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So when people say, "I don't know what I want," I almost never believe them. I think they know exactly what they want. I think they just don't want to ask for it.

I can understand the sentiment, but I'm not sure that assuming that your lover is lying to you would qualify for an A+ in communications skills. What you're interpreting as deliberate withholding might in fact be an expression of disappointment, frustration and sadness.

Here's the thing: by a lifelong process of trial-and-error experimentation, you've found a number of things that you really, really like. Some of them were probably things suggested by your fantasy turn-ons, some of them may have been suggested by partners, some of them may have just been random things you read about one day on the Internet. But in any case, you've probably tried out a lot of things in the course of your life, and some of them have been rewarding enough to wind up on the "things I like" list. And that's wonderful. It's a gift.

But it isn't one that comes automatically to everyone.

Some people may have had limited opportunities for experimentation. Some people find that their fantasies are extremely unreliable guides to their real-life desires. There are all sorts of reasons that someone may not have stumbled upon that special something yet. And when they say, "I don't know what I like; let's talk about you," their underlying though may be, "Nothing I've tried has seemed especially wonderful, and 'the usual stuff' works passably well, so what's the point of talking about 'what I like'?"

Maybe the most loving response to, "I don't know what I want," isn't, "You're lying," but rather "I'd like to help you find out."

the chaplain
Maybe the most loving response to, "I don't know what I want," isn't, "You're lying," but rather "I'd like to help you find out."

Your entire comment was excellent, JKG, but I especially wanted to highlight the conclusion. Very nice addition to a good, thought-provoking post.




I've got to agree with JKG and the chaplain. Sometimes saying "I don't know" is the most honest thing to say, and it's important that it be okay to say that.
One thing I've noticed is that the question of "what are you into?" is expected to have an immediate answer. Probably because so many people have had to hide very real and pressing desires that providing a space where it's okay to say "I like THIS and THIS and would really like to try THAT!" is so important. And it's a good, good to have that. However, for others (or maybe just for many of us, depending on situation), discovering what we like is more a matter of trial and error, or experimentation, of finding out after giving a new thing a good college try that it is, in fact, awesome.

"I don't know" can be as valuable a place to start from as "I know", as long as it's an answer that's okay, and as long as it's accompanied by a "but I'm willing to give some things a go and see how I like them".

Sean Prophet

I can understand the sentiment, but I'm not sure that assuming that your lover is lying to you would qualify for an A+ in communications skills.

"Not believing" is different than accusing someone of lying. In this case, it's accusing someone of not knowing, of not being comfortable with oneself or one's desires, of having crippling mental or psychological blocks. Which is all-too-common. Shame, especially about sex--especially about asking for and getting what you want--is endemic.

"Lying" connotes dishonesty, but it is also another type of honesty. When someone misrepresents facts or feelings, they are actually telling another kind of truth, which can be deduced by examining the motivation for the lie.

What Greta is saying, I think, is that not believing a lover who says they don't know what they want is an act of compassion. It's saying: "I'm going to stand with you and help you get in touch with your true desires." Or, "I love you too much to take your ambivalence for an answer."

The Beautiful Kind

Bravo! There has to be some tension or polarity in sex, otherwise it will be meh. Yin and yang, baby!

I have this fetish checklist I give to people to fill out. Sometimes they go hog wild with it, but other times I get it back and it's BORING. I give it back to them and say, "Try again."

After a couple rounds with it, they FINALLY start dipping into their mental kink stash and then it gets really interesting.

Then I make fun of them. KIDDING!!! Then we have kinky sex.


TBK, you have a checklist?

1. That's kind of formal for such an intimate situation!

2. Nevertheless, it also sounds useful. Can you post it online somewhere?


The subject was discussed a few blogs ago (How Often Should You Ask For Something?), but I think it might be related. When asked "What do you want to do?", people reply "I don't know, what do you want to do?" because they don't want to say "You know what I want, but I don't want to ask for it" (probably because I've asked for it before and the answer was no).

The advice to give a straight answer is very good, but it might not be necessary to ask the question in the first place if people in a relationship know each other well.

I also agree with Sean, that "I don't know" might be a very honest answer when someone has mixed feelings. It just needs some more elaboration, e.g. "I think I want X, but I have serious doubts".


I'm a big fan of this checklist; it's quite exhaustive. I would indeed describe it as being relatively formal, but I would also describe it as being very intimate.

Now, the next question on this topic is this: What do you say if you have a list of things you really, really want to do, but you already know that your partner is not really into any of them?

Greta Christina

Sorry it took so long to get back on these comments; it's been an insane few days.

