About a year and a half ago, I had my first bad experience with dirty talk. I'd been seeing this guy Will* for a few months, and we were having sex. Then, all of a sudden, smack in the middle of it, he leaned down, pressed his lips against my ear, and hissed, “You like that, don’t you, you dirty little slut?”
Now, we’d both done some pretty intense dirty talk in the past. But there was something about being called a slut during sex that stopped me cold. I immediately asked Will to stop what he was doing, and we talked about what had just happened. He was apologetic, and he never used that word again in my presence.
Don’t get me wrong — I love some good dirty talk. But in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, I've been forced to reckon with my own history of harassment. And while I recognise that some women are turned on by hearing words like "slut" and "whore" during sex, for me, it just doesn't sit well.
I'm not alone in this regard. MensHealth.com polled 57 women in their 20s and 30s about their dirty talk preferences, and whether or not they've changed post-#MeToo. While the vast majority of women, or 92%, said they enjoyed hearing dirty talk during sex, many of the women we surveyed (22%, to be precise) said they viewed dirty talk more negatively post-#MeToo.
“I feel like language is a very accurate portrait of our societies, and since #MeToo, there are some words I don’t feel comfortable with," says Chiara, 22. "Some words are just too aggressive." Ariel, 24, agrees: "The #MeToo movement has empowered me to go on the defence real quick."
This obviously leaves dudes in a bit of a quandary. If your partner is into dirty talk, how do you know where the line is? And how do you know which words are OK and which ones aren't?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all manual for how to talk dirty — but that’s no reason to give up entirely. We asked sex and dating experts and real women what they wanted to hear (and didn't want to hear) in bed. By following these guidelines, you’ll be dirty talking like a gentleman in no time.
Start with a conversation
Just like anything else that has to do with sex, preferences in dirty talk “vary from person to person,” sex therapist Amie Harwick, PhD, MFT, tells MensHealth.com. That's why “talking about sexy talk prior to engaging in it is the easiest and most simple answer.”
Even though this conversation seems awkward to bring up, there are easy ways to have it. “The best opener involves taking the focus off of you,” says sexologist Megan Stubbs. “It’s easy to say ‘Hey, I was reading that some women don’t like to dirty talk during sex. Is that true?’” That way, you can open up the discussion without being accusatory, and gauge what your partner is and isn't into.
Sexting is a good segue into IRL dirty talk
The invention of the smartphone has been a blessing for many reasons, chief among them that it makes setting the stage for dirty talk a lot easier. If you've already sexted with your partner (and 74% of Americans say they have), then you already have a pretty good sense of what kind of dirty talk they're into.
In fact, your partner might prefer sexting to dirty talk. "Dirty talk in general makes more sense during sexting to me than it does IRL, because IRL I want it to be more specific, and more about what's happening in the moment," says Jeanne*, 27. "I feel more comfortable with someone I know (or at least have sexted with) dirty talking than I do with a one-night stand."
Start out slow and follow her lead
So you've both established that you're into dirty talk, and you've started having sex. This is a good time to start testing the waters. Dirty talk doesn’t always have to go immediately to pejorative phrasing: you can start out by just sticking to describing what you're doing. "You feel so good," or "I can't wait to get you naked," or "It feels so good when you throw your legs over my shoulder," are inoffensive and really hot.
Pay attention to both verbal (i.e., she starts talking dirty to you back) and non-verbal cues. “Positive signs include heavy breathing, and if your partner is leaning into you,” Stubbs says. If your partner starts to tense up, or looks a little scared, then it might be a good idea to stop and ask how they’re doing. “If things are really going in the right direction, a two-second break to check in isn’t going to ruin that momentum,” Stubbs says.
Tone is absolutely crucial
The thing about dirty talk that's so tricky is it's not just dependent on your partner's individual likes and dislikes — it depends on context, too. "It's less [about] the vocabulary and more the attitude behind it," says Meg, 29. "If there's anger behind the words instead of warmth/playfulness, I dry right up."
That's why it's important to keep it light and playful, even in the heat of the moment. If she seems turned off by something you've said, feel free to make a joke about it or say, "Sorry. Was that too far? You're just so sexy that I'm not thinking straight." She'll probably laugh, which will lighten the mood, and you guys can continue with your regularly scheduled programming. Sex is supposed to be fun — there's no reason why you guys have to take it so seriously.
Don't ever boss her around or tell her what to do
Unless you've discussed it beforehand and your partner is OK with it, there is absolutely zero reason to boss your partner around or demand that they perform certain sex acts. That can lead to her feeling pressured or coerced into doing things she doesn't want to do, and there's nothing sexy about that.
"There is a fine line between dirty talk and abusive/degrading talk," says Caroline, 28. "I don't mind being told I'm sexy or even talked about my body, but I am now more aware of the importance of putting a hard stop at any talk that crosses the line into submission or that puts pressure on me to do something I wouldn't do without prompting."
So instead of using declarative language — i.e., "give me a blow job," etc. — say something like, "I haven't been able to stop thinking about you giving me a blow job all day. I love seeing your lips wrapped around me." That way, you've made your intentions clear, without making her feel coerced or pressured.
Don't call her a bitch, a slut, or a whore
We cannot stress this enough: different women enjoy different things during sex, and that applies to dirty talk as well. While one woman may be turned on by hardcore or degrading dirty talk, another might find it totally repugnant. That said, there are a few words that are probably wise to avoid right off the bat, particularly if you're early on in a relationship.
Thirty percent of the women we polled, for instance, said they absolutely hated hearing the word "bitch" during sex; "slut" and "whore" were a close second and third, at 24% and 22%. "I've been called a slut too many times in earnest to get off on it," says Layla, 21. Evelyn, 35, agreed: "anything that implies I'm just there to be used for their pleasure is an instant turnoff." So unless she specifically says it's OK for you to use that type of language, steer clear of it, full stop.
The term "daddy" is also...not great
Leila, 23, says that even though she really likes dirty talk, when she hears a guy ask her to call him daddy, "bells will go off in my head. Like why is he trying to make me submissive? Is me calling him daddy making me less empowered?," says Leila. So, again, unless she specifically says it's cool, probably best to keep any mentions of family members during sex to a minimum.
Check in afterward
While you don't necessarily need to do it right after you both have finished, it's important to continuously check in on your partner and make sure you both are on the same page dirty talk-wise, for your sake as well as hers. Stubbs says to focus on positive check-ins instead of negative ones. “Instead of saying ‘I didn’t like it when you bit my nipple,’ frame it as something like ‘I loved it when you got on top last week,’” she explains. And who knows? You might find that you're both so revved up that you'll be ready to go again.
You might slip up — and that's OK
Sometimes, things get said in the heat of the moment that you don’t necessarily mean — and that's not the end of the world. “The language that you use in the bedroom doesn’t necessarily reflect who you are in real life,” Stubbs says. “It never should be held against you.” Just make sure you own up to it and apologise if your partner seems upset or calls you out for it.
In that same vein, though, what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom. So even if your girlfriend likes to be called a little whore during sex, that doesn’t give you permission to call her that during an argument or any other time outside of the bedroom. And this should go without saying, but keep your dirty talk to yourself: don’t tell your friends about the wild things your partner likes to say during sex.
At the end of the day, the best way to talk dirty like a gentleman is to have the lines of communication open at all times. You and your partner shouldn't be afraid to talk about the things that are and aren't working for you both in bed. "You absolutely have to be able to talk about your likes and dislikes if you're going to have a satisfying sex life," says Steph, 29. "And dirty talk is no exception!"
*Last names have been withheld to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health