The Modern Survival Guide #116
This is the Modern Survival Guide, a guidebook I’m writing for things I think people need to know about living in the modern world. The views expressed here are mine, and mine alone. And before we get any further, let me clear this out of the way: No, I am not claiming to be a sex god or anything silly like that. I consider myself competent, with continual room for improvement, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go in self-adulation.
But I’ve had some fantastic sex in my life, and I’ve had some awful sex in my life, and I’ve learned from all of it. Based on that, I think there are seven simple, easy to remember tips for good sex that are clear enough for me to pass on even if I’m not the be-all-end-all expert on the subject.¹
And no, I’m not here to tell you how to get in wheelbarrow position without throwing out your lower back, or how to give the best blowjob, or exactly where and how to tickle the g-spot. There are hundreds of articles on Medium alone that will give you that info, and as we will see, part of having good sex is reading them. What I’m offering here are the basics behind good sex, and frankly you should know these before moving on to any of the more technical tips. So without further ado…
The Seven Basics of Good Sex
These aren’t hard, or particularly complicated, but there are a few things you can do to have good sex reliably, and here they are:
- Get consent for everything
- Know and honor your partner’s limits
- Practice being GGG (good, giving, and game)
- Communicate what feels good, when it feels good
- Attend to the ambiance
- Do your research
- Take advantage of help
If you follow these seven points, it will help you have good sex. I’m not saying you’ll have great sex every time, because frankly that’s not an attainable target and perfection is the enemy of good. Shoot for reliably good sex, and when you get there you’ll find that you have freaking amazing experiences from time to time. Let’s dive in.
1: Get Consent for Everything
This is the simplest, easiest, most absolutely necessary thing that you need to do to have good sex: whatever you’re doing, get consent before you do it. I’ve heard people express shock at this statement, because they think consent should be implied, or complain that it breaks up the moment, and frankly they’re wrong.
Getting consent, just to spell things out, means that you offer someone a clear choice on whether or not they want to do a particular thing, and then you abide by their choice. Consent is the single most important part of good sex, and if you don’t know that you have it, that’s bad for two reasons.
Reason One: If you don’t have explicit consent, there’s a very real chance that you might be about to rape someone. That’s not a good thing, in case that was not blindingly obvious for the people in the back, and NO, FOR THE LAST GODDAMN TIME, just because you have someone’s clothes off does not mean that they have to have sex with you! And just because you are in a relationship with someone DOES NOT mean that they have to have sex with you! In fact, there is no situation where someone has to have sex with you, so stop asking.
Also, the necessity for explicit consent means no sex while the other party is too inebriated to make an informed choice, no sex with people who lack the capacity to make an informed choice, and no sex with someone who says “no.” This applies to both men and women; yes, men can say “no” too, and yes, when we do, we really do mean it. Here’s a fantastic video on the concept of consent, and I suggest that everyone watch it.
Reason Two: This will be a common refrain in this article — good sex means all involved parties are having a good time. If one party doesn’t give their explicit consent, the odds go up rather dramatically that something might happen which prevents them from having a good time. On the flip side, the simple act of saying “yes” means that a person is much more likely to have a good time because it means they know what they’re getting into and are psychologically more prepared for it.
Makes sense? Good. Now some other points on consent:
Yes, you can ask for consent without breaking the mood! I’ve never understood why people think this is difficult. You just ask in your seductive voice (and if you don’t have one of those, work on it), or whisper your question in your partner’s ear.
No, pressuring someone into saying yes is not consent. If you have to apply any pressure beyond simply asking the other person to do a thing to get them to do that thing, it’s probably doesn’t count as consent (i.e., the other person doing a thing because they want to). Agreement following threats or intimidation is certainly not consent. Remember, the point of good sex is that everyone is having a good time, and the point of consent is to make sure that everyone knows what they’re getting into.
Likewise, if you have ever held the opinion that someone “owes” you sex, you need to DROP THAT SHIT RIGHT NOW.
Nobody owes you sex, because “owing” implies that (a) sex is a commodity, which isn’t how you treat good sex with your partner, and (b) that you are an aggrieved party, which shouldn’t be true. If you feel that strongly about it, it might be time to look for a different relationship rather than trying to pressure your current partner. Good sex is about (at least) two people, not just you, and good sex means everyone is having a good time, not just you.
