Let’s talk about sex

If you’ve ever wondered how to talk to your partner about sex, there are a few communication skills that can help. Sex is often better when you can openly and comfortably discuss your needs. A relationship built on open communication—where both partners listen to and respect one another—can bring the best sexual outcomes.

What to address when talking about sex

Many people avoid talking about sex because they think sex should just be “natural” and it shouldn’t require a conversation, In fact, it’s normal to need to talk about sex. Partners in successful relationships who discuss sex openly can improve their intimacy and sex life. Try following a few of these tips to help make the conversation go more smoothly.

  • Talk now, not later. Talking to your partner(s) after sex issues come up is usually more difficult than problem solving before they occur. Talking openly before you have sex sets up your expectations for what you both want the experience to be like. Discuss any concerns and make a game plan to work around or through them.
  • Define and express your values. Be clear about your feelings on monogamy, cheating, and different sexual activities (touching, kissing, penetrative or oral sex, etc.—and under what circumstances). Remember to validate your partner’s perspective, even if it’s different from yours.
  • Discuss desire. How to do you let your partner know when you’re interested in having sex? When and where do your prefer to have sex? How often would you like to be intimate? Remember, there’s no “right” or “wrong” aspect of desire—it’s about what works for you and your partner.
  • Talk about your preferences. Are there specific positions you’re most comfortable in? Ones you aren’t interested in trying? Where do you stand on oral and anal sex? What about using sex toys or products to increase pleasure?
  • Be clear about safe sex. Discuss your ideas of safe sex, including preventing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Talk about what types of contraception you will use.
  • Address obstacles. Military couples deal with a hectic lifestyle that involves balancing many moving pieces. Add in kids, injury or illness, long separations, and odd schedules, and it can be tough to make your ideal sex life a reality. It’s important to acknowledge these obstacles when you talk to your partner so you can incorporate small lifestyle changes together.
  • Work on communication outside the bedroom. Remember, communication is a key part of overall relationship satisfaction in and out of the bedroom. Trouble communicating in other areas of your relationship is commonly associated with sexual dissatisfaction. You can’t expect to have a productive conversation about sex if you and your partner don’t practice effective and empathetic communication in general.

Set a sex date—and time to talk about it afterwards

Many people believe sex should be spontaneous. But many couples get distracted easily from sex and sexual desire. Setting a regularly scheduled “sex date” is one way to improve your relationship and practice communicating about sex. This is a date and time you agree upon to have sex no matter what’s going on. A sex date with your partner—and talking about it afterwards—can start regular conversations about your individual sexual needs. These sex dates don't have to be at the same time or day each week. But even if you “aren't in the mood,” try to connect with your partner and be intimate on the scheduled date.

After a sex date, take time to talk about the experience. Ask open-ended questions such as:

  • Tell me what you enjoyed about our sex date.
  • How did it feel when I…?
  • What would you like to do different next time?
  • When should we have our next sex date?

Still struggling to talk about sex?

Sometimes partners continue to struggle with talking about their sexual concerns. In this case, a sex therapistpsychologistmarriage and family therapistcounselor, or social worker might help. Couples therapy has successfully improved relationship dynamics for veterans and their partners.


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References

Erbes, C. R., Polusny, M. A., MacDermid, S., & Compton, J. S. (2008). Couple therapy with combat veterans and their partners. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(8), 972–983. doi:10.1002/jclp.20521

Fritchle, M. (2020). Sexual desire issues in couples therapy. Presented online through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Retrieved 18 July 2020 from https://www.aamft.org/store/detail.aspx?id=L1600

Montesi, J. L., Fauber, R. L., Gordon, E. A., & Heimberg, R. G. (2010). The specific importance of communicating about sex to couples’ sexual and overall relationship satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28(5), 591–609. doi:10.1177/0265407510386833

Papp, L. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Cummings, E. M. (2013). Let's talk about sex: A diary investigation of couples' intimacy conflicts in the home. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 2(1), 60–72. doi:10.1037/a0031465

Yoo, H., Bartle-Haring, S., Day, R. D., & Gangamma, R. (2013). Couple communication, emotional and sexual intimacy, and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 40(4), 275–293. doi:10.1080/0092623x.2012.751072