Problems with sex and sexual satisfaction can cause relationship and marital distress.1 Even though it is a common problem, talking about sex with your partner can be daunting. Sharing issues with strangers online might even feel easier for you than discussing them directly with your partner, which might explain why sex is so commonly discussed in online relationship forums.
These conversations can produce significant anxiety, which can cause you to avoid them altogether. Knowing a few strategies can make them easier, however, and you’re likely to find “the sex talk” worth the effort.
How to Talk About Sex With Your Partner
Focus on intimacy.
Reasons to Talk About Sex With Your Partner
Research has found that couples who have strong sexual communication are more satisfied with their sex lives.2 If you’re experiencing issues with your sex life, talking frankly about them with your partner might improve your sex life and your relationship.
Open communication can lead to greater feelings of intimacy and a stronger relationship. In fact, talking honestly with your partner might increase your overall satisfaction with your relationship
A 2019 study linked tied better sexual communication with greater sexual satisfaction and fewer faked orgasms:
“Women who continued to fake orgasms were more likely to indicate embarrassment talking about sex with their partner in explicit ways,” the study’s authors said. “More than half of women reported they had wanted to communicate with a partner regarding sex but decided not to; the most common reasons were not wanting to hurt a partner’s feelings, not feeling comfortable going into detail, and embarrassment.
Important Topics to Discuss
Sex-related topics you should talk about with your partner might include:
Change in libido
Desire to try something new
Feelings of sexual rejection or always having to initiate sex
Lack of intimacy or need for more affection
Lack of sexual satisfaction
Talking About Safe Sex
Practicing safe sex is crucial, especially if your relationship is open to others. Ask your partner if they’ve used condoms and other safety measures when engaging with other sexual partners. Likewise, be honest about your own practices. If either of you hasn’t practiced safe sex, discuss appropriate testing for everyone involved.
Between exclusive partners in a monogamous relationship, raising this issue can be especially difficult if it raises questions of fidelity. If you have engaged in any kind of sexual activity with someone else or suspect that your partner has, it’s time for a frank, if difficult, conversation and testing.
Talking About Your Desires
Your comfort level is an important part of having a satisfying sex life. Your partner can’t read your mind, so telling them what you want and need can enhance the sexual experience for both of you. Discuss what makes you feel aroused and desired. If your partner is falling short of your expectations, communicate this gently and constructively, and offer ideas you think might help.
Try talking about your sexual fantasies. This might be difficult at first but bear in mind that everyone has them, and they tend to fall into a few common categories. Being vulnerable in this way can increase the intimacy between you and your partner and might even lead to some new ideas for sexual activities
When You Don’t Want Sex
Libido can change from one day to the next, and sometimes, two people simply don’t align in their level of sexual desire. When you would rather not engage, remember to communicate with your partner honestly and sensitively.
If low or mismatched libido is a recurring problem that is causing problems in your relationship, consider consulting a healthcare provider or counselor for advice. There are many variables to consider when it comes to sex drive including your physical and mental health.
When to Talk About Sex
There is a time and place to discuss sex with your partner. Waiting for the right moment to address the topic can help you get around some of those feelings of discomfort or awkwardness that can be common during sex talks. You should also:
Pick a neutral location. Don’t talk about sexual problems in your bedroom or at bedtime. Pick a neutral location that’s private and comfortable for both of you.
Avoid post-sex talks. Don’t talk about sex-related problems right after having sex. Wait for a time when you can be more objective and removed from the topic at hand.
Avoid blindsiding your partner. If you want to talk about sexual problems, let your partner know (without placing blame) that you think the two of you need to talk. Set a time and a place, and think about what you’d like to discuss beforehand.
How to Get Started
Certified sex therapist Laurie Watson offers these tips:
Plan it. Tell your partner you’d like to discuss sex, and suggest a neutral place, like a cafe.
Focus on one issue at a time. Discuss a single topic, such as sexual frequency.
Don’t complain: Suggest. Be sensitive to your partner’s feelings, and frame your remarks positively, e.g. “I love it when you ____, and I think it’d be really hot if we _____.”
Ask basic questions. Conversation-starters such as “What time of day do you most like to have sex?” helps the two of you start from common ground. It also helps your partner know you value their likes, dislikes, etc
How to Talk About Sex With Your Partner
Here are some strategies for making conversations about sex easier for both of you.
Have a “soft start” to the conversation. Begin with your goal to feel closer and connected with your partner. Avoid blaming. Skip criticism, and focus on things you both can do to make your sex life more fulfilling.
Focus on Intimacy
Remember that affection and intimacy are just as important as frequency.6 Look into ways to build intimacy and feel more connected beyond intercourse, and talk about your needs for other types of affection and attention, too.
Skip the Surprises
You should both be on the same page, so initiate these conversations before springing any surprises on your partner. Talk about what you both might enjoy and fantasies you have. If you do decide to introduce some of these into your relationship, research your options together.
Talk with one another about expectations, fears, desires, and concerns—and be honest. Share your innermost thoughts and feelings regarding your sexual relationship, and help your partner feel emotionally safe enough to do the same.
The “sex talk” is not a one-time conversation; it should be an ongoing discussion and a normal part of your relationship. Needs and desires can change over time. Check in with your partner often.
Understand Your Sexual Style
Knowing your sexual style can help you understand which forms of intimacy you find the most satisfying—and the same rings true for your partner. Explore your sexual styles with one another. All couples have these styles or moods at some point.
Spiritual: This is a union of mind, body, and soul that reflects your deep appreciation of being with one another. Noticing the small moments in your lives can enhance your spiritual connection.
Funny: Laughing and teasing one another in bed is about having fun together. There is a light and playful undertone.
Angry: Making love even when you’re ticked off at each other can be healing. However, be sure to address the issues eventually.
Lusty: This style is wicked and flirty. You might give each other seductive looks or have quick sex in an unusual setting. This is about the joy and physicality of having sex.
Tender: This style is the gentle, romantic, healing sex that may involve massages, light touches, and ministering to one another. You both are into the physical sensations and focus on giving each other pleasure.
Fantasy: With this style, the two of you collaborate to be daring and experiment a bit. If you incorporate your fantasies into sexual activity with your partner, set guidelines and honor each other’s limits.
If you and your partner have different sexual styles, open and honest communication can help. Talking through your differences can help you understand and address the differences, ensuring that you both feel satisfied. You and your partner might also consider sex therapy if you need help.