A sex therapist friend of mine recently asked for suggestions on talking dirty in a relationship. I’m a writer and teacher, where my job is often to help my students find things to say and ways to say them so after taking a year off from writing, I figured I’d share a few thoughts. As a writing instructor, I’ve had several students over the last six years ask if they could write mature content as part of a creative project and maybe this is why “talking dirty” does not come naturally to me in my personal life, because “dirty talk” often means raunch or cliched phrases from movies and websites that would sound laughable if they were not being spoken by Ryan Gosling.
Dirty talk is something that we have to work out and develop, like anything else. We’re going to get it wrong and sound awkward for a few attempts before we start warming up and turning ourselves on and turning our partner’s head around.
Starting Out: Overcoming Our Reluctance
I suspect a great deal of our reluctance in saying something sexual to a partner is because we have been trained – by society, by religious structures, by our families – to refrain from naming our desires. It is shameful to name our desires, sexual or otherwise. It is shameful to celebrate who we are, what we like, and especially what we want. A great deal of this is a result of shame as a means to control others. If we can keep someone “humble,” they are easier to control and manipulate. They are so focused on obedience, or the penalties and punishments if they are not obedient, that they do not enter into higher forms of thinking about the systems that restrain, limit, and, at times, oppress. Against conventional wisdom, when I worked with churches, I would encourage congregants to name what they wanted. To have a goal, a vision, and to name it. In my life now as an educator, I continue to deal with these same issues. Students will come to my office in tears, pulled between loyalty to their family and continuing with their studies. They are ashamed that they feel tension and resistance. They want to better their lives, but if they keep bettering themselves, what will become of their family? Their friends? Their romantic relationships? Again, because they are focused on the punishment and penalty, on the problem at hand, they never explore what it is they actually want and where this tension originates.
If we are ever going to get better at dirty talk, we have to first name some of our own desires. Within our own thoughts and feelings, we can safely explore who we are and who we are becoming. Whether we are asking about our sexuality or our sexual interests, we have to ask ourselves what we like and what interests us, what arouses us, what excites us and makes us curious because exploring these areas help us name what we like. We don’t even need an answer! Exploring takes time. What we think interests us as we explore our fantasy life may not necessarily be something we want to act on. In other words, the first person to talk dirty to is yourself. Say filthy, unconscionable, wicked things to yourself if that’s what it takes, but explore your sexuality by becoming comfortable saying it and hearing yourself say it – yes, out loud! It’s okay. Seriously. Talk to yourself and see what kinds of things come up, where it leads you, what interests you and excites you.
Here are a few starters:
- I am not ashamed of my body.
- I like my body.
- I like to touch myself.
- I am a good boy/girl.
- I am a bad boy/girl.
- My body makes me feel good.
- I feel sexy right now.
- I want to be be fucked.
- I would fuck me.
- My (part of body) turns me on.
Try different variations of this, but work through this list and challenge yourself to keep going, to say more things to turn yourself on. It will feel uncomfortable, but that’s okay because you’re the only one who is hearing how silly (and sexy!) you sound right now.
Say things out loud about your partner’s body too. Yes, say them out loud. Again, it might sound a little shocking when you hear yourself say these things out loud but that is okay. You’re the only one who can hear yourself right now, so say whatever silly or sexy thing comes to mind.
Here are a few starters:
- I like my partner’s body.
- I like their freckles. Those freckles are one of the sexiest things about them.
- My partner’s smile brings me joy.
- I like pleasing my partner.
- When they moan or call my name, I get turned on.
- I love having sex with them.
- I love making them orgasm.
Keep going and, as you did with the other examples, keep going and listen to the new and unique things you hear yourself saying. It’s okay if it feels uncomfortable. Like any exercise, it will feel a little awkward and silly at first, but you keep going. Related, recognize (and keep reminding yourself of this in the coming weeks) that nothing sounds sexual at first. Often, we’re not in the mood. When we’re entirely unaroused, “I want to suck your cock” sounds perverse and, well, the opposite of arousing. Offputting. But as we become aroused, naming those desires sounds interesting, arousing, even perhaps tame when we think about all the other things we want to do.
We also can become comfortable with objectifying our partner in the bedroom. For many of us, we’re not okay with the objectification of our bodies because we are well aware of the ways that objectification leads to commodification and sense of worth. This is not unique to the female body. Speaking as a hetero(ish) cisgender male, I have an eating disorder and have relapsed several times over the last two decades. In ways I am still working through, I am sensitive about my body and how this contributes to my worth, depression, and identity. But I also recognize areas of growth where my partner has objectified my body and – to my surprise – I have been okay with this. Even last night on a Target run with my partner, she admitted that she talked about my body with two of her friends and where this may have sent me into a spiral previously, I found her objectification somehow comforting because what is a “fault” for me is something she is comfortable discussing and delighting in with friends.
