27 Alternatives To Asking “Is This Okay?”


When it comes to sexytimes, we all want to know if what we’re doing in bed is working for our partner. Unfortunately, knowing what or how to ask doesn’t always come as second nature. You fumble, try to read clues and more often than not, “Is this okay?” tumbles out of your mouth.

Last week I wrote about why “Okay” is a four-letter word and encouraged you to break the habit of asking about it. To do so, you need different, more precise questions to ask, ones that actually get at the thing you want to know.

Pair a good question with a sexy voice and some genuine curiosity, and some serious magic will happen.

Next time you and your sweetie are about to get down, try these instead:

Yes/No questions

As we discussed in the last post, “Okay” is a maddeningly unclear (and rather low) standard for your sex life. If you are asking yes or no questions, be sure to ask about what you actually want to know. Much of the time, we want to know if we’re doing a good job, but “good job” is also not particularly well-defined. When in doubt, center your questions around pleasure, satisfaction and desire. If nothing else, it lets your partner know that you really want them to have a good time. Here are some examples:

Before

  • 8180474158_495134d66c_zWould you like it if…?
  • Would it please you if…?
  • Would you enjoy it if…?
  • Would it rock your world if…?

During

  • Are you enjoying this?
  • Do you want more of this?
  • Is this good for you?
  • Does this work for you?
  • Do you want something different?

After

  • Did you enjoy it when…?
  • Was it pleasurable to you when…?
  • Did it work for your when…?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of Yes/No questions, because I like to find out more about what makes my partner tick. But these kinds of questions can be handy if your partner isn’t good at articulating what they like, when you’re caught up in the heat of the moment, or when you just need a quick snippet of feedback to see if things are on track.

Either/Or questions

Most people are not very good at saying what they want. If you are trying to find out what your partner likes, trying something and then asking “Is this okay?” is unlikely to tell you what they prefer. But an open-ended question may cause your sweetie to freeze like a deer in the headlights. This is a great chance to give your partner options!

decisions-patrice-koerper-life-coach-motivational-speakerEither/or questions can help you and your partner figure out which general direction to head in, without having to over-think things or be able to articulate everything in advance.

  • Do you prefer a firmer or gentler touch?
  • Do you like it when I move slower or faster?
  • Do you want sexy snuggles or sleepy snuggles?
  • Do you want more tongue or less when I kiss you?
  • Would you like the rope tighter or looser?
  • Do you want me to be more allowing or more assertive [in this activity]?
  • Do you like spankings to be more “golf clap” or more “rock concert”?*

Either/or questions can be particularly helpful when trying out a new activity, when you’re trying to figure out the flavor of something your partner has asked for, or when you really want to dial in exactly what turns them on.

Open Ended Questions

Sometimes, you just need a lot more information than “Is this okay?” or “Are you okay?” will give you. You might feel emotionally adrift in an interaction, or totally unable to read your partner’s cues. In this case, open ended questions are the way to go! They can be good to ask during a lull in the action, when something seems to be off-track but you can’t tell what, or during a sexual debrief after sexytimes.

193853038_bc19cfb4a2_zHere are some examples:

  • How do you feel about what’s happening right now?
  • What would rock your world right now?
  • What would feel good to you right now?
  • How are you doing?
  • What’s going on over there?
  • How would it be for you if…?
  • How was that to hear?
  • What’s your level of interest in that?

The answer you get to a sexual question depends on what you ask. Sexual communication (like all communication) is a bit of an art form, and you’ll discover what works best for you and your partner over time. Experiment with all three kinds of questions until you discover a new standard of sexual satisfaction for you and your partner. 

* Thanks to my pal Midori for the golf clap suggestion.
Photo credit.
Photo credit.
Photo credit.

“OKAY” Is A Four-Letter Word

nookayTalking about what you want in bed (and for that matter, in life) is scary, tricky business. Admitting something you want takes guts, and no one wants to be laughed at or rejected for sharing something tender with a loved one.

Sometimes though, the pull toward intimacy and connection wins out and you get up the guts to ask for the thing you want. You share a secret desire. You make your move and then…

“Is this okay?”

“Was that okay?”

“Are you okay?”

That dreaded four-letter word rears its head. When it comes to sex and intimacy, I absolutely, without a doubt, hate the word “okay.” What’s so bad about okay? Let me explain:

1. It’s unclear.

When you ask if something is okay, it is maddeningly unclear what you’re asking. Are you checking for permission? To see if you’re still loved? To find out if your partner is willing to tolerate whatever it is you want or are doing?

