Talking about your sex needs

Do you ever wonder, “How do I talk to my partner about sex?” There are a few learnable skills that can help. One of the most important is good communication. Often, sex is better when you can openly and comfortably discuss your sexual needs with your partner(s). Some helpful communication skills are general. Others are specific to discussing sex. A relationship built on open communication—where both partners listen to and respect one another—can generate the best sexual outcomes.

General communication skills

A good place to start is with general communication skills. Remember to:

  • appreciate your loved ones, especially your partner.
  • treat others as you want to be treated.
  • put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • listen openly rather than reacting.
  • communicate using “I statements.” 
  • keep negative comments and interactions to a minimum.
  • soften your “start-up” to the conversation.
  • keep things in perspective.

For more great couples communication skills, read HPRC's Basic Training for Couples—Communication. And always remember: It’s important for your conversations to steer clear of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Sex: The difficult conversation

Many partners avoid talking about sex because they think sex shouldn’t require a conversation; it should just be “natural.” In fact, it’s normal to need to talk about sex. In the long term, partners in successful relationships who discuss sex openly can improve their intimacy and sex life. However, talking about sex can be difficult. The following guidelines might help.

  • 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 develop 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. Are there sexual positions you’re most comfortable in? Ones that you aren’t interested in trying? Where do you stand on oral and anal sex? What about using sex toys or products intended to increase pleasure? Share your stance with your partner.

As your relationship progresses, it’s important to continue the conversation about values. Tell your partner what you think about having children, what you want in a partner/spouse, and anything else that’s important to you. Communicating well creates intimacy and trust in a relationship.

  • Be clear about safe sex. Discuss with your partner(s) your ideas of safe sex, including preventing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Talk about what types of contraception you will use.

Consider making an inventory of your sexual values, desires, and concerns and compare your results with your partner to get the conversation started.

Setting a sex date and debriefing

Many people believe that sex should be spontaneous. However, many couples easily get distracted away 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 a debriefing 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 at the scheduled date.

After a sex date, take time to debrief one another. Talk together 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 communicating their sexual concerns. In this case, a sex therapist, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, counselor, or social worker might help. Couples therapy has successfully improved relationship dynamics for veterans and their partners.

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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