Despite what you see on TV or read online, real skill in the bedroom doesn’t come from wearing sexy lingerie or memorizing sex positions. Having a satisfying sex life comes from a true understanding of your sexual needs and those of the people you have sex with and knowing how to openly communicate those needs. Move into a deeper understanding of your sexual well-being by exploring these areas of your sex life:

Figure out what your brakes and accelerators are.

We often focus on what it takes to turn us on, what sex researcher Dr. Emily Nagoski deems our “accelerators.” However, equally important (if not more) is identifying what she calls our “brakes,” or what turns us off sexually. No matter how much we try to get ourselves in the mood by tuning into the imagery, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that act as accelerators, we won’t be able to truly get ourselves into an ideal sexual mindset without also eliminating the imagery, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that turn us off.

Figure out how sensitive your brakes and accelerators are.

Exploring what does and does not help you feel ready for a sexual encounter is only part of the puzzle — the next piece is figuring out how sensitive you are to your accelerators and brakes. For some people, it doesn’t take much acceleration to get ready for sex; for others, they require much more acceleration. The same goes for brakes – some have a much lower threshold for feeling turned off than others. Understanding your sensitivities can help you recognize how much time or what kind of routine you require to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for sex.

Learn about the brakes, accelerators, and sensitivities of your sexual partner(s).

Now that you’ve taken the time to learn about your own sexual needs, it’s time to learn about the sexual needs of your partner(s). Every single person is different, so reading magazine articles that generalize about desire can only take you so far in figuring out how to create a mutually satisfying sexual experience. Many couples who are in long-term relationships attribute sexual satisfaction (and increasing sexual satisfaction over time!) to a deep understanding of their partner’s body, needs, and desires. Ask your partner to talk to you about how you can help incorporate their accelerators into your sex life, take away things that put on the brakes for them, and understand how they affect your partner.

Identify the messages you’ve been receiving about sex since you were a child.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been receiving direct and indirect messages about what it means to be a sexual being and what is right and wrong sexually since you were young. Think back to what family members, friends, teachers, religious figures, community leaders, movies, the news, etc. explicitly told you about sex and what they indirectly taught you by attitudes and behaviors. Many children grow up receiving conflicting messages about sex, which can lead to confusion about how they should embody their sexuality. It’s worth doing a deep exploration of how all these cultural factors have contributed to how you feel about your sexual self, particularly when there is shame about parts of your sexuality.

Strengthen communication between yourself and your partner(s) inside and outside the bedroom.

Open communication is the foundation of a healthy romantic relationship and is a proven way to enhance the sexual aspects of your relationship. It’s important to be able to share openly and honestly with your partner about your own sexual needs without shaming your partner for different needs that they may have. It’s never bad to take ownership of your feelings using “I” statements (“I feel… versus “You made me feel…”) and state your own needs in a calm and respectful manner. Remember to not attack your partner’s character and to listen for understanding when they wish to talk about how they’re feeling about your sex life. Many couples who struggle to talk openly with each other about sex find that working with a therapist can help increase safety and comfort in these discussions.