A sex writer, among other things, I spend a fair bit of time crafting advice on how to do various things better in bed.
Lately, for example, I’ve been working on a commissioned two-part guide to giving better blow jobs.
As I write these, I often feel conflicted, a concern I share openly with my readers. See, the ability to engage in fulfilling, or even mind-blowing sex with another person—to be a so-called “good lover”—is only, to a small degree, about specific moves.
Sure, the moves matter too.
But they’re worthless in their own right.
Nevertheless, I genuinely believe in my mission to educate based on my experience and observations. Not only am I passionate about the importance of talking candidly about sex, especially as women, but I trust that I have something of value to add to the discourse.
Because I think I’m such “a great lover?”
And, also, yes…sort of…
But, let’s talk about that.
Is there such a thing as “a good lover?”
If you know me and my writing, you’ll know that I’m being facetious with the title of this article (as well as taking any opportunity to reference Nietzsche—which, in turn, is an attempt to flirt with Joe Duncan…Okay, I’ll stop now!).
The thing is, most people can be “good lovers”—if they want to be. And, everyone can definitely be “better lovers.” Myself included.
Recently there’s been talk about what “a good lover” is, and whether or not that’s even a thing. My dear friend and colleague Yael Wolfe recently howled about it in her article, claiming that there isn’t, and adding: “Sex is about interaction and communication—not skill.”
While I wholeheartedly agree with her overall sentiment, I have to respectfully disagree with the statement itself:
I do believe that there is such a thing.
Clearly, I must, since I have the audacity to call myself one.
Meanwhile, bear in mind, I’m also calling you one. Potentially.
The problem with the term is that it’s vague. It’s also wildly individual. And, I disagree with the toxic notion that being good in bed comes down to skill…alone.
Sexual prowess isn’t necessarily acquired from a ton of experience. At least not with a bunch of different people. It can. But it needn’t be.
See how this term is really convoluted and hard to pin down?
So, what is “a good lover” then?
The question of whether there is such a thing made me think—a lot. And, after deciding in favor of the concept, I spent even more time attempting to identify exactly what constitutes one.
I went on a quest to distill this vague idea into a clear and concrete image. And since I’m a communication designer by trade, I took it literally and created this graphic visualization:
I concluded that “a good lover” is a combination of several variables, which are all, to some degree, dependent upon one another, most of which are matters of choice and can be improved upon.
Hence, why I believe that we’re all—potentially—amazing lovers.
Being “a good lover” is a choice.
The first step toward being one is, therefore, to really want to be one. You can call this the Good Lover Mantra if you wish, or simply repeat after me:
As a good lover, I am fully invested in, and relentlessly committed to, the creation of mutual pleasure! There’s another saying that “energy flows where intention goes.” Basically, you’ll naturally gravitate in the direction of what occupies your mind.
Therefore, start by making “being a good lover” one of your top priorities.
During my attempt to paint a picture of this so-called “good lover,” I further established two absolutes: two requirements that must be present for good sex to happen in the first place. These are chemistry and communication.
Without them, you get nowhere.
Then, there are four elements that, when combined, form the ultimate conditions. Pretty good sex is possible without all of them present, but “the best lovers” possess all four. These are self-awareness, awareness of your partner(s), attitude, and knowledge.
Chemistry: The gatekeeper
In order to make your way to the mind-blowing sex, found in the center of my graphic, you must get past the first prerequisite: Chemistry.
A combination of conscious and subconscious clues, encompassing compatibility and attraction, chemistry is the only thing that is outside of your control.
You can’t truly be “a good lover” to someone or have “exceptional sex” without these present.
We say that “one man’s food is another man’s poison,” meaning, in this context, that just because someone’s “a good lover” to me doesn’t mean they’re “a good lover” to you, and vice versa.
I once had an experience that illustrates this well: Long story short, I ended up hooking up with a guy who a girlfriend of mine had previously slept with. Obviously, I checked in with her, and after giving me a green light and her warmest recommendations, she called him “a great lover.”
I, on the other hand, found him to be absolutely horrendous in bed and would consider him one of the worst lovers I ever had. This was despite seemingly everything else aligning in our favor.
We had no sexual chemistry whatsoever! Our bodies simply didn’t speak the same language.
So, was he good or bad? The correct answer is both: He was “a good lover” to her and “a bad lover” to me.
It’s relative. And a level of chemistry must be present, whether it’s a casual hookup or a heart-connection.