What do you mean by “Okay?”

Usually, it’s some combination of the above. There’s a lot of complexity wedged into that four-letter word. And only two answers: “Yes” and “no.” (I guess silence or “um…” would be other options.)

What the heck are you actually asking?

And what is it that your partner is hearing?

You might be checking to see if your partner is on board with doing the thing, but they might be hearing that you’re asking if they will put up it.

Or, you might be needing reassurance, and their brusque “yeah” isn’t exactly doing the trick.

You might be asking if a thing is allowable in the context of your relationship, and your partner might be hearing you ask if they think you are okay, as a basic human being.

This lack of clarity leads to endless fights involving the phrase “but you SAID it was Okay!”

Sure. But nobody actually knows what that means. Asking about “okay” sidesteps more honest questions. Figure out what you really want to know, and ask about that instead.

2. It encourages gatekeeping.

“But what about consent?” you’re wondering. “How am I supposed to know if something’s okay, unless I ask if it’s… okay?!”

I’m thrilled with the attention that consent culture is getting lately. There are many people out there educating and advocating for clearer and more open expressions of consent out there, and it’s awesome.

We’ve already covered how “okay” is unclear, but there’s another problem with it.

When asking “is this okay?” one person is asking permission and the other person is acting as the gatekeeper. It’s like one person wants the sex and the other person has sex to give out. (Mainly in our culture, we act like men want sex all the time and their manliness depends on being able to get it, and women have to act like the guardians of chastity and virtue, and certainly not like sexual creatures with agency of their own, capable of co-creating a fun sexy time with their partners.)

This sets both people up to lose.

Consent is about agreements between equals about how they want to play together. When one person is trying to “get” something from another who “has” it, it’s more like applying for a permit in a bureaucracy. It’s like you sort of assume the person on the other side isn’t having any fun or pleasure.

And so we ask if it’s okay. Which leads to my third reason for hating “Okay.”

3. It’s a sadly low standard.

“Okay” is a really, really low standard to hold your relationships and sex life to.

If all the time you’re asking if thing are okay, and your partner says yes, then over time you have an … okay relationship. And an okay sex life.

You deserve better than this. So does your partner.

A whole lot better than this.

Most couples have never taken the time to talk about how they want their relationship or sex life to be. What if the standard was pleasurable, or enjoyable, or fun, or good? What if you made a game of finding things that rocked one another’s world, instead of aiming for okay?

Breaking the Habit

I still catch myself asking “Is this okay?” “Was that okay?” “Are you okay?” a few times a week, particularly with people I’m just getting to know, or when don’t know where I stand with someone. But it’s getting easier to notice and to ask something else instead. When you feel unclear or unreassured after an “okay” exchange, it’s a clue to stop, and be more precise about what you (or the other person) is asking for.

Up next: 27 Alternatives to Asking “Is This Okay?”

How to Give Feedback During Sexytimes

So there you are, in bed, having an…. okay time. It’s not that there’s anything wrong exactly. It’s just not… right either.

Telling your partner you want something different during sex than what they’re doing can be terrifying. You don’t want to criticize. You don’t want them to stop. What if they think you’re too much? What if it sounds demanding? It seems “good enough.” They’re trying. “Why rock the boat?”

But good sex only happens when your partner knows what you want. And sometimes, the only way they’ll know is if you speak up and say something. Here’s how to use your words without killing the mood:

Start with the positive.

No one likes to hear that they suck at something. Even a comment as innocent as “Hey, can you move a little to the left” by itself can leave your partner wondering if you’re enjoying yourself. Start with what’s what’s working. Even an “Oh my god, yes!” before “Oooh, a little to the left,” can clarify where you’re at and what you want.

The challenge for you is to notice what feels good. Too often when something isn’t quite right, our attention only goes to “what’s wrong.” By putting your attention on what is giving you pleasure, the focus stays on pleasure. And, when you let your partner know what’s working, they will know what to keep doing. Otherwise, they may stop altogether, and that’s not the goal at the moment.

Say what you want.

Slower. Different position. Less tongue. More lube. Pin me down. Doggy style. Look me in the eye. Breath with me. Smack my bottom. Get a condom. Hold me. Harder. Softer. Faster. Less. More. Here. Like this.

Tell your partner what you want so they know what to do.

Not what you don’t want.

It’s tempting to tell your partner what’s not working for you, but if you do so, you run the risk of 1. killing the mood and 2. not actually getting what you want.

“That’s too much tongue.”
“Stop touching me like that.”
“I don’t want to do missionary.”
“Too fast.”

