Ever get the feeling there's a whole world of sex you know nothing about? A fantasy world where your lover worships your body, and you, full of confidence, know you deserve it? For most women, sex isn't like that. You may act as if you're having fun, but every new position triggers an anxiety attack. "My problem is I want my man to think I'm good in bed but not to wonder how I got all this experience," my friend Yolanda complains. "I think he'll judge me, so I hold back." Most of us have been raised with such mixed messages--our parents urge us to be chaste, and everyone else tells us to shake that thang like a strip-club pro. It's no surprise we have bedroom anxiety. But there are women who enjoy love lives some of us only dream of, real women with everyday bodies who are having the kind of knee-shaking sex that leaves you breathless and giggling, not running for the covers. We asked some of these lucky ladies to share their secrets.
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1. Lose control.
"I'm the kind of woman who doesn't go out if her hair's messy," says Tammy, 32, a marketing exec. "But I've learned that in bed I just have to let go." How did she come to this delicious knowledge? "One time my boyfriend started sucking my toes. I wasn't really into it at first, but he kept going." Then her boyfriend told her to touch herself. "Again, not something I would normally have done, but by then the toe thing had me feeling so good, I just gave in. I ended up having the most amazing orgasm of my life." Sometimes it's worth it to just let your body respond.
2. Tighten up.
My friend Kim 33, had heard about Kegel exercises (in which you contract your pelvic-floor muscles as if you were stopping and starting the flow of urine) before she had her two children: "My midwife told me they would help get my vaginal muscles back after delivery." But Kim took it one step further. "My friend introduced me to Jade Eggs. You insert one and use your muscles to keep it from sliding out. They come in different sizes, and holding the smallest one is almost impossible." Kim says the workout, which "looks as if you're just standing there doing nothing," is so strenuous that she actually breaks a sweat. "But it's worth it," she says. "When those muscles are strong, you can control your orgasm and give your partner greater pleasure. It's especially good to relax your muscles when your partner goes in and clench them when he pulls out, so it's like a sucking feeling. My husband loves it." (Jade Eggs are available at jadeeggs.com.)
3. Decide on the rules.
"I never sleep with anyone who won't use a condom," says Janet, 28, a caterer. "Obviously there's the safe-sex issue, but it's deeper than that." She says she once fell for a guy who showered her with attention but refused to use a condom. "I found out later he had three kids he could hardly support. No matter how wonderful a man may seem, if he doesn't wear a condom when I ask him to, it shows stupidity and selfishness--qualities that will eventually seep into our relationship. I don't need a man like that in my life." For her part, Simone, 31, a social worker, no longer has sex with men who belittle her. "I remember dating this guy who joked about my being stupid," she says. "One day he flipped. He pinned me down and had his way with me, though I kept telling him to stop. Men who are jerks outside the bedroom can't be trusted."Subjects' names and identities have been changed.
4. Take time to connect.
"My boyfriend and I are both in law school," says Jennifer, 28. "We used to get in bed and start talking about how much schoolwork we had or how much money we didn't have, because it was the only time we'd have a minute to talk." But these talks were disastrous for their sex life. "We finally decided, 'No more business talks in the bedroom.'" Jennifer says their rule was inspired by Tantric (a Sanskrit word meaning "woven together") teachings and a desire for more meaningful sex. "Now we do a Tantric exercise in which we sit intertwined, facing each other, and breathe deeply," she says. "As he breathes in, I breathe out. It helps get us connected. The point is to come together in bed, to focus only on each other, and that makes the sex so much better."
5. Dare to explore.
"I think many women are kind of afraid of really touching a man's penis," says Joan, 35, an actress who's not shy about her rich sexual past. "You have to think of his penis as a giant ice-cream cone, something you really want to wrap your hands around." Joan says once you've made peace with his piece, you have to explore: "That place underneath his penis, behind his testicles, is really ignored by many women. The underside of the ridge where the head meets the shaft is also really sensitive." Think of your lover's body as an adventure. Find areas of pleasure he didn't know he had. The big payoff is, after you're done, he owes you, big-time.
