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‘How do I know if I’m any good at sex?’

Ask Roe: I’ve read that women often feel uncomfortable asking for what they want

Dear Roe,

This may be a really stupid question, but how do you know if you're good at sex, or how do you become good at sex? I'm a 21-year-old man and I've had sex with two women. I'd like to think they enjoyed themselves. But I've read a lot about how women don't often feel comfortable asking for what they want, and if you asked me what makes me good in bed I wouldn't know how to answer, or if I could honestly say that I am. Talking with mates is a bit vague when it comes to this, so I'm hoping you might be able to give some advice.

That is far from a stupid question. It’s a great question. A great question to which there is no easy, objective answer, in terms of technique or activity.

Human sexuality is hugely individual and diverse, and so what physically or emotionally or verbally makes one person feel amazing during sex may not be pleasant at all to another. So all those tips and tricks that are commonly doled out in magazine listicles, promising to make you “good in bed”, should be accepted for what they are: a group of writers trying to hit their quota of 50 random suggestions that usually veer into the utterly ludicrous – all because their rival magazine wrote 45 sex tips last week, and competition rules clickbait.


When it comes to being 'good in bed', all too often women are graded on performance, while men are graded on how many women they get to perform

Also, limiting ideas of gender also influences what we mean when we talk about people being “good in bed”, as we still judge men and women differently when it comes to sexual freedom and sexual pleasure. For example, there’s an intense pressure put on women to perform oral sex on men, because women have been taught to view our sexual worth in our ability to keep men aroused, and our ability to be “good” at sex – a definition based on our ability to give pleasure to men, not receive it or enjoy ourselves.

‘Difficult to please’

Masculinity, on the other hand, often defines men’s sexual prowess on their ability to get women to give them pleasure. And because women’s pleasure is often overlooked, ignored, or viewed as a problem – think of all the rhetoric surrounding women being “difficult to please” in bed, or the clitoris being a Sphinx-like mystery – men’s apathy or fear of “failing” can prevent them from even trying.

So when it comes to being “good in bed”, all too often women are graded on performance, while men are graded on how many women they get to perform.

This, of course, is nonsense, and goes to prove the point: no one really knows what being “good in bed” means. Because becoming good in bed isn’t learning a few tips or tricks and repeating them with every partner – it’s about communication. It involves asking your partner what they enjoy, what feels good, and being able to communicate your own desires and wants. This form of communication involves being open-minded, non-judgemental and respectful, so that you create an environment where you and your partner feel comfortable sharing and setting boundaries and trying new things. Being good in bed involves asking your partner what would feel good in bed – but very few people have the self-awareness, curiosity or confidence to ask.

Yes, I said confidence. There’s a bizarre assumption, perpetuated by films and pop culture, positing that to be sexually confident means to be telepathic and aggressive in equal measure. Think of every movie scene that shows a man striding over to the woman, grabbing her, kissing her, invariably pushing her against a wall, and initiating a completely silent sexual interaction. Not only do these images of sex eliminate the potential for enthusiastic consent, but they eliminate the individuality of sexual encounters; the recognition that different people want and enjoy different things.

Sense of humour

These scenes prioritise the image of sexual confidence, the façade, not the lived experience of it because it takes confidence to speak openly about sex, to be comfortable learning new things, to share your own desires explicitly. And too often, people focus so intently on acting like a person who is “good in bed” that they ruin potentially great sexual encounters by not asking their partner what good sex means to them.

So don’t look at being “good in bed” like a singular end-goal that you can one day reach, and so will never have to learn anything new ever again. Approach each sexual encounter individually, with respect, curiosity, tenderness – and a sense of humour works wonders, too.

Be confident enough to ask what your partner would like, and be vulnerable enough to share what you enjoy. Be responsible enough to enjoy sex safely, and curious enough to enjoy the adventure of exploring sex with someone. Be respectful enough to stop when boundaries are set, playful enough to try new things – and good-humoured enough to laugh it off when some of those new things go wrong and one of you falls off the bed. Be present so that you know what feels good for you, and responsive so that you notice what feels good for your partner.

And finally, be aware of your reasons for wanting to be “good in bed.” If it’s to ensure that all of your sexual experiences are rewarding for you and your partner, wonderful. But if it’s to impress other people through anecdote or to accumulate social power through reputation, then you’re treating sex – and your partners – as a shortcut to self-esteem, and that’s never going to be good.

But keep asking these types of questions. They’re a great start. I think you’ll do fine.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at