None of these let your partner know what you want. On top of that, they just sound like you are complaining. Your partner may try to guess what it is you’re asking for, but activities don’t always have a natural opposite, so there’s a decent chance your partner will just end up at a loss.

Affirm the attempt.

It’s pretty common for lovers to miss the mark the first few tries, especially when you’re trying something new. Whether or not your partner “gets it,” each time you speak up, give them positive feedback for trying.

This is sometimes the hardest thing to do, especially when you don’t want to give your partner the impression they’re doing what you want when they aren’t there yet.

But sex is vulnerable. Imagine the roles were flipped. Hearing that you aren’t doing something your partner wants can be scary. Say “Yes” or “Thank you” or “mmHmm…” or “OMG EXACTLY LIKE THAT” after your partner tries to please you is both good manners and more likely to lead you to where you want to ultimately be.

This is what it sounds like.

“Oh my god, yes… A little to the left…. yes. Yes.”

“That pressure is so good. Mmm hmmm… can you go a little slower? That’s great.”

“Ooh I like that look in your eyes. Pin me down? Mmm… fuck yes.”

“I sooo want to fuck you right now. Grab a condom…. Thank you.”

“I like that whimper… If you like what I’m doing, keep making noise.. yes, like that….”

Rinse and repeat, as needed.

Sometimes, you just have to keep asking to get what you want (and even then, asking doesn’t always mean you’ll get it.) There’s nothing wrong with speaking up a lot, slowing down as needed, taking breaks, shifting to something different and otherwise mixing it up. By beginning and ending with positives, even asking over and over for something can be sexy and hot.

What it sounds like:

“Your hand feels so good on me…. More pressure please?… mmhmmm… yes… Oh, I love being close to you… a little more pressure… Yes, yes… that’s it. … … … Oh god your fingers feel so good.. Yes.. Even more pressure. That’s it.”

“Ooh I like that look in your eyes. Pin me down? Mmm… I like that…. I like you on top of me. Pin my wrists tighter? Yes. Thank you. Yes.”

“I like the way your fingers are skating over my skin. That feels so good… ooh, less scratching please… oh that’s good…. You make me shiver…. I love the lightness of that… fewer fingernails… yes… mmmm… yess… THANK you… mmmm….”

Afterward

If you’re new to speaking up like this in bed, you may be feeling insecure about how it went, or what your partner was thinking. It can be helpful to check in afterward to find out. Ask open-ended questions (not “Was that okay?”) and listen for the answer. Both sides of sexual communication are vulnerable, so give your partner space to share their side of things.

What it sounds like:

“So I was talking more in bed this last time… how was that for you?”

“I love being close to you during sex and I want to make sure that you know I’m having a good time and when something’s not working for me. How do you like to hear feedback?”

“Talking like that was pretty edgy for me. I could use some reassurance, and also, what did you think about that kind of talk?”

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Communicating well during sex takes practice, but as you continue to explore, you’ll find that not only are you getting more of what you want in bed, but you’re both having more fun as you go.

The Naked Truth About Desire Smuggling

The world is not friendly to our desires.

In over a decade of relationship coaching and sex ed, I’ve talked with thousands of people about why they don’t ask for what they want. Reasons include: not knowing what to want, not having the language to ask, and “why rock the boat when it’s good enough?”

But by and large, the main reason we don’t ask for what we want is fear.

Fear of rejection, humiliation, and judgment.

Fear of disappointment, shame, loss, or guilt.

Fear of repeating the past, missing out, hurting your partner, or feeling like a failure.

Fear of “what they will think,” not getting what you want, or putting too much at stake.

Fear rules our desires.

You know to be afraid of these things because you’ve experienced them.

  • The look of disdain on some adult’s face when you expressed curiosity about masturbation.
  • Being laughed at for your youthful eagerness and enthusiasm.
  • Hearing someone say “Ewww” after you shared a vulnerable truth.
  • Watching helplessly as a friend got judged for wanting something that seemed just a little “outside the box.”
  • Seeing people’s hearts be torn apart on reality TV, and their imperfections shredded to bits on the internet.

The world is hostile to the sweet, fumbling, imperfect nature of desire.

8172104432_c513e02472_z

And so, to cope, we hide our desires from ourselves and from the people we love. And in the process, we become desire smugglers.

Desire Smuggling: Hiding what you really want from yourself and/or a loved one, then, finding cover strategies to get (at least pieces of) what you want.

We do it to stay safe. It’s a reasonable response to a toxic environment of shame and judgment.

