POV 1: You are dying for that slam-me-up-against-the-wall steamy makeout sesh, but when you try to intercept your partner in the hallway, they rush past you with a vacuum and spend the day cleaning, running errands and cooking dinner.
POV 2: It’s your birthday and you wake up excited to see what your partner has planned for you, but instead of a thoughtful gift, they hand you a note telling you how beautiful, awesome and special you are.
Disappointed? You may be partly to blame.
“If we have a person who feels love when she’s held and when she’s given gifts, but her partner feels loved when he’s told how great he is and when he’s touched, then they’re not going to feel loved all the time,” explains human behaviour and relationship expert Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. “So what we’re saying here is that when two people have common languages of love, they will experience more love and there will be less emptiness in the relationship.”
Why knowing your love language matters
Learning to identify each others’ love languages, even if they are incongruent, can help you embrace how love is given to you, and stop agonizing about how it is packaged. This translation ability will not only help you meet in the middle, but it can help you see it when it’s coming right for you, feel it and bask in it. If you’re willing to put some extra effort into showing your partner(s) love in the way that they like to receive it best, then that’s a bonus. Being bilingual, trilingual, quadrilingual in love just means you cover more ground together — you expand your palate and taste more of the delicious flavors at the connection buffet.
The most cited verbal and non-verbal love languages are those identified by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages. These languages are: Words of Affirmation (kindness and appreciation), Quality Time (giving undivided attention), Physical Touch (connection through the body), Acts of Service (anything done to ease the burden of responsibility) and Receiving Gifts (the thoughtfulness and effort behind a gift).
Every once in a while, a couple may naturally speak the same language. Perhaps both partners prioritize Quality Time above all else, and there is nothing to do but spend time together planning fun and interesting things. Speaking the same language certainly makes things easier, but sometimes expanding our dialects can make for dynamic and spicy relationships and lead to growth. It’s not about similarity, it’s about compatibility. Contrast can be very, very exciting (and the sex can be wicked).
It’s important to note that, because we are all so different, Dr. Chapman’s list of five is not comprehensive. There are many others, including some of my personal favourites: shared jokes and razzing, co-creation (beyond making people), sharing music or other art that you think each other will appreciate, even distance is a love language — sometimes you need to give and take alone time because boundaries are important. Furthermore, taking time to galvanize one’s independent sense of self benefits the connection when you come back together because it’s the coming together of two different forces that creates chemistry, not annihilation through homogenization (ew).
Meeting in the middle
Another super neat facet of love languages is the literal cultivation of you and your partners’ own language. Some partnerships result in a common, private language. Inside jokes are an example. Finding ways to communicate over and above the literal dialects we’re given as tools to connect with each other is an expansion. And however ridiculous, that’s f*cking beautiful.
You need to understand your own love language to be able to identify it, communicate it, and then receive it (if your partner is willing and capable). This requires self-awareness. Ask yourself what your first instinct is when you want to show someone you love them. Is it to tell them (Words of Affirmation)? Is it to plan an epic day for them (Quality Time)? The second thing you can do is examine your childhood — how did your parents express (or fail to express) their love to you? Was it through cuddling and hugging (Physical Touch)? Or was it through little surprises (Gifts)? This may have translated into how you express and receive it now. You can also look at how you have been hurt deeply in the past. What was it that really punched you in the guts? The inverse of that hurtful act could be the way you most want to receive love.
In order to learn someone else’s love language you need empathy and you need to pay attention. Notice how they demonstrate care and affection for friends and family. Sexual health and consent educator Samantha Bitty advises experimenting, “Give them a gift and see how they respond.” Sometimes making assumptions can lead to detrimental misunderstandings, and your efforts will be lost in translation. Samantha also advises just asking them straight up, “How do you experience love?” If they don’t know the answer, there are tools to help identify this: 5 Love Languages Quiz In any case, have a conversation with them about it. “If they aren’t open to that, keep it pushing,” says Samantha. People who are not willing to connect on a deeper level are not worth your saliva.
