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How to talk about sex.

how to talk about sex.

Talking about sex with a partner. 

It’s been almost 20 years since Salt-N-Pepa released a song encouraging us to do it—and yet, a lot of us still find it difficult to talk about sex with our partner.  

And that can be because of several reasons. Talking about sex—and the issues you're having—can be awkward, and it’s often hard to know when to bring it up in conversation. You might feel embarrassed about issues like sexual dysfunction, shy about bringing up a fantasy, or uneasy about expressing a boundary. But expressing your needs and desires is crucial for you to have a healthy and fulfilling sex life; communication is key.

The first step to communicating your more intimate needs is developing an awareness of what exactly your needs are. You can’t tell your partner what you’re into if you haven’t spent some time thinking about what that might be. Once you do have a good idea about what you want to communicate, having these discussions can do wonders for your relationship. 

How to talk about sex in a new relationship versus a long-term relationship

In a way, talking about sex in a new relationship can feel easier than bringing it up in a long-term relationship: When you’re starting from scratch, you can share boundaries, fantasies, preferences, and any other need-to-know info right at the outset (aka, before you have sex). That doesn’t mean you have to offload all your desires at once—the more you become intimate with someone, the more you can share and explore together. 

Talking about sex in a long-term relationship can feel awkward if you’re bringing it up because of a concern (maybe you feel like your sex life needs to be turned up a notch, or you’re concerned the flame has fizzled out), but it doesn’t have to be. Be honest with your partner; if you allow any concerns or wants to go un-communicated, you’ll only set yourself up for further dissatisfaction. In the interest of keeping the home fires burning, here’s how to talk about sex.

Avoid the ambush.

First things first, don’t try to talk about sex while you’re in bed, or while you’re having it (unless, of course, it’s sexy pillow talk). Pick a time and location—say, over coffee or while you’re walking the dog—when the stakes aren’t as high. It’s also a good idea to avoid surprising your partner with the conversation. Instead, mention that you’d like to discuss it and suggest when might be a good opportunity to do so.

Try not to come to the conversation armed with a laundry list of all the concerns you have about your sex life. Limit it to one issue per conversation so that you can address it thoroughly yet compassionately and your partner doesn’t feel overwhelmed. For instance, if your main concern is that your sex life has grown stagnant, consider suggesting that you make more time for intimacy, rather than jumping ahead and listing different fantasies you might want to explore. Take things one step at a time, and communicate with your partner as you progress.

Start with the basics.

Not sure where to begin the conversation? Start by discussing the basics of sex—when you like to do it, where you like to do it, what turns you on, who initiates—and go from there.

And if you still need to ease into things, swiping right can help—but not in the way you think. The app XConfessions allows you each to swipe through various sexual fantasies that you’d like to try. If you both swipe right on the same one, you’ll know that you're ready to get down to business.

Use “we” and “I” statements.

It’s communication 101: Using “I” statements will always help you get your point across in a way that’s most considerate to the person you’re speaking to, while “you” statements tend to add a sense of blame. When you open up about your needs and desires, you’ll also make your partner more comfortable so that they can express what they want, too. “We” statements can also be helpful when you’re navigating more tricky situations—like if you’re feeling like your sex life has taken a downturn. You can voice these concerns by saying something along the lines of, “I’d love for us to try something new/make time for intimacy/find new ways to meet our desire.” Putting the emphasis on “we” makes it clear that your partner’s desires and needs are just as important to you as your own.

Make suggestions, not complaints

(and don’t expect them to be mind readers).

Ever hear of a compliment sandwich? The same principle works when it comes to sex. Tell your partner something they do well, then suggest how they can enhance that by doing something a little differently. Often it’s just a case of them not knowing what you like, so try to be as open as possible about your wants and needs and encourage them to do the same. This is a tactic that you can even use while you’re being intimate (surprise: dirty talk can improve your sex life and your communication with your partner). When your partner does something you’re really into, give them positive feedback. Telling them exactly what you want them to do to you at the moment can also be a turn-on for some.

Schedule a date.

Once you’ve talked it out with your partner, it’s time to put words into action. Scheduling sex is perfectly normal, so you can plan a time to get intimate when you’ll have few distractions. This makes intimacy feel more deliberate—not something that just happens by chance—which can give you and your partner both more agency to explore what it means to you. Don’t be afraid to talk about your desires before you get into bed—it can even be a great conversation to get you both in the mood. 

Set your boundaries

Saying no to sex and expressing firm boundaries can feel stressful, but it’s critical to put these needs. Be firm and direct, and know that you don’t owe someone an explanation for why you don’t want to have sex or try something—"no" is a complete sentence, and if your partner isn’t willing to respect that, then they’re not respectful of you. You can feel free to suggest other things you’re okay with, or if you might prefer making out, watching TV, or simply hanging out instead. A good partner will appreciate that you communicated your needs.

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