No, consent is not implied. I should think this would be an obvious point, but people are not mind readers, and not all sex acts are equivalent. So just assuming that because someone is good with this thing, that means they will be good with that thing… well, that’s a really bad idea. Assuming that any person is ready for any kind of sex under any circumstances is also a very bad idea. Get explicit consent frequently, and especially for any new thing you want to add to the repertoire.
But yes, you can get consent in advance. Particularly if you have a partner who likes to be restrained or otherwise engage in riskier sexual activities, getting consent in advance and establishing a system for communicating when they want to stop is absolutely critical.
And finally, if someone says “no,” things stop. Because all the consent in the world doesn’t mean a thing if your partner can’t trust that you will stop when they tell you to.
2: Know and Honor Your Partner’s Limits
This is a closely related topic to consent — every person has limits to what they find enjoyable during sex. Not everyone has the same limits, and not everyone enjoys the same things. So make no assumptions going in, and pay attention to what your partner is telling you.
Now, that being said, you don’t know until you try. We’ll cover that in the next section. But once you do know what you like and don’t like, you need to communicate that information and you need to ask your partner to communicate their preferences to you.
And once you know your partner’s preferences, establish and honor those limits. If your partner doesn’t like being spanked, for example, guess what’s off the menu for you (until they indicate otherwise). If you don’t like being kissed on your ear, your partner should not be kissing your ear (until you indicate otherwise). Apply this logic as needed. Trust is critically important in both relationships and good sex, and people who honor the limits of their partner’s desires go a long way toward building that trust.
Also, be aware that not every time is a good time for sex. Either party can justifiably claim that they simply don’t feel like it, and it you want to have good sex you need to take that statement at face value.
Freedom without limits is just a word, and there is no good sex without limits. Keep that firmly in mind, and find a partner who does the same. Ideally, find a partner whose limits line up with your own. Believe me, it’s a big wide world out there, and someone shares your opinions on the subject.
3: Practice Being GGG — Good, Giving, and Game
Part of the key to good sex is to play with what you’re given. Practice makes perfect, and if you want to have good sex you’ll need to practice. You are not going to be a sex master on day one, and if you’ve been told you’re a sex master now, be aware that such a distinction probably only applies to your interactions with one specific partner. Different people like different things. Practice means learning your partner’s needs and wants as well as your own, communicating that information, and then working to get good at the things they like.
Now, there’s a problem with that, as a lot of America has pretty heavily bought into puritan interpretations of what sex is, and what sex can be. I’m here to tell you that those people are dumb, missing out on a huge portion of the pleasure in life, and are actively hurting everyone else’s ideas of sex, so fuck ’em (if you’ll pardon the pun). Your sex is your sex; other people’s sex isn’t your concern, and yours is none of theirs. Try not to let society’s labels distract you and your partner from enjoying yourselves, within obvious boundaries.²
Getting back on point, Dan Savage is widely credited for coining the concept of “good, giving, and game,” and this isn’t hard to understand — be as good at sex as you can be, give your partner time and pleasure at least equal to what they give you, and be up for new experiences within reason. That all basically boils down to the idea of making sure your partner is having at least as a good a time as you are.
Being good means doing what you can, when you can, to ensure your partner is having a good time. Being good also means that you are in the moment, paying attention to what is happening, and an active participant. If you don’t know what any of those words mean in this context, here’s a resource for that. Short version: don’t just lie there, guys and gals. Be engaged, active, and playful.
Being giving is also straightforward. It means that you don’t always do only what you want to do, and it means that you’re not the one having all the orgasms all the time (unless you and your partner are into that). It means that you are giving your partner attention and affection, indulging their fantasies at least as often as they indulge yours, and not expecting everything to be about you.
Now let’s talk about the last G — “game” — because that’s where a lot of people get hung up. To be “game” for something doesn’t mean that you consent to literally anything your partner asks of you. Know your limits. But if you haven’t explored an idea that they want to try, being “game” means that you at least consider it, and if it doesn’t seem dangerous or violate one of your known limits, you give it at least one serious try.
You never know what you like until you try, and many of the pleasures in life require a bit of a learning curve; no one likes whiskey on the first sip. This will mean coming out of your comfort zone from time to time and approaching things with an open mind, but that’s also an important part of sexual experimentation, and an important step in bonding with a partner and getting to good sex.
