(ADULT) Top or bottom. Dominant or submissive. Giver or receiver. Penetrative or receptive. Active or passive.

We all know the labels.

It might not come as a surprise that the talk around these labels can be controversial. For some, it’s not an “and/or” situation – “vers” or “flip” is a way to have it all. Depending on how you look at these labels, they can be stigmatizing.

This can be true, depending on your perspective.

But I think we can also be empowered when we these labels, especially when it comes to learning how to improve sex, connection, and erotic energy.

Stepping back: How he and me become we

In working with gay couples, one of the things that seems to come up goes something like this – “We’re worried we’re running out of things to try. We feel like we’re out of options.”

Often times, it seems, the key is in finding out how the two in the relationship interact with each other. If they both tend to be givers, or they both tend to be takers (in or out of bed), then the interactions can become frustrating when both are struggling to do the same thing.

Enter the binary: Playing with roles and energy

The solution, I’ve found, is inviting the couple to take turns stepping into only one role. That is, to commit to either only giving or only receiving.

This idea is foreign to most of us, of course. Everywhere else in life we’re taught to demand what we want, or to know our place and do as we’re told. But, for some reason, once we enter the bedroom (or the public bathroom, or wherever you get your freak on) we magically expect to know what each other wants.

That’s the fatal mistake.

Bad learning: Time to unlearn

When you think about how many of us learn to have sex, it’s no surprise we get this wrong. First we don’t get it (sex, that is), and we really want it. Then we get it, and we’re so surprised we’re getting it, we’re not paying attention to ourselves when we’re getting it. Then we’re trying to get as much of it as possible (because we think our opportunities are limited), because it might run out, or something. And then, we find the one (or the ones), and we wonder when the magic will stop being what it is.

So the key, then, is to go back to the basics. Break it all down. Start with baby steps. And as silly as it seems, it can be really powerful.

Playing the roles: Re-learning the pleasure

So, we have to thank our fellow kinksters, sex workers, and other intention-based love warriors for this one.

The key to breaking past the confusion is to take on only one role. And stick to it.

The top, the giver, the dom, The active partner – their role is to give and ONLY to give. The bottom, the receiver, the submissive, the passive partner – their role is to receive – and ONLY receive.

As silly as it sounds, this exercise can actually be very difficult. Breaking out of the pattern of trying to give and receive all at the same time when you are with a partner is very difficult. Why? Because that’s all that we know. So in forcing the roles to be clear, both can learn precisely what it is to give, and what it is to receive.

Practice playing the notes: The symphony will begin anew

With enough practice, both partners will eventually become more comfortable with giving or receiving. Ideally, they will begin asking for what they want, and negotiating through options when they can’t have what they want.

After all, how wonderful would it be if you don’t have to guess what he wants in the moment? Because he’ll know just to tell you, and you can focus on giving it to him?

And how great would it be to know exactly what you want, and not worry about whether you will get what you need? And both of you can negotiate when need be?

Go play, boys!

This article was originally written for publishing on Himeros.TV, a project of Davey Wavey, Digital Storyteller.

Photo by Alessandro De Bellis on Unsplash.