8 tips for talking about sex with your partner
Talking about sex can be hard, really hard (get your mind out of the gutter)! Not only is sex something incredibly vulnerable, personal, and often stigmatized, but sometimes even just knowing the words to use without sounding like a clinical textbook or a creepy Tinder match can be troublesome.
But talking about sex with our partners can not only help increase our enjoyment of sex and sexy times, it can also increase our emotional intimacy and connection with our partner(s). Because sex—especially sexual pleasure—is talked about so infrequently in our culture, there is something special about being able to be open and honest with your partner so that each of you can learn how to have the most pleasure together.
1. Pick a place that you don’t normally have sex at a time you are not currently having sex
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should set a specific date or time, but avoid broaching the topic when either of you might be feeling any heightened emotions. Talking about sex where you normally do it or while you’re getting ready to do it can make things more stressful, and may even cause your partner to feel pressured or defensive.
Instead, choose a neutral, private, low-pressure spot, like while on a walk, while doing the dishes together, while eating dinner (for some of us, this can make excellent dinner conversation). This can help both of you feel calm and receptive.
2. Use checklists and other games
Sometimes, it can be hard to even know what to talk about or where to begin. Checklists are common in BDSM/ kink communities, where it is important to understand the exact boundaries of consent. In addition, they can help you:
See a wide range of sexual activities you may not have thought of before,
Consider your own level of interest in different acts,
Point out different things to your partner that interest you with less pressure.
For example, instead of having to go out on a limb and say, “I want to try anal sex,” you could point it out while looking over a checklist, “Oh, anal sex! I have wondered about that before.”
These are my two favorite checklists: from Scarleteen and Sexuality and the City.
Alternatively, you can also order a pack of Salsa Cards from the Gottman Institute. This great little deck has three levels (mild, medium, and hot), which can help you warm up as you and your partner get used to talking about sex. The Gottmans also have a free app that you could use in a similar way.
3. Allow humor to be a part of the discussion.
Sex is fun! And sometimes it can be really funny. It’s okay to approach sexy times lightheartedly and to laugh and joke with your partner while you talk about it—and while you’re doing it. As long as you’re respectful and mindful of your partner, allow yourself to have some fun. Speaking of being respectful…
4. Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.
I can’t stress this enough. There’s enough sexual shame in our world without it coming from our partners. You may not be into something that they are, but you want them to be able to talk to you about it, right? Avoid any words or responses that might be construed as negative or judgmental, and instead use phrasing like, “that’s not something I’m interested in.” Remember: as long as everyone involved is consenting, it’s completely normal and acceptable.
5. Make suggestions rather than complaints
A great way to get someone’s defenses WAY up is to start any conversation with an accusatory “you,” as in “you don’t want to have sex enough” or “you’re not good at giving head.” Behold the power of “I” statements, which can transform your complaint into a suggestion: “I have a high sex drive and I want to have more sex with you because you are ridiculously attractive and good in bed,” “I want to experiment with different ways of receiving head that I read about.”
There are lot’s of ways to start these suggestions, but a few ideas you could try: “I really like it when…”“I would be really turned on if…”“I sometimes wish we could...”
6. Ask them: “What’s something I do when we’re together that you’d like more of?” and then: – “What’s something you’d like less of?”
This is one of my favorite ways to talk about sex. Questions phrased like this help your partner feel relaxed and also allow you to hear genuine feedback about the things that are going well and the things that aren’t going as smoothly. It can sometimes help to frame this question within a certain encounter, such as the last time you had sex together. Remember when replying to stick to suggestions as opposed to complaints: “I really like it when you pulled my hair last time. You could definitely do more of that, and maybe even a little harder.” “It wasn’t my favorite thing when you were talking dirty. I felt a little intimidated and I didn’t know what to say.”
7. Ask if they’d be interested in doing some Sexual Science together!
If you’re looking to switch things up but don’t have any ideas, try and do some science with each other! It’s hard to tell our partner what we like if we don’t know what we like.
Be clear about the evening being about experimenting and trying out different things. Inspiration could come from the aforementioned checklists or salsa cards, or from fun books like this one (one of the best books ever).
When experimenting, pay very close attention to your partner’s cues: what they say, the noises they make, the way their body responds, etc. Afterwards, have a talk about what felt the best and what didn’t, and use this information going forward. Bill Nye would be so proud!
8. Know that you will definitely have more conversations like this in the future and it gets easier every time!
Lastly, opening communication about sex is a process. There will be some things that you have an easier time asking for than others, and that’s completely okay. Sometimes, one of you might mess up in a conversation about sex and someone walks away feeling confused or hurt. That’s okay too, everyone makes mistakes. Apologize and know that’s part of the journey.
Just like having sex with someone takes practice, talking about sex takes practice, too. The more you are able to talk about sex with your partner, the easier it will get, and you will likely experience more pleasure and intimacy as a result.
Charlotte McKernan is a couple and individual therapist in Fort Collins, CO.