Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I’m sitting around a folding table with five other women, all of us hissing in unison. Actually, it’s more of a hiss in reverse, like we’ve burned a finger on a stove. Then we moan heavily and, eventually, catch our collective breath as if we’d just seen a ghost.
These sounds, we’ve been told, are the fundamentals of talking dirty. It’s a Monday night in November, and I’m at a class called “How to Talk Dirty (and Not Crack Up),” held by striptease dance studio StripXpertease in midtown Manhattan. When I signed up, I was a few months into the hell that is dating apps after a big breakup, and it was clear that I needed some help: My sexting skills were limited to fruit emoji, and I couldn’t say the word “penis” without giggling. A Google search led me to the class, which markets itself as a chance to “learn how to be a dirty girl over the phone, in a text, or in the bedroom,” and notes that everyone receives a “Dirty Talk Thesaurus and Mad Lib sheet.” So, out of a fusion of curiosity, insecurity, and a love of Mad Libs, I decided to give it a shot.
And that’s how I found myself wearing a name tag that read “Pound It In Paula,” picked at the beginning of class out of a pile that also included “Finger Me Felicity” and “Ride Me All Night Natalia.” My name is not Paula, but I decided to embrace my temporary identity, put on my reading glasses, and take notes like the diligent student I’d always been. Dirty talking may be new to me, but paying attention in class is something I know well, so I decided to treat this like it was merely a more inappropriate AP biology class.
There were only six students the night I attended, so we all had ample time to speak up about our own reasons for being there. Some of the other women, like me, were freshly single and getting back out there; others were looking to spice things up in their long-term relationships. One thing we all had in common: We were all open to the idea of dirty talk, but didn’t know how to start — or how to do it with a straight face (hence the name of the class). “When something is uncomfortable for us sexually, a lot of women just giggle instead of saying how we feel or being honest about the situation,” explains Kimberly Smith, the owner of StripXpertease and a former exotic dancer.
“It’s packaged as dirty talk,” she added, “but I think really it’s about being able to be present and saying what you need and what you want, which is what’s missing from a lot of bedrooms across the world.”
We did get some tips for what to do to avoid cracking up — but our instructor that night, Selma, also said if we had to laugh, we should laugh; sex is supposed to be fun, anyway. There’s no right or wrong way to approach it, she added: “We want you to be comfortable.”
Together with Selma, my classmates and I went over a script from a porn scene starring adult film actress Julia Bond, reciting lines like, “You feel so good,” and “Oh, fuck yeah,” to get an idea of good dirty phrases to use in the bedroom. We practiced saying, “What are you doing?” and “Your hands feel so good,” in breathy, Marilyn Monroe-esque voices, before working on screaming “I’m coming!” all together. Having just seen Cats on Broadway the week before, I was in the right headspace for a public performance. “I’m Grizabella,” I told myself to calm my nerves. “But sexual.”
Selma explained that there are three levels of dirty talk: naughty (“I love feeling you inside me”), dirty (“I love feeling your dick in my pussy”), and, ultimately, nasty (I … cannot publish the example she used). We also went through the promised Mad Libs, filling in verbs, adjectives, and nouns in different dirty sentences for practice (“I want you to [verb] my [adjective] [noun]”). Next, we went over the seven universal types of dirty talk: the compliment (“I love it when you …”), the anticipation (“I’m going to …”), the memory (“Remember when …”) the description (“I’m feeling …”), the request (“I want you to …”), the order (“Take your pants off”), and the question (“Do you like it when …”).
Later, I chatted with sex therapist Ian Kerner to see if any of the lessons I’d learned could actually be of service. “The cool thing about dirty talk is that it’s not just words — but it’s words that can create physiological and sexual responses in our body,” Kerner explained, adding that people need to stop being “so darn serious” during sex. “There’s a playful part to sex. When you were a little kid you could make-believe and pretend and say things, and you need to learn that when you’re an adult, you can still play during sex.”
That’s also what Smith told me was the point of the class. “Our number one goal is always for people to have fun,” she said. “Just to come and do something different and out of the box.” And I’d sum up my experience just like that: It was a fun, if bizarre, way to spend 50 minutes. Truth be told, after the class, I realized I didn’t really need or want to change my own dirty-talk abilities that dramatically — I assure you, I feel no need to ask anyone to “[verb] my [adjective] [noun]” — but I definitely had a great time reciting mock dirty-voicemail scripts (“Hey, are you alone right now? Me too. Wish you were here right now. I’m so horny”) with a bunch of strangers. And I’ll stick to my beloved fruit emoji for now. They haven’t failed me yet.