Please, Stop Doing That in Bed
You're mid-hookup. You're feeling sexy, your partner's hitting the right spots and you're really enjoying yourself. The promise of an orgasm is bubbling up and you close your eyes, then your partner whispers in your ear, "You like that don't you, Mommy?"
Cue the cringe, a crippling combination of discomfort and secondhand embarrassment so many of us are familiar with.
While it's naive to think you'll love everything your partner does all the time, in bed or otherwise, there are some moments that reveal a disconnect more clearly than others. Unsavory pet names, questionable requests, abrupt announcements, entirely too much eye contact—sex provides ample opportunity for awkward exchanges.
But discussing it all can feel like a dangerous dance when there's potential for hurt feelings and damage to the relationship. So, how should you handle this delicate situation?
From the notorious post-sex "Did you come?" inquiry—if you have to ask, probably not—to being "booped" on the nose in bed, everyone has at least one cringeworthy sex memory.
"[He said] 'American women don't know how to make love, they only know how to fuck,'" said Mary, a 27-year-old in Chicago, of a guy she hooked up with while abroad. "Then he promptly asked me to pee in his mouth."
Witnessing the irreconcilable gap between the way someone thinks they're coming off and the way the world perceives them will often elicit discomfort, as Melissa Dahl writes in her book, "Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness." In the context of the bedroom, your partner thinks they're being cute, romantic or sexy, but you're left way less turned on than you were before.
An example surfaced recently as a tweet calling out men who drop a casual greeting while inside of their partner went viral, which sparked conversation over what's tolerable in bed.
While it's likely that a person uttering "hi" in the middle of intercourse has good intentions, pleasure is subjective. As one reply read: "Do not greet me while fucking me. Unless we are role-playing a situation in which I just woke up from a coma mid-fuck."
That kind of feedback might be useful. However, while experiencing cringey sex is universal—when you're just starting out, it's practically a rite of passage—research shows we're often too polite to confront our partners.
A June 2021 survey from relationship app Paired polled individuals in various types of relationships and found that 2 in 5 people secretly cringe at something their partner does during sex but find it too awkward to bring it up to them.
The avoidance most often comes from a fear of being rejected or coming off as needy, as well as the worry that we'll offend our partners, according to relationship coach and psychology teacher Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D. But the longer you avoid the subject, the more it could affect your relationship.
"A lot of people are not skilled when it comes to effective communication," Cohen said. "But sexual satisfaction does affect overall relationship satisfaction. If you aren't feeling fulfilled or if there's a mismatch between your sexual interests and what makes you feel sexually satisfied and that in your partner, that can over time really erode the relationship."
What constitutes cringe?
Everyone's mileage will vary, but these are some common complaints in the bedroom:
- Saying "hi" in bed: You've already been let inside, no need to kill the mood by reintroducing yourself.
- Calling yourself off-color pet names: Your partner might get confused by who exactly Dr. Hot Butt or General Patton is in this scenario.
- Asking "Did you come?" after sex: When in doubt, just don't.
- Barking "You like that, don't you?!" during sex: If you want to find out what your partner likes, ask an actual question.
- A very obvious sex playlist: Just say no to "Sexual Healing." However, Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You" gets a pass.
- Intense eye contact: The act is intimate enough—staring deeply into your partner's soul won't heighten that feeling. It will, in fact, do the opposite.
- Welcoming oral with "Ooh, yes, please": No, thank you.
- Performative grunting or screaming like a banshee: Ditch the overacting and repeat to yourself, "Porn is not reality. Porn is not reality."
- Meekly apologizing after bad sex: It happens. Or so we've been told.
There's no shame in bringing something new to the bedroom. It's actually recommended. But there's something to be said for sexual compatibility, and to get there requires frequent communication. Being called "Mommy" could be a major turnon for anyone in the Adult Babies camp, but ensuring your partner is on board with your fantasy before workshopping it in the bedroom could make all the difference.
"Once, my boyfriend and I started chatting about our secret fantasies. It was like a floodgate opened," said Cole, a 30-year-old in Kansas City, Missouri. "Then it was easier to slip in some stuff he'd done that I maybe wasn't the biggest fan of."
Initiating that conversation can feel daunting. Cohen recommends a low-pressure, neutral time and location (read: not right after sex, and not during an argument). Whenever you're feeling open and comfortable, start off by noting the things you do like, then transition into things you haven't tried yet but want to.
Cohen also warns against using negative statements. Starting with "I hate when you (blank)…" immediately sours the mood. And comparing the relationship to ones you've had in the past or what you see on television can have a similar effect.
"We have all the media portrayals of what sex should be, which isn't what sex actually is," Cohen said. "Having that all in the back of your head when you're about to engage in a conversation—that's heavy. It adds an extra layer to it."
Catastrophizing the interaction will likely cause you to avoid the conversation altogether, so going in with a positive outlook and keeping things light is key, Cohen noted. Conversations about sex can be fun and flirty opportunities for bonding—you just need to break the ice.
"You feel like the time you spend together is so precious, you don't want to bring it down," Cohen said. "But that's also a missed perception. If you're focusing on what it is that you like to enhance your relationship and sex lives, it can be really refreshing. Then getting it out in the open normalizes it as a topic of discussion."
For a long time, Elia, a 29-year-old in New York, felt too silly and self-conscious to ask their partner to incorporate more body worship into their sex lives, as this act of attentiveness involves selfless, physical adoration for a specific body part or the body as a whole, and is most common in dominant/submissive relationships. But in finally bringing it up, they discovered something the two can both revel in.
"Now this crazy appreciation has seeped into our relationship outside of sex, too," she said. "It's like, my god, I wish I'd just said something sooner."