In the US, being “game” is also problematic because it means coming to grips with a huge set of cultural expectations regarding acts which are not looked upon favorably by the Christian establishment. Yes, I’m talking about butt stuff, but also all the flavors of BDSM, and in some cases things as simple as different positions. Religious folks love their weird rules. I’m here to gently remind everyone that there is no sexual act that makes Jesus blush; the sin is in causing harm to your partner, not in exploring the body the good Lord gave you. If He didn’t want something to cause pleasure, He shouldn’t have put sensitive nerve endings there. Let’s try to leave the cultural hangups behind, within reason.
And a final point — you can absolutely have good sex within very tight limits. I’m not trying to say that everyone has to buy a whip and go to an orgy. Good sex means that you and your partner are having a good time — that’s it and that’s all. So when it comes to what you consider fair “game” to have good sex, you just have to have a partner who is comfortable with your view of what’s in and what’s out, and vice versa.
4: Communicate What Feels Good, When it Feels Good
Communication is absolutely critical to good sex. You and your partner are (presumably) not mind readers. That means that you need to leave assumptions at the door. Your partner is never going to know precisely what feels good or bad to you unless you tell them. And let’s dispense with the fiction that telling them one time is going to be enough; sex is a hormone-fueled, mind-altered act, and people’s memories are not necessarily the best when in mid-romp.
So — if at all possible, try to work on talking to your partner during sex. A lot of guides recommend incorporating feedback into dirty talk, and that’s fine and dandy too, but honestly all you really need to say is “That feels great!” or “Ouch, stop that,” or words to that effect. Keep it simple, at least at the start, and work up to making communication sexy in itself. From my experience, though, there are few easier ways to keep your partner turned on than to tell them, repeatedly, that what they are doing feels good.
And on the flip side, if something feels bad, tell your partner immediately, because they need to stop. If you’re in pain and you don’t want to be, or they’re hitting a sensitive spot in a way that is uncomfortable, you’re not having a good time, and that means you’re not having good sex. Taking a moment to adjust is not a bad thing, and does not ruin the mood.
After a while this should all become reflexive. When that happens, when you and your partner enter into a state of constant communication, in whatever way you get there (look, moans are just as informative as sentences under the right circumstances), that’s a really good step towards having not just good sex but great sex.
5: Attend to the Ambiance
Most good sex happens in the mind. Let me explain what that means — good sex requires two people to be having a good time, and that means that they need to be comfortable, trusting, communicating, and aroused before anything else. This is all part of being “in the mood,” and it usually requires a little preparation, a little seduction, and some attention to detail. Let’s look at a few key points:
- Setting: Some people like to have sex in a perfectly clean bedroom with perfectly clean sheets and the lights down low. Some people want to see every detail of their partner in perfect lighting. Some people like to have sex outside, under the sun and the stars. Some people like candles, some people like music, some people like certain smells. And some people absolutely do not care where they have sex, but they are few and far between. Find out what you and your partner like, and try to achieve that setting.
- Hygiene: Folks, I’m not even going to try to sugar coat this — wash your butts. Fellas, wash your balls. Everyone, wash your pits and various crevices. And for the love of God, wash your hands. There are a few odors that burn their way into the mind as immediate turn-offs, and horrible body odor is right at the top of that list for the majority of people. At the same time, keeping clean is critical to avoiding urinary tract infections and other minor illnesses. So in most cases, and especially when you’re going in for the first time with a new partner, being clean is a fairly important part of good sex.³
- Music: Setting the right atmosphere can go a long way towards good sex, and music is right at the top of the list of things that most people can do to influence the atmosphere with nothing more than their phone or a radio. Find something you both like, that gives the right vibes, and play it.
- Food: Good sex requires that both parties are comfortable. That means not hungry, and not overstuffed. I’ve never had good sex after eating a huge meal; that’s a time for good naps, not good sex. Also, certain foods are often considered more sexy than others. A nice glass of wine, chocolate, sweet fruits, that kind of thing. Food is like a lot of other things in sex, if you experiment a little bit you’ll probably find something that compliments the situation.
- Protection: Most of us use one or another of the various forms of protection from accidental pregnancy (condoms, birth control, IUDs, etc). Whatever your chosen method, have things ready in advance if at all possible. Few things ruin the moment more than having to search the house for the Trojans.