Some people have the capacity to express and the desire to receive all of the love languages. This expanded capacity may mean they expect a lot from a primary partner, or they may feel more fulfilled in a polyamorous network. Sidebar: This is not the only reason people pursue polyamory, but expanded capacity certainly makes for epic polyamorous love.
So how does this translate to sex? A lot of the same principles for healthy communication in day-to-day relationship dynamics apply in the bedroom (or kitchen, or bathroom). Let’s go through the barriers first.
Clearing communication blockages
Fear of rejection is a major setback. We may worry that we will scare someone off by asking for more or something different, like rope- or role-play. We may assume that if our partner(s) are not into it, they will judge us. If that is the case, then in the words of Miss Samantha Bitty, “keep it pushing.” This fear of rejection goes both ways though. Be prepared for the possibility that your partner is not willing to step outside of their comfort zone or does not enjoy the same things. Do not judge them for it, and do not pressure them into it.
Another setback could be feelings of unworthiness. Who are we to ask someone to learn a new language? Getting a hold of your self-worth issues is fundamental to any relationship — in the streets and in the sheets. Fear and the feelings of unworthiness can be conquered by realizing that it goes both ways. You are also giving them an opportunity to tell you what they need, and you need to be willing to learn and try too. If either of you is unwilling, then it isn’t worth the trouble. That is the only unworthiness.
Navigating bad sex pitfalls
Samantha observes that many people are afraid to admit that they’re having bad sex. She says a common misconception is that, “when people are ‘right for each other’ the sex is just good. Not the case.” You can have some pretty incredible sex with someone you may not want to have a romantic relationship with. And contrarily, sex could be bad with someone you feel a connection with in all other ways. Samantha stresses that the worst thing you can do is fake it, including faking orgasms. Fluffing someone’s ego may help them feel good in the moment, but you’re doing yourself and them a major disservice. Combat shame with communication and practice. Every body is different and needs to be learned. This starts with knowing your own body. Here is a handy guide on how to find (and explore) common erogenous zones.
Other barriers include gender roles in sex dynamics, often informed by patriarchal systems in culture, or spiritual or religious beliefs. The concept of “virginity” has made sex shameful, and feminine spectrum people are often shamed against presenting as sexually experienced. Contrarily, male spectrum people are shamed for a lack of sexual experience. None of this is helpful, and it is essential to identify and dispel these misconceptions to enjoy pleasure-centered sex.
To effectively communicate our needs, wants, boundaries and desires, Samantha encourages focusing on sensations: “This feels nice,” “That feels uncomfortable.” She advises against moralistic or value-laden language like, “You’re doing it wrong.” She encourages using embodied language — verbalizing sensations, such as, “You feel so wet.” Samantha also says, “Lead affirming, tell them what is going well, and then direct them on how to make it a bit better.” For example, saying, “That pressure is good, I like it more to the left.”
Communicating your way to great sex
Setting expectations before engaging in a sex session is a good idea to avoid misunderstanding. Letting someone know, “I get soft sometimes but I am still turned on,” or, “I might be quiet, but it doesn’t mean I’m not having a good time.” Samantha also recommends establishing non-verbal consent language — “I’ll squeeze you when something feels good/bad.” Establishing the lingo for talking about genitals — i.e. “boobs” vs. “tits” vs. “breasts” or “cock” vs. “dick” vs. “penis” — is another great tool Samantha cites for dirty talk. “This can also be gender affirming,” she notes.
The main takeaway here is to ask questions, establish boundaries, experiment and just communicate. Relationships can be looked at as an ongoing dialogue — a continual push and pull. Malcolm and Marie was perhaps one of the most romantic movies of 2021, and it was literally about a couple’s night-long argument. The differences between people and the unique perspectives they bring to a partnership — this is the spice. Separate and sovereign, coming together, and negotiating that togetherness every day; feeling the contrast and friction is what creates the heat. Learning each other’s languages can take a long time, especially since human beings are ever-growing, evolving creatures (ideally), but those moments of perfect sync are definitely worth the effort.