We love sex — thinking about it, reading about it and, of course, actually doing it. There's just one aspect of sex we don't universally embrace: Not all of us love talking about it.
That reticence may seem inevitable, given how intimate and awkward talking about sex can seem. But we have proof that it doesn't have to be: For so many gay partners, starting any sexual encounter with a conversation about preferences, kinks, boundaries, health statuses and fantasies is not only common, it is a guiding principle of same-sex sex.
And it can be summed up with one essential question:
"What are you into?"
In a 2013 video segment for the Dish, sex advice columnist Dan Savage argues that that one little question can open the door for men and women. "When that question is asked, you are empowered ... to rule anything in, rule anything out."
In fact, he says, "That's what straight people should take away from gay people: that conversation about sex."
Speaking up in bed: While we can't generalize that all gay couples use those four exact words, anecdotes and research prove open and unabashed pre-sex communication to be a common, positive practice. "Research shows that gay and lesbian couples talk about difficult subjects in a more healthy fashion," sex expert Pat Love said in a video for Your Tango.
That happens largely because, lacking a default sexual activity and "not having to conform to gender expectations," as Towleroad put it, gay partners have plenty of options that require discussing. Sex could involve anything from being a top or a bottom, a preference for oral sex or manual sex. "We are compelled to communicate with each other. Who's going to do what to whom cannot be assumed," Savage said.
That straightforward communication is also rooted, Savage argues, in the fact that gay people's sexuality is inherently called out by society, the act of coming out already an implicit conversation about sex. "Sex is often primary for gay men," gay-identifying writer Daniel Scheffler told Mic. "So it's easier to go there without it being awkward."
The experience of being a sexual minority may also bond some gay partners in a way that eases the conversation. "In a gay or a lesbian relationship, these two people have had to face some inherent hardships — the prejudice that they both face — and they face it together, so they've learned how to deal with hardships," said Love.
Straight couples, take note: The sad truth is communication isn't always the go-to for couples. For heterosexual couples, the default activity in any sexual interaction is vaginal intercourse, which arguably contributes to the so-called orgasm gap: For every three orgasms a man has in bed, a woman has only one. Additionally, researchers estimate that as few as 7% of women always orgasm from penetrative sex, seeing as clitoral stimulation is fundamental to female pleasure.
Not only do we not know what our partners like in bed, we often don't know what turns them off. A literature review conducted by E. Sandra Byers in 2011 found rates of sexual self-disclosure are incredibly low between couples. "The average adult knows only about a fourth of the things his or her partner finds sexually distasteful," Psychology Today reported of the research. Clearly, a talk is in order.
Why "What are you into?" matters: As Savage pointed out, many of the questions and frustrations between couples start with sexual dissatisfaction. In a 2012 study, sex researcher Elizabeth Babin discovered that couples who are comfortable communication about sex often talk about sex more during the act itself and experience a greater sexual satisfaction.
"The more we communicate, the more our partners learn about what we like — and dislike — during sex, and they can use that knowledge to cater to our needs," Babin told Self.
That ongoing communication is key because our preferences are mutable. "It's important to ask, 'What are you into? — and more than once! All too often, people think that they know what their partner likes and dislikes," Debby Herbenick, an associate professor at Indiana University and author of the new book The Coregasm Workout, told Mic. "Even in long-term relationships, that can change."
"Someone who shied away from oral sex while hooking up or early in a relationship may be curious about it later on. The same is true for sex toys, various positions, anal sex, role playing, spanking or what have you. Just keep the conversation going," Herbenick said.
So, start asking: Regardless of sexual orientation, each individual has different anatomy, preferences and style. There's no catch-all way to get someone off. The only way to truly get what we want is to speak up about it. Sometimes, all it takes is one small question to get the conversation we should already be having started.
Luckily, everyone has the best practices of same-sex partners to use as guidance.