- Seduction: Last but most critically, good sex usually requires some seduction and foreplay. Don’t just walk into a room and expect the other person to be ready to bang. Whispers in the ear, using your bedroom voice, kissing, nibbles on the neck, wearing lingerie, massage — look, I’m not going to list all the methods of seduction, go read any of the eight billion articles that come up in a Google search on that subject. But then be seductive when you want to get your partner in the mood.
6: Do Your Research
Hey, speaking of articles on sex, do you know what the internet is an excellent tool for? If you said sex research, you’re right! Just not porn. Let’s get that out of the way — porn is performance art, not sex, and should not be interpreted as a research tool for sex. The absolute worst thing that anyone can do is to assume that porn sex is the way to have real sex. But I digress.
Do your research. Remember the bit about GGG earlier on? This is a critical part of the first G — “good.” You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to being good at sex. There are literally millions of articles, books, videos, podcasts, blogs, and testimonials on the web that will walk you through absolutely anything you could ever want to know about any sex act you could possibly imagine. People have been doing this for thousands of years. There’s very little novelty left. Use that to your advantage.
And then practice. You’re not going to be good at something just by learning about it, and sometimes reality does not line up to the diagram at a 1:1 ratio. Some of the most fun sex I’ve ever experienced has been had while trying to figure out something new with my partner.
Also, and this is a critical component of being “good” and doing research — do not, ever, ridicule your partner for something they try during sex (and yes, there is a difference between playful teasing and ridicule). Just don’t do it. That’s called being an asshole, and the world doesn’t need any more of them.
7: Take Advantage of Help
Last but by no means least, remember that we live in a world where almost anything that you could imagine that might help you during sex has been invented or is on a drawing board somewhere. Use those things as and when you need to.
Lube is king. I’ll just put that as it’s own paragraph. Have lube and use it when you need it. Lube alone is responsible for significantly better sex almost across the board.
But I’m also including the whole universe of toys, videos, audio tracks, podcasts, medications, and therapy in this point. Do you want something tickled, rubbed, vibrated, or poked during sex? There’s almost certainly a toy for that. Do you and your partner need some additional inspiration? There’s almost certainly a media file for that. Is Mr. Willy not standing so tall anymore? There’s medication for that.⁴ Do you have hangups that you’d like to understand or leave behind? There’s a therapist, podcast, book, or support group somewhere for that.
My point is that the world is absolutely chock full of tools to help you have good sex. People have been working at this for the entire span of human history. It’s not a weakness or a surrender to use these tools. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s certainly not immoral. It’s just making good use of available resources to make your sex better sex.
Bringing it all Together
Good sex very rarely just happens. It’s almost always the result of a series of deliberate, planned actions by everyone involved. So let that be the takeaway. I think that the accomplishment of these seven points are what makes for good sex, most of the time, for most people. But you, personally, are going to have your own opinions on what is good sex for you and, within reason, your opinion is just as valuable and relevant as mine.⁵
Good sex simply means that everyone involved is having a good time. It’s not about penetration. It’s not about orgasms. It’s not about fetishes or the realization of deeply-held fantasies. Those things might all play into good sex, but at its core good sex is what happens when two people come together to give each other erotic pleasure, and succeed to their mutual satisfaction. Whatever that means for them — that’s good sex.
¹By the way, I’m going to be using an expansive definition for “sex” in this article that includes foreplay and non-penetrative acts. We’re not just talking about just p in v sex here. If it’s sexy, and it involves two or more people, these points should all apply.
²Pedophilia, necrophilia, and bestiality are not ok, will never be ok, and that’s simply that. Why? If for no other reason, because children are mentally incapable of making an informed choice, dead people can’t choose, and animals are both incapable of making an informed choice and incapable of adequately expressing themselves. Period full stop, these things are not ok.
³You may find later on that your partner actually likes the way you smell after a long jog or after your office commute, but that’s not the kind of thing to assume going in.
⁴I am well aware that there’s an ongoing debate about how much and when to use Viagra-type medications, and all I’ll say at this point is, that’s nice, but when you’d like to get an erection and you can’t, please use the freaking Viagra-type medications (with a doctor’s approval, of course). We can all come to some socially-conscious conclusion about whether erections are necessary for good sex later, but right now it’s a bit like money — money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure helps. And in any case, whatever the social warriors decide, it’s YOUR CHOICE because it’s YOUR PENIS.
⁵Not everything goes. If you’re causing harm, it’s not good sex, it’s probably not moral sex, and it’s as simple as that.