6. Appreciate a good lover.
Having really good sex not only is fulfilling, but it also can leave you feeling empowered. "For the past few years I've had this great relationship with a beautiful aspiring rapper," says Marie, 34, a sales manager. "We have nothing in common but this crazy attraction. It started as innocent flirting, then one day I asked him to help me install my air conditioner. When he was finished, he gave me the most fabulous back rub. It progressed from there." Marie now invites Anthony over from time to time to make love. "He is so good, and part of that is his telling me I'm so good. I feel totally confident and full of feminine power. There have been times when I've invited him over the night before a presentation at work, because I know I'll be standing taller the next day."
7. Have sex on the phone.
Karen, 29, brags that she gives "good phone." In fact, she says she has had phone sex with almost every man she has dated. "If not full-blown phone sex, then at least a frank discussion about what they like and what I like," says Karen, whose college boyfriend introduced her to the art. "For one thing, men love hearing a woman talk about sex. And it allows me to tell him what I find pleasurable without sounding as if I'm giving instructions." Phone sex also gives Karen time to evaluate the relationship: "Sometimes on a date we'll kiss and I'll get really turned on. Instead of making love with someone I barely know, I go home, call him, and have a sexual encounter without putting myself out there." Sometimes Karen masturbates along with her partner. "But sometimes I just take him through it, which makes me feel really sexy. And I never have to worry about catching an STD." To initiate phone sex, tell him in your most breathy voice just what you'd do to him if he were there. Start with a kiss and work your way down.
8. Talk to your girls.
"The way I was brought up, you just didn' talk about sex," says Sandra, 26, who was raised by her grandmother. "But the isolation was horrible. I didn't know what was normal. I thought wanting to perform or receive oral sex was really wrong. I was totally repressed." When Sandra went to college, she was suddenly surrounded by women who seemed to do nothing but talk about sex. "The girls in my dorm would talk openly about everything from oral to anal," remembers Sandra. "It made me realize that there's nothing I like that someone I know hasn't done. I became much more comfortable with my desires. And I learned from other women how to talk to my partner in bed. In a way, my girlfriends have done more for my sex life than any man ever has."
Carey, 39, who has been married for ten years, still benefits from talking sex with her friends. "Next week a bunch of us are getting together for a 'blow job party' to discuss oral-sex technique," she says with a laugh. "We're gonna watch some porn the way men study an NFL game---with slow motion and analysis of the best angles. I'm really looking forward to it."
9. Let your fingers do the talking.
"The first person who ever gave me an orgasm is me," says Juleen, 25, a stay-at-home mom, "so I know what I like." Juleen thinks women should masturbate in front of their lovers. "If you allow your man to watch you pleasuring yourself, it turns him on, but it also gives him an idea of what you like--your rhythm, your speed, your positioning. Some things are much easier to explain by demonstration." Juleen has also discovered that a good lubricant on your bedside table can be a girl's best friend. It makes everything more slippery, which is always a plus. Adds Joan, 24, a teacher, "I like to put lube inside the condom before my lover puts it on because I think it gives him a more lifelike sensation. And if you don't feel like having sex, or you're having your period, you can give him the most amazing hand job."
10. Forget how you look.
"I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what I looked like in bed," says Simone, the 31-year-old social worker. "I was always sucking in my stomach or trying to arch my back to make myself look more sexy. Then one day I was in the shower room at my gym, and it struck me that all these naked women were really sensual. I could suddenly see why men find our bodies sexy. Now when my man tells me I turn him on, I don't doubt him. I own that. lf he thinks my size-16 butt is the sexiest thing since Halle Berry, then who am I to argue?" And any man will tell you he prefers a real woman who is doing things that feel good--touching, kissing, sucking--to a beautiful model posed on the bed. So stop worrying about the best view of your butt, and start feeling your way through sex.
Jeannine Amber is a senior writer for ESSENCE
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