Yes, we’re suggesting you track your sex life.
For many of us, journaling started in middle school with a diary we’d probably now find a bit dramatic. These days, however, you might pick up journals for other reasons.
Even if you’re not writing down your daily thoughts, many adults now embrace journaling as a way to track their mental health, dreams, travel, fitness, or career goals. Yet there’s one journaling topic you might not hear about as often: sex.
Yes, I’m suggesting you keep track of your sex life. But I don’t mean just writing down the names of everyone you have sex with (unless you want to). “
Journaling about sex can add a layer of mindfulness to your sex life,” Shadeen Francis, L.M.F.T., who specializes in sex therapy and emotional intelligence, tells SELF.
If you’re open to the process, a sex journal can help you reflect on your experiences, desires, and fantasies. Below, you’ll find a few good reasons to start a sex journal and some tips for using one.
Here are a few reasons why a sex journal can be so revelatory.
1. A sex journal can help you process your experiences.
“Journaling, for so long, has been used as a therapeutic technique to help people reflect on their thoughts and their feelings,” Madeline Cooper, L.C.S.W., a sex therapist who sees both individuals and couples, tells SELF.
Part of the reason journaling works is that it encourages expressive writing and helps people contextualize past emotional experiences.
Sex therapist Lisa Hochberger, L.M.S.W., tells SELF that sex can be difficult to process at the moment, “so a sex journal gives you the space to interpret your experience.”
Even if you’re not having sex with other people right now, you can focus on past experiences, future desires, or masturbation. No matter what your sex life looks like, a sex journal can help you process it.
2. You might learn more about your sex drive.
With a sex journal, you can explore both how sex feels for you and why you’re doing it. “Sometimes sex can be this thing people do just to get it over with or because they feel they have to have sex to be a good partner,” Hochberger says, adding that a regular journaling practice allows you to slow down and become more aware of your motivations.
Tracking your sex life can also help you see patterns that might influence how, when, or why you want (or don’t want) sex. Maybe you’re really horny the week before your period starts, or maybe sex is painful at that point of your cycle.
Maybe slow, sensual sex makes you feel connected with your partner. Or maybe you feel closest to them when the sex is rough. Keeping track of what happens and how you feel during sex can make these patterns clearer.
3. Sex journaling might make it easier to communicate with partners.
Sex can be a loaded conversation topic for partnered people, Pamela Joy, M.A., a counseling psychologist and Somatica Institue–certified sex and relationship coach, tells SELF.
Some of the most eye-opening discussions for couples who go to sex therapy involve what they did or didn’t like about their most recent encounters. This isn’t surprising.
There’s significant societal pressure, especially for cis women who have sex with cis men, to be coy about sex. And that coyness can lead to having sex that isn’t pleasurable for everyone involved, Lori Michels, L.M.F.T., AASECT-certified sex therapist, previously told SELF.
Fear around hurting a partner’s feelings can keep couples from being open about their likes and dislikes too. “I often find that without that talk, they would never really know what about their sex was exciting or fun,” Joy says.
Whether you plan to share it with your partners or not, writing a sex journal gets that conversation started. If you know what you like (and don’t like) during sex, you’ll have an easier time talking about it.
Here are a few ways you can use your sex journal.
While there are structured sex journals you can buy, like Sex: An Erotic Journal for Sexual Inspiration and Exploration (Amazon, $12) or A Sex Journal for Couples (A Sex Journal, $26), it’s easy to start your own.
“The beautiful thing about journaling is that there’s no right or wrong way to journal,” Francis says. Your sex journal can be whatever you want it to be.
1. Use personal-reflection questions.
When you’re getting started, it can help to have a list of questions in mind as you’re freewriting. You might ask yourself what you liked most about the last time you had sex.
Or you might think about what felt like it was on the edge of your comfort zone. Other questions can include: What else would you have wanted to happen?
Was there a moment when your partner said or did something that sparked a turn-on, fantasy, or dream?
There are tons of other questions you might ask yourself about how you felt during sex. Feel free to make up your own questions.
2. Write about your dreams and fantasies.
A sex journal doesn’t have to focus on sex you’ve had with other people. You can also write about masturbation, fantasies, or even dreams.
All types of sex, even sex you only have in your mind, can teach you something about your desire. Just be careful not to put too much stock in those dreams and fantasies as something you actually need to do even if you’re not sure you want to.
