Giving and receiving effective feedback is a learnt skill that requires practice, care and intentionality. It is the bedrock of great sexual experiences where we can learn more about our bodies and how to be better sexual partners, yet so many of us actively avoid it in fear of 'ruining the mood' or not wanting to offend the other person. Those are two of the most commonly stated reasons why, however there can be a lot of other contributing and compounding factors including shame, self-judgement or sheer lack of positive experiences. Many folks have also just never been asked for feedback or never taken the time to think about how sex could be better for them because we're focused on our partners having a good time. It's a huge testament to our current culture around sex, bodies and intimacy that for many, the idea of sexual feedback feels synonymous with criticism or judgement.
The reality is that when we withhold or avoid feedback, we put up with 'good enough' or even bad sex and we're often left feeling unsatisfied. Not only does this significantly contribute to our existing orgasm gap, it's a breeding ground for resentment in long-term relationships and I've often seen this leading to a breakdown in one's relationship to sex. If an experience is leaving you feeling unsatisfied, unappreciated or unheard, it leaves less and less motivation to keep wanting to do said thing.
Studies show that women who communicated more about their sexual needs and wants were 8x happier in their relationships and 6x more sexually satisfied. What is that saying - ask and you shall receive?
Sexual feedback benefits everyone involved because it gives your partner an opportunity to learn and please you, you ideally get what you want and it opens up the lines of clear, bidirectional communication. However of course, this can be easier said than done. Lucky for you I've laid it ideas and suggestions for you to get the ball rolling.
Notes on giving feedback:
In order to give effective feedback, we have to know what we like. In order to know what we like, we first have to explore. Whether you are exploring solo or partnered, practice noticing and naming what you enjoy, for example, “This two-finger circular motion on my cl*t feels really good at the start,” or "I really enjoy the underside of my penis being stroked like this." Mix up your exploration and take an inventory of what feels good. This helps create a vocabulary and mental map for you to hand over to your partner. This map could even be physical if you wanted to get extra points and write a few pointers down - we all learn differently!
Giving feedback is a learnt skill. For many, it's a matter of exposure as well as trial and error. It's important to acknowledge that we can all be a bit sensitive when it comes to sex, so how we approach feedback is important. Our no's matter, but if that's all we're talking about, it doesn't give us much direction to work with. Communicating our yes' creates more space to explore and lean into partnered pleasure.
For many of us, we may also be working with the added layer of shame, trauma or guilt in taking up space in the sexual experience. I hope you can lend yourself some self-compassion and remind yourself that this can be a really difficult and slow process to unlearn and re-learn, but it can be done! Part of this journey is having an ongoing partner that listens and honours your requests, and learning to trust them to do so. This will move at the speed of trust and for some, that's months or even years.
When we talk about feedback, it's also important to note that we're not talking about giving a scorecard or formal review (unless you're into that?). Giving feedback is a practice that comes in many forms, including the verbal and non-verbal. Non-verbals are important, but clear communication is best practice and a good partner is one that welcomes feedback.
Notes on receiving feedback:
It can be very easy to take feedback personally. Many folks talk about how they feel like they’re failing a test or disappointing their partner. I work with a lot of self-identifying people-pleasers and this is simply one manifestation of how we can tie up our sense of worth and value in what we do or offer others.
If your partner asking for what they want leads to you feeling like this, it’s a good check-in point for your assumptions about sex, whether you’re asking for what you want or whether you feel your efforts are appreciated. For many folks, feedback can feel like an attack or like they're asking for too much, if we feel resentful or unrecognised in our existing efforts.
An important reframe is that if your partner cares and trusts you enough to share what they need, that’s a gift. Even if you've been having sex with the same person for decades, every sexual experience is different and we should be always learning. Perfection has never been the goal of sex.
Ideas for improving your sexual feedback skills:
For many folks, we don't have a map of what to ask for or what to say, especially in the heat of the moment. One really great low-stakes option is to try on different phrases or requests while you're flirting, sexting, or even try a sending a voice memo. It gives you an opportunity to practice asking for what you want and to see what fits. Let it feel awkward and inauthentic because all new skills feel like that at the start. Lean into it and see where it takes you.
Getting better at providing sexual feedback is truly a practice in identifying and asking for more of what you want. This doesn't only have to occur in a sexual experience and it doesn't only have to occur in the context of dirty and explicit directions, but you can get your reps and think about how you like to be cared for, kissed, held, massaged or caressed. I've heard stories where partners want to be told that they're loved while they touch themselves or during oral sex, and folks were mindblown that that was something you could ask for. Again, remembering that it can make a world of difference leaning into our yes' rather than focusing on our no's. This can look like "I really like it when..." or "Can you try this on me?", rather than "no, not like that" only.
In the realm of sexual feedback, show and tell goes a long way. Whether that's taking your partner's hand in yours and showing them the touch you like on your body or using your knuckle as a demonstration tool for your clitoris, get both specific and creative with it. Keep practicing and naming types of touch you enjoy. Basic starting points to consider are: speed, rhythm, pressure, direction, pattern, and angle of penetration. Over time, it also gets easier as you start to develop a shared shorthand for particular requests or types of touch. Write down what you like if that’s how your brain works or learns best. Draw a map, create a recipe, do a PowerPoint if you like. Feedback doesn’t have to be so serious. Resources that may be useful in developing your vocabulary and language include OMGYes and the Sex School series on Lust Cinema - both require paid subscriptions.
As a partner, it's also a great practice to ask directional questions like "higher or lower?" or "faster or slower?" as we all can find it difficult from time-to-time to form words or full sentences. These basic questions help everyone involved in finding what works and what we want.
Sometimes we really are at a loss for words or our mouths are otherwise occupied, so words just aren't enough. Maybe your arousal brain takes over or you're over-stimulated, maybe it's all of the above, it's important that you make a game plan with your partner for non-verbal communication and feedback.
This game plan might look like coming up with codewords, tapping signals, naming what other non-verbal signs we can pay attention to (like breath, body movements or pitch) or making a commitment to having a post-sex debrief on what went well. A common and basic codeword system is of course, the traffic light system (red = stop, yellow = slow down and green = keep going).
We all want to do a great job and we all want to know that we're doing a great job. It's on everyone involved to step up and create a space where feedback is welcome, encouraged and seen as the gift that it is.