At the same time, desire is powerful. Even in the face of fear, rejection, guilt, loss… we want what we want. And through better or worse means, we will try to get it.

Desire smuggling is something that we all do. The stakes are high around what you truly want, and being direct can seem outright terrifying in the face of these (often well-justified) fears.

What does it look like?

How to Spot Desire Smuggling

When I teach about smuggling desire, a class of 20 people can easily come up with 50-80 examples of ways we try to get what we want when we think it’s not available. From the merely annoying to the truly toxic, techniques of smuggling desire are endlessly creative.

desirepersistantDesire is persistent and will not be denied. When it doesn’t feel safe to want what you want, you will try to get it anyway. Here are some things you might do:

  • Expect telepathy
  • Make wishes
  • Fake spontaneity
  • Get drunk/high to remove inhibitions
  • Hint
  • Ask if the other person wants the thing you want
  • Rationalize cost/benefit
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Send articles about the thing
  • Give statistics about the thing
  • Say “people like…” (instead of owning it yourself)
  • Try to convince
  • Try to get the other person to say it
  • Complain that you don’t get it
  • Be “nice” and hope to be rewarded
  • Make unspoken deals
  • Issue ultimatums
  • Emotional blackmail
  • Tack on obligation to a “gift”
  • Minimize by saying “just” or “only”
  • Guilt-trip
  • Be passive-aggressive
  • Blame
  • Want the other person to guess
  • Wait for the right time
  • Wait for a sign
  • Buy into a romance myth (“If you really loved me…”)
  • Assume they should “just know”
  • Withhold
  • Force
  • Non-consensual taking
  • Be macho
  • Be loud and bombastic
  • Punish your partner for not giving it to you
  • Attack/judge someone asking for what you want
  • Attack/judge someone getting what you want
  • Look for other, less-scary places to get it
  • Shame yourself for having that desire
  • Shame others with the same desire
  • Avoid it altogether
  • Make sugar-coated demands
  • Compromise
  • “Purchase” it by doing other things
  • Get needs met without owning them
  • Tell a story about the thing desire
  • Martyr yourself in hopes of getting it
  • Substitute something else
  • Don’t explore internal dissonance
  • Bully
  • Criticize after the fact
  • Spiritually bypass
  • Settle
  • Play options roulette (where one option is the one you want)

Desire smuggling is a clue.

Looking at this list, it’s easy to criticize, blame or shame yourself (or your partner) for doing these things. After all, some of them are pretty shitty behavior, and others are just not terribly effective for getting what you want.

When you catch yourself (or someone you love) smuggling desire, the last thing you want to do is to criticize. Instead, have some compassion for yourself, and recognize two things:

  1. These behaviors are a totally sane and rational response to an environment where desire is discounted, rejected, ridiculed, shamed and otherwise devalued.
  2. Desire smuggling is a clue that there’s something you want.

When you catch this clue, then you can do something more effective with your desire. You can ask for what you want. You can bring it into your relationships. You can share with a community of trust where your desire will be celebrated. You can explore it safely. You can apologize for not being straightforward and find new ways of creating connection with the people you love.

When it’s safe to have desire, you no longer have to smuggle it. 

photo credits: OUCHcharley, Ray_from_LA

8 Ways to Hear a No Gracefully

The more you ask for what you want in your intimate life and daily life, the more you’re likely to hear both yesses and nos. Rejection can sting, but there’s also an opportunity to build connection when you can hear a no gracefully, especially in your intimate relationships.

Sometimes, the “No” is direct. More often, it’s difficult for people to say no directly and it may be unclear what’s going on. As an advocate for clear communication and consent, I suggest that you take ambiguity as a No. (This will either be received gratefully, or be a gentle reminder to your loved one to communicate their desires more clearly.)

Regardless of what kind of a No you get, here are some ways to HEAR a no gracefully:

Ways to Hear No Gracefully (3)

(Download a printable, poster-sized PDF version of this graphic here.)

Remember:

  • Accepting a no doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it.
  • You’re allowed to feel sad, disappointed, angry, etc.
  • When you can radically accept boundaries (your own and others’) a space for creating new possibilities opens up that didn’t exist before.
  • In the long run, gracefully accepting other people’s nos builds trust.

12 Ways To Say No Gracefully (Without Saying “Maybe Later”)

Grace: (n)simple elegance or refinement of movement; courteous goodwill.

We all want connection. Saying no can feel terrifying, especially if you are afraid of losing connection with someone you care about. Rejecting someone you love sucks.