Chemistry also acts as an incentive to want to be a good lover to someone: It changes our attitudes and makes us attentive, communicative, and caring lovers.
Communication: The alpha and omega
Sex is basically doomed without it—especially in the long run.
When, on the other hand, chemistry is present and we’re able to communicate well with our partners, we’ve laid down a solid foundation on which to create these mind-blowing experiences.
Communication is always (at least) two-sided: it’s a back-and-forth, ongoing, and ever-evolving activity that involves giving and taking, responding and reacting, sharing, and, most importantly, listening.
“There’s still one particular piece of advice that often remains forgotten—listening to your partner,” writes Julia Beaudett in her piece about the only blow job advice that matters.
The always-insightful Demeter deLune adds, in her guide on how to easily give a woman pleasure, that “listening to our partners and taking non-verbal cues goes a long way…”
I’ve waxed about the importance of good communication to sex multiple times myself: when I started exploring the BDSM scene a few years back, the most important thing I learned had nothing to do with tricks or tools. Instead, it had everything to do with learning how to communicate openly about my desires.
This brings me to my next point: How do we talk about our desires if we’re not sure what they are in the first place?
Self-awareness: Know yourself first
Self-awareness is an ongoing, lifelong process, which many never even dare to venture into in the first place.
Studies have shown that getting to know oneself is not some ego-trip; on the contrary, “a better understanding of yourself may also improve your capacity to better understand the thoughts and feelings of other people” (Cari Nierenberg, Life Science article).
Seeing ourselves clearly is the first step to seeing others. Just look at early childhood development, where we form a sense-of-self as early as a year before we’re even capable of empathy for others.
Exploring my sexuality openly in a sex-positive environment forced me to confront myself and get really clear about what I wanted. This exploration and resulting self-awareness strengthened my vocabulary and gave me the reference points I needed to better understand and relate sexually to others.
Awareness of your partner: Tune in
Awareness of our partner(s) means being compassionate in bed and caring about their pleasure and how they feel—physically and mentally.
This requires that we tune in, pay attention, and apply our sense of empathy, which comes easier to some than others, yet, can be practiced.
I often find that when I’m completely immersed in the moment, I can literally feel my partner’s pleasure like it’s my own, as if I should have climbed underneath their skin.
Partner-awareness again relates back to communication and requires active listening—before, during, and after the act.
Attitude: It’s a choice
Having good sex and the ability to grow as lovers has a lot to do with our mindsets. As with anything in life, if they’re approached with apathy and lackluster, the result usually turns out accordingly.
A good lover has an open mind and brings enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity with them. This neither means that sex always (or ever) has to be a wild, swinging-from-the-ceiling-fans-ordeal, nor that you always have to be in a cheerful, happy mood.
It simply means that our general attitude should be one of receptiveness toward the other person(s) and the experience itself.
Knowledge: It’s power
I decided to use the word knowledge here, which encompasses both experience and skill.
Being “a good lover” is, to a degree, about these things—but, this is where it gets conflicting: it’s important to note that sex-knowledge isn’t the kind you easily acquire through reading manuals. Further, it’s less about quantity than it is about quality.
Someone may have had hundreds of partners, own a chest full of sex toys, and still be “a bad lover.” Someone else could have had one partner their whole life and be an outstanding lover.
Knowledge in bed isn’t about facts or scripts. Of course, a basic understanding of human anatomy helps, but it’s more important to know that every-body is different. It’s also more important to have the wisdom to know what you don’t know—to loosely quote Socrates—and to know when to ask.
Lastly, knowledge in the bedroom is acquired through a culmination of all the points above: it’s reliant on good communication with someone you have chemistry with, and it’s mostly worthless without awareness of your partner, and of yourself.
In the end, the “not-so-secret” secret to being “a good lover” is that it’s both stupidly simple and mind-bogglingly complex at the same time. But, most importantly, there are no shortcuts.
Personally, I’m not a good lover because I know all the tricks, or because I’m a human anatomy expert. I’m simply someone who’s sincerely dedicated to having great sex, meaning I’m committed to creating mutually pleasurable, mind-blowing, and sometimes even spiritual experiences with my partner(s).
I also believe that there’s no point in doing anything unless I’m planning to do them well.
So please, continue to read all the sex guides and tips out there; they’re a great place to start. But beyond that, find someone with whom you have chemistry and decide to be the best goddamn lover you can possibly be.
The rest will come.