If you frequently fantasize about a threesome, for instance, maybe that’s something you want to try, but it might not be.
“The reality of a fantasy is that we can have this experience in our dreams, or in our thoughts, but we might not really want it to come true,” Hochberger says. Don’t feel that you have to live all of your fantasies.
3. Journal with your partner or alone.
One of the most popular sex journals you can buy is made specifically for couples, but a joint journal might not be the answer for everyone.
“One of the challenging things about doing it together is being honest,” Joy says. When you’re writing a journal just for yourself, it feels like a private inner world.
But if you’re journaling with your partner, you might lose some of that security and be less honest about your desires or experiences. If you feel you can be honest in a joint journal, go for it.
Francis suggests partners keep the book in a neutral space accessible for everyone and decide how regularly you want to use your journal.
You should also determine how you want to read the journal together, she says. Or if it’s easier, every partner might keep their own sex journal and share what they’ve learned about themselves whenever they’re ready.
4. Create a sexual menu.
“Imagine you go to an Italian restaurant once a week, and every time you go, you get chicken parm,” Cooper says. “I love chicken parm. Chicken parm is delicious. But sometimes I might want a little eggplant rollatini.”
Just as eating chicken parmesan once a week can get stale, having the same type of sex (in the same place every time) can be redundant, depending on what you like. In these cases, therapists often have clients create sexual menus, and this is something you can do in your journal.
One way to go about it is to structure your sex menu like a three-course meal. For example: Your appetizer can be kissing, oral sex, light touching, or anything else you want.
Your entrée might be vaginal or anal sex, or it might include sex toys. Finally, dessert might involve cuddling or some other aftercare activity. But you can also switch it up if you want to de-emphasize certain sex acts, like penetration of any kind.
Maybe your sexual menu is actually like tapas, or maybe the dessert is the most important part, so you start there. In any case, journaling about your menu pushes you to think about the different things you enjoy, Cooper says.
And if you’re into it, having a partner write a sex menu might be something you journal about together and share.
5. Draw a body map.
Taking out your art supplies can be a fun activity to add to your journal. You can do this alone by drawing your own body, or you can do it with a partner.
To start, you draw an outline (or a stick figure) of a body, and then touch your or your partner’s actual body to get a sense of likes and dislikes. As you go, you can write or draw on the map to record how those different sensations feel on different parts of the body.
Whether you’re body mapping alone or with someone else, try exploring different types of touch—hard and rough, soft and gentle, with a vibrator, with a blindfold.
You might start at the feet and work your way up the body with your hands, your mouth (especially if you’re doing this to someone else), a feather, or anything else you want, touching and taking note of how you or your partner reacts.
Try not to worry too much about your artistic skills, Hochberger says. Instead, pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues.
“Take notice of, ‘Hey, when I kissed or caressed their neck, they really liked that.’ Or, ‘When I kissed their neck, I felt their body move back, so I could tell that wasn’t something they were comfortable with,’” Hochberger says.
And take as much time as you need. You can, for instance, work your way up to their head and have them flip over so that you’re exploring the back of their body too.
Once you’ve filled in your map, check in with each other to make sure that the places you’ve marked are the spots and sensations they actually liked. And try not to look at your body map as a one-and-done. You probably won’t draw a body map every day, but desires change, and so might the places you like to be touched.
6. Notice how sex journaling makes you feel.
A sex journal is only helpful if it feels good or useful to write it. “Pay attention to how you feel journaling before, during, and after,” Francis says, adding that your journal is a place for self-reflection, and no one has to know what you’ve written.
Additionally, try not to use your journal as a space to blame yourself if your sex life isn’t perfect. For instance, if you or your partner doesn’t orgasm or one of you has trouble with erectile dysfunction—there are so many reasons (both physical and mental) that a person might not climax or get an erection.
Also don’t assign blame if you and your partner seem to have different libidos. If you find that your feelings are overwhelming and you’d like more support, reach out to a sex therapist or other health professional for guidance if you can. As a bonus, your sex journal can help you better address your concerns.
Remember: This journal is a space for you to reflect on your own sexual pleasure and experiences. Although it can be a useful tool for better communication about sex in relationships, ultimately, a sex journal you start for yourself should be about you.
This originally appeared on Self US