In many cases, even if we don’t know the person, we want to avoid rocking the boat. But “not really saying no, and then hoping that the other person will somehow magically abide by it anyway” is not an effective strategy for maintaining your boundaries OR getting what you want.

Here are a bunch of ways to say no to loved ones, strangers, people selling you things, coworkers, lovers and everyone in between. Practice them all, and find the versions that work best for you.

No Thank You final

(Download a printable, poster-sized PDF version of this graphic here.)

Remember:

  • You don’t have to justify your no. Resist the temptation to explain why it’s not a good fit, why you feel stomach-churny, or why you need to build more trust. Avoid making excuses.
  • When you state what’s true about your experience, it’s harder to argue with you.
  • You get to have boundaries.
  • “No” is a complete sentence.
  • When you say what you do want instead, it gives you both something to work from (if you want that.)

16 Ways to Talk About Consent (That Are Pretty Sexy…)

yesbymadhavaHere’s a stack of wonderful ways to check in with your partner, to find out more of what they want, and to communicate your own desires. Try some today!

  1. “Do you like when I…?”
  2. “I like when you…”
  3. “Will you…?”
  4. “How does this feel?”
  5. “Do you want me to…?”
  6. “Do you want to…?”
  7. “Is there anything you want to try?”
  8. “Show me what you like.”
  9. “Do you want to go further?”
  10. “Do you want to stop?”
  11. “Can I…?”
  12. “Does this feel good?”
  13. “Are you happy?”
  14. “Are you comfortable?”
  15. “Are you having a good time?”
  16. “Is this good for you?”

* I found this floating around the internet without citation. If you know who gets original credit for this, please let me know!

 Mighty fine thanks to Madhava for the pic.

What Do I Do When I’m A Maybe?

yesnomaybeSeveral years ago, I co-founded a touch-and-communication workshop called Cuddle Party. In it, we have rules that say that if you’re a yes, say Yes. If you’re a no, say No. And if you’re a maybe, say No. (Because you can always change your mind later.)

Many people have thanked me over the years for the simplicity of those rules, especially “If you’re a Maybe, say No.” They have been grateful for permission it has given them to simply say “No thank you” and have the space show up to figure out what they actually want (if anything) from a given situation.

But I haven’t always lived my life by that rule. In fact, there have been long stretches of time when I’ve said Yes to things that I was a maybe on, simply to see what happened. And some of the best, hardest and most impactful experiences of my life have happened when I’ve done this. “If you’re a Maybe, say Yes.”

So which rule should you adopt in your life? Well, what is the thing you need to be practicing more right now?

Pushing your edges and having experiences 
~ or ~
Knowing your edges and practicing boundaries 

Despite the YOLO (You Only Live Once), Robert-Frost-Road-Less-Traveled fetishizing in American culture, pushing your edges isn’t always the best path for many of us. A lot of us have had our boundaries pushed or disregarded so often that it’s almost impossible to tell where our actual edges are. And if you don’t know where your edges are, pushing them can be dangerous or toxic.

In fact, pushing your edges often works best when you have a well-developed No muscle. So if you are working on knowing your edges and boundaries, say No when you’re a maybe.

But, if you’re feeling stuck, or wanting to shake things up, or are craving an experience of knowing what you’re made of, you may be a candidate for exploring what a committed Yes does in the face of a maybe.

What if you’re a maybe to both of those options?

Indecisive-womanI encourage you to try both, starting with the No. For a week, see what it’s like to say No whenever you’re a maybe. A friend wants you to go to a movie that you don’t know if you want to see? Your boss asks if you want to take on a project you’re uncertain about? Someone you aren’t sure if you’re into asks you out on a date? No, no and no. Look at all the space that emerges when you’re a clear no, instead of waffling in the maybe. Feel how good it feels to focus only on the things you’re a hell YES to.

The next week, see what it’s like to say Yes whenever you’re a maybe. Yes, I’ll go see that movie with you. Yes I’ll take on that project. Yes I’ll go on a date with you. Notice what things have you feel lit up and excited (those are clues about your desires) and what simply has you feel overwhelmed, even if on some level you like the idea of it. As you do the Yes part, keep saying No to the things that you are a clear No to.

I’ve found over time that there are periods or areas of my life when it’s better to have one default setting or the other. Sometimes I’m a default Yes in business and a default No in relationship (or vice versa). Sometimes I’m a default Yes to everything for a week or two when things feel stuck. Sometimes I’m a default No all over my life when I feel like I’ve lost my center.

Play around with your default settings, but decide ahead of time how you want to handle your Maybes.