I don’t often sit and think about (literally) kissing my partner’s ass, for example. I don’t walk around saying that to her casually – “Hey, I want to get on my knees and kiss your ass right here in the hallway.” When I’m playful, absolutely. When I’m aroused? Well, kissing her ass isn’t all I’d like to do. When I’m aroused, I would kiss her ass, lick her ass, happily worship her to her delight. When I’m aroused, I would – and I mean this quite seriously – do anything she asks, no matter what it is. So focused on her enjoyment and pleasure, and so beyond myself with arousal, if she wanted me to bark like a dog? Call me Fido.
But again, it takes time to get to that point. Talking dirty does not come naturally to many of us and, when we are reading an article like this, when we are sitting at our desk (or toilet?) or waiting in line for a soup and sandwich, we might think to ourselves “I would never say those things!” and you’re entirely correct. You wouldn’t in those settings, when you re unaroused and just trying to make it through the tedium of your day. In an unaroused state, you would not say those things. “I would feel so uncomfortable saying anything like that!” Of course. Most of us would be uncomfortable saying sexual things outside of the proper context and environment. But you would agree, I trust, that you become a different person when you’re aroused, a little more inclined to saying and doing inappropriate things.
Let’s make this more practical. Would you wear lingerie to work? Depending on the kind of work you do, probably not. The context isn’t right for that. What about with your best friend? Would you wear lingerie in front of them? Well, you might show them the piece, sure. You might wear it for them to get their opinion. But that’s not the same as wearing it for a lover or wearing it during sexual activities. We have a lot of thoughts about and experiences of what we are wearing that are different when we wear it for a lover. The same is true of the “costume” we wear and create and speak and share when we are playing with a partner. We want to be viewed by them as sexy, as sexual, as an object of beauty. We also want them to appreciate the lingerie, certainly, and see our body and the piece itself as “sexy.” Intuitively, we know that the piece on the hanger or in the box is just a thing, but it takes on significance and meaning when we wear it. It takes on a different king of significance when we wear it for a lover. The same is true when we say sexual things. We’re “trying on” a new outfit. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t but we certainly wouldn’t wear this (or say that) to grab a cup of coffee.
A Researcher’s Approach
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute of Indiana University notes that the absence of research into dirty talk is strange. There is a great deal of research on sexual communication and consent, on the ways that we solicit sexual activity and the language around sex, but not a lot on the communication of partners in an aroused state. As he was writing Tell Me What You Want (2018), he surveyed 4,175 Americans and one of the (many!) things he studied was dirty talk. Here are some of the things he found.
- 91% of participants said this was something they had fantasized about, and 49% said they fantasize about it often.
Dirty talk fantasies were common across gender, but women were actually the most likely to fantasize about it and fantasize about it often:
- 93% of self-identified women had fantasized about dirty talk, and 56% said they fantasize about it often.
- 90% of self-identified men had fantasized about dirty talk, and 43% said they fantasize about it often.
- 86% of non-binary participants had fantasized about dirty talk, and 42% said they fantasize about it often.
So what do people find so appealing about dirty talk? And why do women tend to fantasize about it the most? Here are some insights based on his survey:
- Dirty talk fantasies were associated with having more fantasies about a partner who moans or screams loudly. So part of the appeal likely has to do with the fact that some people just inherently find sounds to be erotically appealing. However, whereas women fantasized about dirty talk more than men, men fantasized about moaning and screaming more than women (48% of men said they fantasize about this often, compared to 38% of women). So it seems that many men and women are really into sounds during sex, but the most appealing sounds actually differ for men and women.
- Dirty talk fantasies were associated with more BDSM fantasies of every type—bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism. Dirty talk often plays a role in BDSM scenarios (e.g., to create a dominant-submissive dynamic, as a form of sexual humiliation), and women reported more BDSM fantasies in general than did men, so perhaps this at least partly explains why women had the most frequent dirty talk fantasies.
- As further support for this idea, he also asked people how often they fantasized about a specific form of dirty talk—being called a “slut,” “bitch,” “whore,” or other derogatory term during sex. The gender difference was substantially larger in this case: a slight majority of women (52%) said they’d fantasized about this before, and 22% fantasized about it often. By contrast, 35% of men had fantasized about this before, and 10% fantasized about it often.
