Dirty talk—one of the most divisive bedroom activities. Opinions range from “can’t live without it” to “it’s cheesy” to a total question mark. And a lot of this confusion stems from years of Cosmo covers presenting dirty talk as a “fun trick” to “spice up your sex life,” when in reality, dirty talk is so much more than a tool to change up your routine. Rather, it can help maintain connection during sex and foster an environment of natural, comfortable active consent.

What is active consent?

Our understanding of consent has evolved a lot over the last decade. In 2010, my college’s “safer sex” orientation defined consent as obtaining an “enthusastic yes” at the start of “hooking up,” which we now understand to be only part of a bigger picture. Now that society has (finally) caught up to the idea that consent can be revoked at any time during sex, it’s important then to monitor its heartbeat throughout all sexual activity, whether it’s penetrative sex with a casual hookup or just kissing with your spouse of fifteen years. This is called “active consent,” and refers to a state of emotional connection and ongoing communication that persists from before sex begins until it ends, however it ends.

How can you use dirty talk to "hack" it?

All of us, but particularly women, have been socialized to be polite. At all costs. And that drive is extremely hard to turn off in any circumstance, but especially difficult when you’re concerned about bruising your partner’s ego in a sexual setting. Because of this, women may find it even harder to speak up and assert their needs during sex, and instead they accept whatever happens.

The key to unlocking more pleasurable and satisying experiences is communication. Sometimes simply reminding someone that you can stop at any time and asking them if they’re enjoying the experience as it’s happening, is enough to create a safe consensual space. But if you’re looking for a sexy way to hack ongoing consent and provide both partners a sense of purpose, dirty talk is the way to go!

One of the best places to start with dirty talk is with questions, because questions solicit feedback from your partner. It sounds simple enough, but by using questions in your dirty talk, you’re actually maintaining a connection with how your partner is feeling throughout sex. Maybe they need a pause, or maybe they’re good to go, but actually helping them use their words by opening up space during sex for communication is the only way you’ll find out.

Dirty talk: getting started

You can either just start talking in bed one day, or you can discuss it with your partner in advance. Here are some questions that might help you have that conversation:

“What are your feelings about dirty talk?”

“Is there anything you like hearing in bed?”

“Is there anything you don’t want to hear in bed?”

“Is it okay if I try this out tonight?”

Okay, but what do I say?

Ah yes—actually talking. The scariest part. It can definitely be intimidating to make yourself vulnerable and make choices in your dirty talk. But any time you start to get nervous, think of this simple guide.

There are really only three options when it comes to talking dirty. You can ask questions, give feedback, or narrate what’s happening:

Asking Questions

When you ask questions in bed, you’re soliciting feedback from your partner. You’re opening a conversation, and showing vulnerability, both of which are practices of good and trustworthy partners.

Here are some sample questions:

Ask how it is. “Do you like it when I [verb]?”

Ask for what you want. “Can you [verb] my [body part]?”

Ask for what you want to hear. “Please call me a [adjective][noun].”

Giving feedback

Feedback can be given in response to a question, or spontaneously. When you give feedback, you’re making the experience the best it can be for you, which in turn makes it better for your partner.

Here’s some classic feedback:

Compliment their body. “I love your [adjective][body part].”

Compliment what they’re doing. “It feels so [adjective] when you [verb].”

Tell them how you like it. “Don’t stop.” “Faster.” ”Slower.”

Narrate what's happening

Another way of hacking consent, is to simply state what you’re doing, or what you’re about to do, which eliminates the element of surprise and allows your partner to be grounded in the moment.

Examples of narration:

“I’m going to move you here now.”

“First, I’m going to kiss my way down your neck. Then I'm going to...”

“I want to [verb] your [noun].”

"I've been waiting all day to..."

How to say "no"

One of the main goals of creating a more communicative environment around sex is to make it easier to say and to hear the word “no.” The best active consent provides a space where “no,” is welcome, and both partners know what to do when it comes. If your preference is to simply say “no,” in response to your partner’s solicitation of feedback, go ahead and let that no fly! Consent is yours to revoke at any time. But I would suggest to ease the burden on both you and your partner should a “no” arise, is to discuss it before it ever comes up.

Before sex begins with a casual parter, or as a policy with a ongoing one, discuss what you might like to have happen if consent is revoked. What do you need if you say no, and need everything to stop? A cuddle? A snack? Some quiet time? Watch a funny video? Listen to music? By discussing a hypothetical game plan, you and your partner can establish that a “no” is not a moment of conflict, but instead an opportunity for the two of you to creatively find a solution, always staying on the same team.

Alternatively, if you find that the word “no” is too nebulous to hypothetically account for, safewords can be an excellent way of structuring this kind of contingency plan. Though we think of safewords as being used predominantly in BDSM, they have their place in all kinds of sexual play, because they provide an opportunity to say “no” or “stop” without the potential feelings of fear or conflict those words can cause in either partner.

In the films and on TV, safewords are often portrayed to be very silly words that break the mood and would never come up during sex naturally, like “octopus” or “jelly donut.” But if making a joke out of a moment of vulnerability isn’t your speed, the BDSM community provides two great options: “yellow” and “red,” otherwise known as the traffic light system. “Yellow,” means “let’s slow down, do something different, or check-in,” and “red,” means “stop everything completely.”

When establishing safe words, tell your partner what you might like to have happen when “red” is called. Traditionally, it’s a time to transition into a calm, soothing moment of connection between both partners that is entirely non-sexual, but it’s your safeword, so you get to define what it means.

How to receive a "no"

If consent is revoked during sex, take a deep breath and go into slow motion. Hearing a “no” can be very shame-inducing, as can giving one. Clemetine Morrigan, a trauma-informed polyamory educator, explains in this post how challenging it can be to become “emotionally flooded” in response to a partner’s assertion of a boundary. It’s scary, and feels like a rejection, which can be difficult to process, especially when you’ve worked hard to accept your sexual expression in the first place.

But don’t panic! Allow the person who called the “no” to call the shots. Ask what you can do for them, if non-sexual touch might be ok, or if they simply want a glass of water and some space. Wait until they come out of whatever space they were when they called the “no” in the first place before seeking feedback. Now is all about making them feel safe and supported.

Every “no” is different, but what is key is maintaining composure, not escalating emotionally, and not making the moment about you. Ask what you can do for your partner, and allow them to lead the way on what happens next.

Because porn often paints an unrealistic expectation of what sex can and should look like, there is a cultural misunderstanding that any sex that ends in anything other than mutual screaming orgasms is a failure. But in reality, sex is just another way of expressing intimacy and practicing communication. So, if it ends in a “no” or a safe word that is handled well, that’s an opportunity for both partners to individually learn how to navigate this moment of care without experiencing it as a rejection or making it about their own egos. Not to mention the deepened trust that comes from seeing your boundaries honored. And what’s hotter than being respected?

To try all this out yourself, have a conversation with your partner (serious or casual) about words before jumping into bed. Ask what they’d like to hear, and more importantly, what you both will do if a “no” or a safe word is called. Then you’ll be on the road to the most freaky, delightful, mind-blowing sex there is—the kind that is founded in mutual respect, honored boundaries, and hot, hot consent.

Ready to take your dirty talk to the next level? Check out Dirty Talk: Basics, Dirty Talk: Outloud, and Dirty Talk: Taboos featuring sex educator, Tina Horn.

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Lina Dune is a 24/7 collared submissive, passionate writer, kinky memestress, and, most importantly, a fairy submother to all who seek her advice. Her name is derived from two Anais Nin stories, “Lina” and “Woman On The Dunes.” She is based in Los Angeles and lives on Instagram.