listened to my body without judgment, I realized I knew exactly what I wanted, I just hadn’t ever allowed myself to want it.
Benevolent selfishness is integral to good sex. It took me way too long to learn this, but now that I have, I’m convinced that selfishness is a vital part of a great sex life. In my previous relationships, partners would get frustrated that I couldn’t tell them what I wanted. I always thought I was doing them a favor by being “selfless,” but actually I was resisting what should be a two-way street. Expressing what feels good to me is literally giving my partner a gift—I’m allowing him to give me pleasure in a way he knows will work. And vice-versa, I love a man who knows what he wants in bed so I can be sure to give it to him.
My sex life is so much better now, for me and for my lovers. Since I learned to listen to my body, embrace my desires and express what gives me pleasure, my sex life has been revolutionized. I’m no longer afraid to ask for what I want and without fail, every lover I’ve had since then has loved it. Not only do they get an insight into what gets me going, they get to know that if they do what I ask, I’ll enjoy it without a doubt. Open communication and commitment to pleasure—everyone’s pleasure—have made my sex life amazing beyond what I thought was possible. I’d never go back to “selflessness”!
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