Dirty talk fantasies were associated with several sex-seeking personality traits: erotophilia, sociosexuality, and sexual sensation seeking. Put another way, those who had more positive attitudes toward sex, saw sex and emotion as separable, and enjoyed more thrilling and adventuresome sexual encounters in general reported more interest in dirty talk. So, in some ways, the appeal of dirty talk also says something about how we feel about and think about sex in general.
People who were more extraverted had more fantasies about dirty talk—and more fantasies about a partner moaning and screaming. In other words, those who are more sociable and outgoing seem to find sounds during sex to be more erotically appealing, whereas introverts seem to find quiet sex more arousing.
In general, dirty talk fantasies were unrelated to self-esteem and neuroticism; however, fantasies about being called derogatory names specifically were related to these factors.
- Those who fantasized about being called a “bitch,” “slut,” etc. tended to report lower self-esteem and higher levels of neuroticism (i.e., emotional instability).
- They also reported more attachment anxiety (i.e., fear of abandonment).
To be clear, these associations were small, which means that fantasies about being called derogatory names are not inherent indicators of how we feel about ourselves or about our relationships. But the fact that an association exists at all tells us something. Maybe for some, this is a way of eroticizing personal insecurities. Or maybe for others, it’s an act of masochism in which pain is used to escape self-awareness or to intensify sexual sensations.
As a researcher myself, I feel it important to also point out that Lehmiller’s study found that people high in the trait of openness to experience and those who reported having active imaginations reported more dirty talk fantasies. So interest in dirty talk might also stem from simply being someone who fantasizes a lot and/or is open to trying new things in general.
As you can see, dirty talk fantasies are quite common—and there is a rich psychology behind them. It is also very likely that different people are drawn to dirty talk for very different reasons.
A Philosopher’s Approach
The philosopher de Saussure names this experience in philosophy by focusing their attention on the two main planes of a sign (or an object – basically anything or anyone that is observable in the known world). In philosophy, Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the two founders of semiotics (or language studies), introduced the terms “signified and signifier” to our understanding of objects or signs. Pardon me as I work through this, because some of it may seem obvious to you.
The concept of signs has been around for a long time, having been studied by many classic philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, William of Ockham, and Francis Bacon, among others. The term semiotics derives from the Greek root seme, as in semeiotikos (an ‘interpreter of signs’), so the discussion of an object and its meaning, or words and their meanings, have been debated for centuries. It was not until the early part of the 20th century, however, that Saussure and American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce brought the term into more common use. While both Saussure and Peirce contributed greatly to the concept of signs, it is important to note that each differed in their approach to the study. It was Saussure who created the terms signifier and signified in order to break down what a sign was. He diverged from the previous studies on language as he focused on the present in relation the act of communication, rather than the history and development of words and language over time.
For a moment, let me say this and allow it to sit for a second: signified pertains to the “plane of content,” while signifier is the “plane of expression.”
Saussure, in his book, Course in General Linguistics (1916), divides the sign into two distinct components: the signifier (‘sound-image’) and the signified (‘concept’). For Saussure, the signified and signifier are purely psychological: they are form rather than substance. In other words, saying “orange” doesn’t make something orange. Later philosophers like Louis Hjelmslev, would expand on this idea and suggest that the signifier is interpreted as the material form, i.e. something which can be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted; and the signified as the mental concept. In other words, contemporary commentators tend to describe the signifier as the form that the sign takes (who says it and how it is said) and the signified (the word itself) as the concept to which it refers. But, for most of us, we would say that the relationship between the signifier and signified is an arbitrary one. There is no logical connection between them. The association we make between a word (“orange”) and a color as it exists in our head is different for each of us. There are nuances to orange and there are also preferences. For a long time, I did not like orange as a color because I associated the color with a late-Seventies color palette. This weekend, I bought a new coffee container that is a tangerine orange which I quite enjoy. Again, you see the arbitrariness of this.
