Salvaging So-So Sex

It's Saturday night, and you and your honey are getting intimate. Everything's going great, until suddenly you start thinking, "Ow! Where did you learn about opposite-sex anatomy?"

What you say instead is, "Mmm, baby."

"People are afraid of speaking up in bed," explains Ava Cadell, PhD, a clinical sexologist based in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Confessions to a Sexologist (Peters, 1999). "If they want their ears licked, they'll just lick their partners' ears and hope the person does it back. But if you can't be open with the person you're intimate with, who can you talk to?" she asks.

Talking about your fantasies or telling your partner about your favorite position is not easy. Nor is it easy to communicate about what doesn't work for you in bed. If your partner is having trouble reading your sexual signals, maybe you're being too subtle. What follows are some suggestions on offering constructive criticism to your partner. Because if sex isn't fun, why bother?

Not Tonight, Dear One of the basic rules to having good sex is making sure that you really want to be having sex and not, say, jogging or watching the Food Network. This can be a special challenge for couples who are already in intimate relationships. Once you've gone all the way with a partner, it's easy to assume that you're going to wind up getting horizontal every time.

"There's no law that says once you start at A you have to end up at Z," says Susan Crain Bakos, author of Sexsational Secrets: Erotic Advice Your Mother Never Gave You (St. Martin's 1998). "Just because a guy has touched your breast, or a guy has an erection, that doesn't mean either partner can't refuse to go any further," she adds.

If your partner starts nuzzling your neck, or doing whatever he or she does to communicate horniness, and you're not in the mood, Bakos suggests telling him or her why you're not interested at the moment. If you say, "I'm too stressed out," or "I'm afraid my roommate will hear," your partner will understand that you're not rejecting him or her personally, you just don't feel like playing hide the salami at that very moment.

You'd Do Anything for Love, But You Won't Do That When it comes to sex, "We all have our own ideas about what we will or won't do," says Bakos. This applies to acrobatic positions, kinky accessories, and explicit pillow talk. Perhaps the two of you saw a sexual act described or performed in a movie. Now your sweetie wants to do something in the sack that's way outside your comfort zone. How do you shoot down the sexy suggestion without seeming like a prude?

"You have to be honest and define your standards, or you'll react later and turn it into a big issue about control," says Bakos. Why not say with a laugh, "Oh, that's a little extreme for me," or "I don't know about that," and suggest something you'd enjoy just as much. You can always go back and discuss the idea if it sounds interesting, but you can't erase the bad feeling that comes from doing something that makes you feel compromised.

Here are two more ways to turn so-so sex into so good sex:

Say "Ow!" There are sex moves that don't quite do it for you, and then there are those that just plain hurt. If the latter is the case, say so. "Be clear by saying, 'Ow, that hurts. We need to slow down,' or 'I can't do it this way,'" says Karen Gless, PhD, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, CA. Pain shouldn't be a part of sex (unless you're into some kinkier stuff, but that's a different story.

Redirect Your Romancer The easiest route to the right touch doesn't even require words, says Gless. Begin by touching your partner's hand and moaning a little (to make sure he or she knows you're having fun). Next, move his or her hand to a different place, or demonstrate a different pace. Done skillfully, your partner won't even notice that he or she has been coached.