First: I would never tell a partner in the bedroom, "I think you're lying." I probably wouldn't even say, "I don't believe you" (which, as Sean points out, is not the same thing). And I did not and would not recommend that anyone else say it. What I say to my sex partners in the bedroom, and what I say as a writer in a blog or other public forum, is not the same. And how I say it is not the same. Mass communication in a public forum calls for different forms of communication than private communication between intimates -- forms that are often more blunt and direct.

As to the question of whether people do and don't know what they like: I'm not necessarily talking about having a lengthy and well-tested "do's and don'ts" list. I'm talking about saying anything at all about what you do and don't like. It doesn't have to be, "I'd like you to put on a fedora and tickle the small of my back with an ostrich feather." It can be, "I'd like you to go down on me."

And while I get that not everyone has a lengthy and well-tested "do's and don'ts" list that they're totally comfortable talking about, I do think that most adults have at least a few things they know they like... or at the very least, a few things they're curious about. If somebody tells me -- in either a private context or a public one -- that they have absolutely no idea of anything they like in bed, or of anything they've been thinking about and are curious to try... I'm sorry, but I don't believe them.

There are, IMO, a lot of perfectly wonderful answers to the question, "What would you like?" "I like X, but we do that a lot, and I'm open to trying something new." "I've been thinking about Y, and I'm curious to try it, but I'm also nervous about it and don't know if I'll like the reality as much as the fantasy." "I don't know, but I've heard about A, B, and C, and might like to try them." All of these, IMO, are just ducky. And as long as it's not the answer you give every single time, "I don't have anything specific in mind right now -- do you?" is fine, too.

But I stand by my original position -- which is that consistently responding to the question. "What would you like?" with, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" is not good, giving, or game. I think it almost never comes from a place of genuinely not having any idea whatsoever what you like, or what you might like trying. I think it largely comes from a place of shyness and fear: feeling like sex is a bad, shameful thing that you ought not to be asking for, feeling like you don't deserve sexual pleasure, feeling like your desires are embarrassing or silly or gross, being afraid of making yourself vulnerable by revealing what you want, etc.

All of which I have sympathy and compassion for. (I even said so in the piece.) I've been there; I still go there sometimes. But it's not helpful. And as I said in this piece, it's really not fair -- if we're shy or scared about expressing our desires, why would we assume that our partners don't feel the same way? How is it fair to ask them to be honest about their desires if we won't be honest about ours? If we want to have good sex, we have to suck it up and get over it. Most things that are worth having in life take courage. Good sex is one of them.


Having been through 20 years of no sex and no partner, I became involved with a bloke who was on the other side of the world from me.

When we finally got together in the flesh, sex was different from what I remembered from days gone by with golden glows on the mental images.

I hope I am making myself clear. We are now both in our mid sixties.

I had never before bothered about articulating what I wanted sexually nor did I have any articulation from my various partners. Somehow it just all worked. Movement and awareness seems to do it.

A lot of the sex was good. Especially the blokes I stayed with for any length of time. You get to know each other and you know how to give cues. It worked.

Now, I am not sure. I am older so is the bloke. Penetration is not the breeze it used to be. But I don't want to complain because there is nothing that can be done about that. Drugs notwithstanding.

So playing around is not bad. But I am beginning to understand that older blokes feel inadequate (and let's face it, they aren't what they used to be) so there is a more delicate sexual ego involved.

I don't really know how to finish this comment except to say that I don't really have a fulfilled sex life and am happy to let it all go - except my bloke is hornier than am I.



I am a Passion Party Consultant and I was recently listening to a conference call with Sue Johansen about Masturbation. I think for a lot of women their lack of masturbation results in really not knowing what they like, or feeling comfortable saying. It can certainly be hard to bring up. Women are given this data from the time they are little girls that "good girls" don't masturbate, and don't seek sexual pleasure and satisfaction for themselves. Once you embrace masturbation, and learn how to pleasure yourself it is a lot easier to answer the "What do you want me to do?" questions, because you actually know what works.

I think society creates this crazy pattern of guilt in which "good girls" don't seek their own sexual satisfaction so can't tell their partners what they want but men are taught they are jerks for not seeking to please their partners. How screwed up is that. So you've got the girl avoiding her sexual pleasure and asking the guy what he wants and the guy seeking her pleasure before his own and asking her what she wants. It's a bit of a ridiculous loop!

The Nerd

Thank you for talking about this so openly!

biphedadrene ingredients

We have discovered that neither of us particularly cares if we, ourselves, reach orgasm, but we both care very deeply that the other is satisfied.

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