For the purposes of our current topic, let’s use a personal example: My partner sometimes calls me her bitch. Under any circumstance except our personal time, I would not only object to being called this, but I would object to the word itself since it is socially understood as a depersonalizing insult. However, “bitch” has a social meaning (the negative use of the word, which we are all aware of) and then it takes on a different, even unique meaning between my partner and I. In that context, I am not only okay with being called her bitch, but I delight in it. Because she is the one saying it, (the signifier, my partner and how she says it with a smirk) it takes on a different meaning (the signified – or what she means when she says it). Most philosophers would point out that a sign can only be understood when the relationship between the two components that make up the sign are agreed upon. Saussure argued that the meaning of a sign “depends on its relation to other words within the system;” or the context. If, for example, my partner called me a bitch when I was being indecisive at Costco, I would not be aroused in that instance but insulted because, in that context, even though she is right, she does not have to say that in that way
While words are the most familiar form signs take, they stand for many things within life, such as advertisement, objects, body language, music, and so on. Therefore, the use of signs, and the two components that make up a sign, can be and are—whether consciously or not—applied to everyday life. As should be obvious, because the meaning of words change, our objective should not becoming more comfortable with saying the works “cunt.” Rather, we should be checking in to see how the word (or words) affect us at different times, in different contexts.
Developing A Sexual Vocabulary
If you went to the gym, you would quickly discover which machines are intimidating and which ones are more your speed. Your objective here is very similar – to find out what works, what feels right, and what you’re afraid of even thinking about. I like cycling, rowing machines, and weights. The elliptical? Ugh! I’ve tried that thing countless times and you know what? I see people on them all the time and – god bless them! – I’m glad they’re having fun, but it’s just not for me. I keep trying, thinking maybe this time it’ll be different. I’m not afraid of them. But after trying things out a few times, I’m pretty confident about what I feel comfortable doing.
When it comes to talking dirty, I don’t think I’m especially “dirty.” I say some shocking things, of course. I’m blunt. Direct. Charged. But just as often, my sex talk takes the form of innuendo and double entendres. I really enjoy a private joke with my partner where she is the only one who gets my meaning. We often forget that the brain is a sexual organ and foreplay (or those sexual double entendres) starts long before my partner and I are in the bedroom. There are times when my partner says things that turn my head and make me blush, and I’m sure I do the same to her, but we’re not ready to act on our words just yet. That’s okay! Talking dirty doesn’t mean you’re five minutes away from rocket launch. Talking dirty can be a tame as you want, as silly or serious or sexy, as you want, and it can take as long as you want.
Still, when the mood strikes me and I’m feeling aroused, I tend to be more direct. My partner will ask how I’m feeling, and I’ll outright say, “I feel like going down on you” or “Today was a tough one, but looking at your ass makes me feel better.”
Just as often, she’ll initiate. “Want to have playtime?” In the moment, we both do a great job of saying what we find exciting and arousing about one another. We complement one another’s bodies (which, yes, we’re both sensitive and shy about) and say what we enjoy. We ask how something feels. We check in on another.
I think that’s really the secret to talking dirty with your partner, not tossing out lines or repeating what you heard somewhere (“C’mon big stud!”) but getting into synch with one another, knowing when to say what you’re feeling directly (“I want you inside me”) and when to soften it a little. As mentioned previously, sexual interest changes throughout the day (and especially over the month as hormones and activity fluctuate), so being able to gauge your partner and their level of interest is important.
Just as important (and maybe you noticed this already) is developing a sexual vocabulary, a way to talk about sex with your partner(s). Is a clinical penis always a clinical penis, or do you feel more comfortable with dick, dong, wang, pee-pee, johnson, tallywhacker, or meat missle? Do you prefer to ignore the testicles entirely since they are wrinkly and hairy? Or are the balls essential to the package, the ol’ bait and tackle part of a two-for-one combo?
These are fun and perhaps shocking ways to refer to the anatomy, and I think they are all great, fun ways to talk about parts of the anatomy, but none of them are important or have more significance, more meaning, than what we allow. The words mean nothing without the context of who they are attached to.
Which is why, I suspect, we often find ourselves unable to say certain words in the bedroom or ask for something different. We were taught that certain words are taboo, dirty, forbidden, “un-ladylike”, un-Christian, or something else. We ere taught to avoid words like these, the images they convey or bring up, as part of a lifelong effort to restrict or control our behavior. A “good” person doesn’t talk like that. A “healthy” couple doesn’t need to communicate about sex. “If it’s meant to be, the key will fit into the lock without a problem,” right?
No other area of life works like that. None. Not one. Waiters don’t read your mind, not even at your favorite restaurant. Friends might have a good intuition about you, but they don’t know everything about you. Even when we program our technology, we still have to go in and reset it occasionally and the only way we are able to do this, to grow and mature in this, to course-correct and discover new things is to keep the doors of communication open.
