Guys get a bad rap for being brazen about all things related to sex, but when it comes to talking dirty, shyness is the biggest barrier to giving it a shot—and seriously enhancing your bonding time in the bedroom. “The number one issue that comes up with guys who call into my radio show about this topic is that they want to do it—especially if their girlfriend is game—but they’re afraid that they’re going to cross some line and end up offending her,” says psychotherapist Dr. Jenn Berman, who hosts The Love and Sex Show with Dr. Jenn and VH1’s Couples Therapy. An easy way to get over a fear of offending her: Learn how to ace a more explicit conversation so you’ll be confident when it comes to turning her on with words alone. Use these expert tips to ensure that your strategy for expressing your sexual desires is tactful, not trashy.

Break the ice

Talking dirty is an intimate experience, so delve into it with your girlfriend, not the girl you met at the bar two nights ago. If you’re feeling shy about bringing up the subject, Berman advises starting out with something like this: “Hey, I was thinking about talking dirty and wanted to know if that’s something you’re game to try.” If she says yes, proceed slowly with something along the lines of, “Awesome, I’m so excited you’re into that. But I want to make sure I don’t cross any lines. Are there any words that you’re not okay with?”

Set boundaries

It’s not the sexiest stage of dirty talk, but getting a feel for what words turn her on—and off—will ensure you don’t offend her. (And trust us—doing your homework will pay off in the end.) Ask her what she’d like to hear. If she’s shy in her responses, gauge her comfort level by running through words and phrases that could come up in future conversations. Remember that there’s no magic formula for R-rated dialogue—one woman may be repulsed by a certain word, while another woman will be all about it.

Just don’t get too hung up on the vocab, warns Berman. “Honestly, it’s not about the words,” she says. “It’s really a matter of knowing who you’re talking dirty with and making sure everyone is on the same page. Because once you go through the vocabulary, you can really cut loose and have fun.”

Get inspired

We get it—the hardest part about talking dirty isn’t getting your girlfriend’s permission, it’s coming up with what to say. If you need ideas, erotic literature is a good place to start. Berman suggests checking out author Nancy Friday’s collection of men’s and women’s sexual fantasies

And don’t be afraid to make research a joint activity: “Whether it’s female-friendly erotica or an X-rated magazine like Penthouse Forum, dive into a read with her to find out what scenarios and lines turn her on,” suggests Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright, sexologist and Sexual Wellness and Relationship Ambassador for Astroglide. “Ask what she’d be up for recreating or what she would like to hear you say.”

If books, movies, and magazines just aren’t doing it for you, try this no-fail tactic: “Describe what you’re doing or what you want to do,” suggests Berman. “That tends to be 90 percent of what people do when they’re talking dirty.”

Ease into the explicit, every time

Even if she’s more than down to try some dirty talk, that’s not your cue to go full steam ahead. “Don’t just dive into dropping the ‘f-bomb’ or getting nasty,” says Fulbright. “Start by titillating her with tamer words, getting a feel for the mood she’s in and just how far she wants for things to go.”

Keep her guessing

“Whether you’re caught up in the moment or simply lacking creativity, saying the same thing over and over again can make sex feel more like a porn flick and less like a ‘we’ moment,” notes Fulbright. Her advice: Stay present and make sure you’ve got plenty of erotic words and phrases to choose from. It’ll keep you from sounding like a broken record, which can be a turn off.

Don’t freak out if it doesn’t work

If pillow talk makes you and your girlfriend feel more silly than sexy, don’t beat yourself up over it. “Ultimately, if you decide that talking dirty isn’t our thing, still having gone there and taken that risk will bring you closer together and make your sex life better no matter what,” says Berman.

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