Talking to Your Partner About Sex
Sex is full of contradictions. It’s something that most of us have, but few of us talk about openly. It’s a topic shuddered in daily conversations – a taboo not to be discussed in school, work, or around family – and yet, we watch tv shows and movies that portray sex from all sorts of lenses.
One of the biggest contradictions about sex lies in our sexual relationships themselves: sex between partners is common, but conversations about sex between partners varies wildly. While experts suggest partners should talk about sex about once a week - this is unfortunately not a reality. According to a recent survey examining sexual communication between partners only about 40% of partnered folks talk about their sexual desires at least once per week. About one-third talk about sex once per month, and these numbers get even lower depending on specific identities – only 25% of same-gender couples talk about sex once a week and about a third of people ages 18-24 communicate their sexual desires 1-2x a year.
This doesn’t come without consequences – according to research by Dr. John Gottman, over 90% of partners who are uncomfortable talking about sex report dissatisfaction with their sex lives. Talking about sex leads to better sex – whether that’s sharing with partners our likes and dislikes, checking in about the frequency of sex, discussing problems as they occur, or even exploring new sexual experiences. All that being said, talking sex is something you can get better at. In this article, we’ll dive into some tips and tricks for not just walking the walk but also talking the talk.
The Good, the Bad, and the Awkward
Understand that for many of us, sex is inherently an awkward topic. If you’re feeling uncomfortable entering the conversation, it’s likely that your partner is, too. Acknowledge the discomfort and try to do what you can to make the conversation a safe space. Find a time and space that feels good for both of you. Try not to talk about sex just in the bedroom – this can actually be counterproductive and lead to feelings bad about our own performance if we’re receiving feedback right after we finish having sex. Many relationship experts suggest talking about sex at the kitchen table, in order to give it the same space as conversations around schedules, money, work, etc. The more that you can incorporate sex into conversations, the easier the topic will get.
Start slow if you’re feeling uncomfortable. It can be helpful to use conversation prompts and questions if bringing up the subject itself becomes a hurdle. There are plenty of digital and physical card decks you can explore with your partner (see some helpful links at the end of this article!) in order to guide the conversation. Some questions that can help get the conversation going include:
- How do you define “sex”?
- What were some of your past experiences with sexual partners like?
- When you were growing up, what messages did you receive about sex, masturbation, sexuality, relationship?
- What are the things you like about our sex life? What were some of the best experiences you’ve had with me?
- How often do you want to have sex?
Schedule Times to Talk
With any kind of awkward topic, we might want to lean away from it and hope the subject comes up “organically”. However, this not only makes us less likely to actually talk about difficult topics like sex but it also makes the conversations more stressful. Consider scheduling time ahead to talk about sex with your partner. Scheduling ahead of time benefits us both in ensuring that the topic does get brought up and in providing us with time to mentally prepare. We can also discuss with our partners what times are more or less ideal – do you have an early morning the following day? Will we have to stop at a certain point to pick the kids up from school? Will you be coming off of a stressful meeting? Factor in not only times that your schedule interacts but also the head space you will be in. Avoid having talks about sex when you know something else will be on your mind.
Giving and Accepting Feedback
One of the scariest parts of sexual communication lies beyond the awkwardness and shame of the actual discussion. Sex can be a sensitive subject in terms of our self image. A lot of our worth as sexual partners gets tied to performance in very black-and-white ways – people are often seen as being either “good” or “bad” at sex. Receiving feedback that we should be doing something differently might make us feel that we are overall “bad” at sex and therefore a bad partner.
Make sure feedback around sex is not only negative. Talking about sex becomes harder when we only talk about it when things are going wrong: it creates more anxiety around the subject because discussing sex automatically means one of us has messed up. Tell your partner about the things that are going well. Share your thoughts on what feels good, what you liked most recently, what are things you would like to try again. Express gratitude and appreciation towards your partner just as much as you express the things you would like to see change.
When receiving feedback, be sure to take time to self-soothe. Know that your partner does not see you as inherently “bad” if they tell you something they didn’t like or that they aren’t in the mood at a particular time. Be mindful of your emotions and your breath when having difficult conversations around sex. It gets easier receiving feedback the more often you do it, and at the same time it can be a source of defensiveness and anxiety when you first start off. It’s okay to take breaks in conversations to self-soothe – just make sure you always come back to finish the conversation.
Consider If It’s Time to Get Someone Else Involved
It can be hard to gauge when to seek out help when it comes to sex. Chances are, though, if it’s something causing stress for you and your partner, then it may be worth it to look into speaking with a couple’s counselor about sex and intimacy. Sex is one of the most common topics that come up in couple’s counseling – you are not alone if you are seeking out the space to talk about sex. Having a third party there to guide you and your partner through conversations around sex and intimacy can help to alleviate the stress and anxiousness you may experience. If you’re not sure, consider bringing up couple’s therapy with your partner!
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