With sex, we are navigating a constant journey of self-exploration, exploration of and with our partner(s), and an exploration for our partnership. This seems rather obvious, written out, yet we continue to find areas of concern and breakdowns in communication. We say the wrong thing. Worse, we might say the right thing at the wrong time and be left confused as to why our partner is so upset with us. We continue to have desires left unfulfilled. Things are left unsaid, tucked away safely (we think) in the closets of our minds. We settle. We fall into routines. And we have no way out, we feel, because after all it’s been unsaid so long now that it almost feels like a betrayal of trust to “come out with it” and show who we are and what we want. Yet this is the challenge of growing into a new experience with another person. We get it right, we get it wrong, and we build new roads of understanding between us.
Okay, Enough Preaching… How Do I Get Started?
Here’s a rule of thumb:
- Before sex, say what you want.
- During sex, say what you like.
- After sex, say what you enjoyed.
I really like the recommendations of Alex Shea, a sex and relationships writer in Texas. Here’s some of her suggestions.
To build anticipation
- I’m so wet/hard right now.
- I don’t have any panties on.
- I’m dripping.
- I’m tingling.
- I need to feel you against me.
- I need your lips against my skin.
- Just wait until we get home.
- I want your mouth on me.
- I want you to fuck me from behind.
- I want you inside of me.
- I want to see you play with yourself.
- I want you to undress me.
- I want you between my thighs.
- I want to taste you.
- I want your cock in my mouth.
In the moment
- Hold me.
- Caress me all over.
- Come for me.
- Kiss my nipples.
- Choke me.
- Grab my ass.
- Just like that.
- Right there.
- Pull my hair.
- Bite me.
- Look at me.
- Talk to me.
- Say my name.
- Whisper in my ear.
- Don’t stop.
- Moan for me.
- Stroke my cock.
- Play with my clit.
- Get over here.
- You like that?
- You feel so good inside me.
- You do that so well.
- Your cock/pussy feels amazing.
- I love your body.
- I love it when you grit your teeth.
- I love it when you whisper in my ear.
- I love it when you touch me there.
- I love the way you moan.
- I love the way you taste.
- I love how hard you can make me come.
- Your tongue is magical.
- That was incredible.
One Last Thought
Dirty talk isn’t only for the bedroom. Here’s some inspiration for dirty things to say to your partner to keep sexual energy flowing in your relationship.
- I keep thinking about your body against mine.
- I can’t get you out of my mind.
- Remember last night when we [insert sexual activity]? Wow.
- What sex position was your favorite?
- My body misses your [insert body part].
- Thinking about you makes me want to touch myself.
- When you get here, I’m going to [insert sexual activity].
- I really liked it when we [insert sexual activity]. Let’s try that again.
- I can’t wait to fuck you tonight.
- I’ve been thinking about [fill in the blank] all day long, and I can’t wait until we can [fill in the blank].
- What do you think about doing [insert sexual activity] the next time we’re in bed?
- I’ve been looking forward to sitting on your face all day long.
- I know it’s been a long day. That’s why I’m going to [insert sexual activity] when you get home.
- That thing you do with your [insert body part] really makes me hot.
- It makes me horny when you [fill in the blank].
- You’re always on my mind.
- I want you so bad.
- You look good enough to put in my mouth today.
- You make me so wet/hard when you moan.
Update for Social Distancing and Long-Distance Relationships
Here are some dirty things to say when you’re virtually connecting with someone. Personalize these phrases to fit your relationship, and match the language you and your partner already use. Remember, one couple’s vanilla is another couple’s kink.
- I wish I was there.
- I wish I could hold you right now.
- I miss the way you feel inside of me.
- I miss the way you taste.
- I miss the way your [insert body part] feels [insert verb] against my [insert body part].
- When I get back, I’m going to [insert sexual activity].
- I can’t wait until I can go down on you again.
- I’m going to fuck you so hard when I see you.
- I’ll rip your clothes off the moment I see you.
In the mood
- Thinking about you is making me so wet/hard right now.
- I want to see you naked…right now.
- Just hearing your voice makes me want to touch myself.
- I love it when you talk like that.
- Tell me what you want to do to me.
- I want to feel how wet/hard you are.
- Play with yourself for me.
- Whisper dirty things to me.
- Tell me what you want from me.
Questions for playtime
- What are you wearing right now?
- Are you touching yourself?
- Do you want to have FaceTime sex?
- Are you alone?
- Do you miss my body?
- What else do you like when I do it to you?
- Do you want to listen to me come?
- The way you’re sexting me is hot; want to show me what you’re talking about?
- I’m touching myself. Do you want to taste?