When it comes to sexual exploration, it seems the bounds are almost limitless. Plus, there are some benefits to breaking out of your comfort zone — if that’s what you’re into or interested in trying. This idea is backed up by research: a 2016 survey of almost 40,000 people found that sexual variety (along with taking time to “set the mood” and good communication) was a key ingredient in sexual satisfaction for couples. (Frederick).
Breaking out of a comfort zone means something different for each person. For one person, it might mean introducing a new sex toy into the bedroom or watching porn with a partner for the first time. For another person, it might mean exploring a kink or fetish, trying bondage play or testing out alternative relationship structures, like polyamory. No matter what sexual exploration means for you, there are a couple ways just testing the waters can strengthen the bond between you and your partner.
Here are six ways getting creative in the bedroom can actually strengthen your relationship
1. It prompts stronger, open and honest communication
There are many steps between being interested in trying something sexually adventurous with a partner and actually doing it. The first step is a conversation — followed by even more conversations. Your first talk might be about expressing interest in a new sexual activity and gauging your partner’s interest. This might be followed by conversations around consent, boundaries, safe words, do’s and don’ts and anything else that might apply. Then, there might be talks on how to take action: how to get materials — if there are materials involved — how to use materials safely, what aftercare you’ll need, etc.
Such conversations are especially important when trying sexual activities that involve kink and BDSM, aka bondage, discipline (or domination), sadism (or submission), masochism. “Both kink and BDSM require excellent, open, honest communication, so exploring them together helps to evolve your communication skills” Rebecca Lowrie, somatic sex therapist and host of the Sexual Alchemy Podcast, tells O.school. When trying kink or BDSM it’s so important to articulate each other’s needs and desires, have continuous check-ins, be able to read non-verbal cues like body language, and make adjustments based on feedback.
Even if you already have a strong foundation with your partner built on good communication, these types of conversations might require a new level of depth and understanding that will make those communication skills even stronger.
2. It can deepen trust in one another
Opening up about a fantasy, kink, or fetish means trusting your partner won’t judge you and will be available to at least continue a conversation about it. Perhaps you are telling your partner something you’ve never told anyone before. Maybe you haven’t even fully admitted the depths of a fantasy to yourself as you’ve never explored it previously. Whatever it is, you are putting yourself out there in an open and honest way, signaling to your partner that you are willing to be vulnerable with them and that you trust them with the information. That kind of trust can be sexy.
If your partner chooses they want to engage in the new sexual activity with you, this requires even more trust. It means trusting each other to respect boundaries, to actively listen to what the other wants and needs, etc. When it comes to activities that might be physically or emotionally risky — such as experimenting with restraints, blindfolds, trying sensation play, humiliation, cucking, etc. — trust becomes even more paramount. If you are the submissive in any of these scenarios, putting ultimate trust in your partner could be part of the turn-on, but it also means you trust them not to cross any lines you may have set, and you trust they are using any equipment safely, and that they will provide you with the aftercare needed.
The more you explore and find that boundaries are respected, the more trust can be built in the relationship overall.
3. Getting “creative” can create more intimacy and closeness
Once trust is in place and you’ve experienced pleasurable, positive, exploratory experiences with a partner, you may find yourself feeling even closer to them.
Research has found that people feel more intimacy after sexual exploration, specifically BDSM. A study published in 2008 in the Archive of Sexual Behavior sampled 58 BDSM practitioners and found that participants who reported that their scene went well also reported feeling more intimacy with their partner immediately after the scene. While the study did not hypothesize exactly why participants experienced more intimacy after a BDSM scene, researchers did observe participants engaging in many caring acts, like giving each other massages, paying attention to the physical and emotional state of their partner, making eye contact, and whispering — many things people find intimacy in.
4. It can allow you to explore new roles in the relationship
“Partners fall into roles” says Carmel Jones, sex and relationship expert at The Big Fling. “Even the most equal partnerships have partners in different roles because it's a natural part of life.” Some people find themselves stuck in gender roles, caregiving roles, bread-winning roles, or decision-making roles. Some people may find they really like their position in a relationship while others may be working to move away from such distinct roles.
Regardless of which situation you find yourself in, things like kink and BDSM can give partners a chance to “play around with and switch up these roles to allow you to see your relationship from new perspectives,” Rachel Worthington, Sex educator and writer at Bedbible.com tells O.school. Jones says it can give partners “the chance to either amplify or reverse roles.” “Reversing can be an exciting way to play with the power dynamics in a relationship and allow the partners to experience new avenues of their personalities with each other,” says Jones. For example, a partner who is the typical bread-winner in their relationship and expresses more dominance may enjoy being a submissive in the bedroom.
“Dominating a partner provides a sense of freedom and control, whilst surrendering to a partner is a way of practicing vulnerability and relinquishing control, ” says Worthington. Experiencing control and vulnerability in new ways with a partner can help you see how these elements normally show up in your relationship and possibly give you new perspectives.
Oftentimes, gaining new perspectives on power and control allows people to explore their gender in new ways, too. If you choose some form of an open relationship, it can be an opportunity to explore who you or your partner are sexually attracted to. Exploring new roles can be especially helpful for people who are in long-term monogamous relationships where roles may become more distinct over time and there can be less opportunity to explore power, control, gender, or sexuality.
5. BDSM can help reduce stress in yourself and in the relationship
You may have heard that sex, masturbating, or having an orgasm can reduce stress. Well, research has found that, for some people, BDSM reduces stress levels as well. The study published in 2008 found that participants who reported that their scene went well had lower stress levels after the scene was over than before the scene.
Psychologist, sex and relationship expert, Tatyana Dyachenko, adds that “studies have shown that taking part in BDSM play can cause biological changes in your body similar to the feelings you get after performing a relaxing exercise practice such as yoga.”
Brad Sagarin, one of the authors of the 2008 study, says bottoms (people in the submissive role) reported “feelings of floating, peacefulness, time distortion, and living in the here and now.” Tops (people in the dominant role) “appear to enter an altered state aligned with psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, a highly pleasurable mental state associated with focused attention, a loss of self-consciousness, and optimal performance.”
6. Sexual exploration can help heal past trauma, which can strengthen relationships
There are many ways sexual exploration can be important for healing. It could be that certain kinds of touch or certain contexts triggers past trauma and requires you, or you and your partner, to explore new ways of having sex that are not triggering. This could mean completely rethinking what sex and intimacy mean to you and moving away from genital stimulation altogether for a period of time or always. Finding ways for partners to be intimate together — regardless of what that looks like — is important for creating closeness.
Lowried says, for some, BDSM and kink specifically can be “used for healing issues around sexuality, intimacy and pleasure — which, in turn, creates a deeper connection and opens up possibilities for more intimacy.”
Kay Johnson, founder of Let's Get Kinky, says, “As a trauma and abuse survivor, BDSM helps me feel 'in my power.' I know that during a session, I have complete power to stop it at any moment. My partner and I have gotten closer knowing that BDSM helps me heal my past traumas; it makes him feel like he's really helping me, plus he gets immense pleasure from it.”
The bottom line
Sexual exploration can be a powerful way to deepen your relationship with your partner. It may be that simply sharing your sexual interests strengthens trust and communication, or that the novelty of trying new things and getting to know each other on different levels creates more intimacy. Remember that your sexual desires, interests, kinks, and fantasies aren’t something to be ashamed of and exploring these things can actually strengthen your relationship.