Although sex is one of the most important aspects of a relationship, it’s easy to let sexual communication lapse. This might be due to the fact that you weren’t taught how to discuss sex or that you were actively taught that sex was shameful, which can lead guilty feelings and an inability to fully express yourself – or even orgasm! – during sex. Being able to communicate about sex in a healthy and positive manner can strengthen your relationship, build self esteem and help you to explore your sexual boundaries like never before, and we’ve got the step-by-step guide for you.
Why Is Talking About Sex So Hard?
The Internet is full of message board threads and chat room topics where people talk about sex, but it seems like it’s another story when it comes to talking about sex in person, even to the person you’re having sex with! There are plenty of reasons why having conversations about sex might be difficult for you, and we’ll discuss some of those in brief.
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- Prior abuse can absolutely make it hard to talk about sex. You may have trust issues or even experienced PTSD, even if the abuse occurred when you were a child . Get advice for dealing with sexual assault.
- Being taught guilt or shame about sex is common, especially from parents and other authority figures, and it can close the channels of communication with your sexual partners if you can’t get beyond it.
- Religion may have influenced the way you see sex, making it taboo to talk about or even to enjoy if it’s not in the “right” way.
- Negative experiences in the past, such as a partner who wouldn’t listen to you or who made fun of your preferences, can cause you to shy away from expressing yourself now.
- Worrying about your sexual desires and fetishes is a common reason many women – and men – are reticent about describing what they want in the bedroom.
- Gender roles teach us that women should be subservient and bow down to your man, which may result in your reticence to let your partner know if he’s doing something wrong or if there’s something else you’d like.
- The media depicts sex as happening spontaneously and perfectly, without showing any of the awkward parts or preparation and communication that are necessary to make your sex life awesome.
- Lack of sex education and poor guidance about relationships in many parts of the world makes it more difficult to talk to partners about tricky issues like sex.
- Society has an unhealthy obsession with sexuality while making it a taboo subject.
- Sensitivity on your part, or of that of your lover can make you reluctant to talk about sex.
- Embarrassment about lack of experience or understanding your own body’s sexual response can be counterproductive when it comes to sexual communication.
- Difficulty communicating in general won’t make it any easier to talk about sex, which is such a personal and intimate subject.
Of course, there are other reasons that sexual communication is harder for some people than others. You might fear that something is wrong with you if you want something different in the bedroom or even think that talking about sex makes you a slut because you’ve internalized slut shaming. More on that here.
Perhaps you simply think that you should know how to be amazing at sex or that something is wrong with your sex life if you have to talk about it. Fortunately, neither is true, and talking about sex will only bring positive changes to your life.
Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Talk About Sex
In his book Tell Me what you Want, sex educator and researcher Justin Lehmiller discusses how the results of a study of over 4,000 people revealed the seven most common fantasies that people have:
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- Multipartner sex including threesomes and group sex
- Power play (BDSM)
- Novelty including sex in new locations, different positions, and using accessories or toys
- Taboo activities and paraphilias
- Partner sharing and non-monogamy
- Romance, passion, and intimacy
- Same-sex encounters and gender-bending
In fact, almost everyone has ever fantasized about group sex, BDSM, novelty, and romance and passion [2 p 14]. Group sex fantasies turned out to be the single most common fantasies reported. BDSM fantasies were the most common for more than 25% of the survey’s participants [2 p 19] while around one in five reported novelty fantasies as a favorite [2 p 28].
What does this mean? If you’re afraid to speak up about sex because you think your partner might judge you, think again. There may be a chance that your partner is even interested in the same things that you are and the two of you just aren’t being open enough about it.
Of course, you might have some same general interests that aren’t as compatible when you look at the details. For example, you might want to be submissive in the bedroom, which doesn’t always work. However, if you do bite the bullet and start talking about sex, you may find new things to try to bring both of you more pleasure.
Even if that’s not the case, you and your partner may become closer because you’re sharing your deepest desires. In his study, Lehmiller asked about partner reactions when people had revealed their fantasies to their partners and found that most partners responded either favorably or neutrally to those reveals [2 p 166]. Although negative reactions were possible and occasionally happened, they were less common than positive or neutral responses.
A different study finds that men are turned on when women request clitoral stimulation, and sex educator Laurie Mintz reports that her male students have been relieved when provided with instructions [3 p 166].
All this is to say, there is a risk of rejection or judgment, but it’s less likely to happen than you might think. You might not experience success if you try, but you’ll never succeed if you don’t.
Sex Isn’t Always Great for Women
On a final note, it’s essential to talk about sex because your partner is not a mind reader. Obviously, you can never know what your partner really thinks or feels if they do not tell you. This is why so many people who ask for advice about sex are told to “Ask them.” The “them” in this example is their partner, the one person who holds the answers sought. If it were easy to talk about sex, these people wouldn’t be asking strangers on the Internet.
When it comes to women, though, there may be even more at stake. While penetrative sex tends to mimic masturbation for men, the same isn’t usually the case for women. Many women need or prefer clitoral stimulation to orgasm , and penetration alone tends to miss this.
Sex can also be more painful for women than men. According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 30% of women reported at least some pain the last time they had sex while just over 4% of men said the same . Not only is it shocking how common it is for women to experience pain during sex, but many men wouldn’t assume this is the case. Why would they if their partners don’t speak up? Unfortunately, husbands seem to be less aware of their wives’ sexual preferences than vice versa .
Considering this, it’s not that surprising that some young women define good sex as sex that doesn’t hurt  and not necessarily sex that feels good. Of course, we don’t have enough time here to delve into how women are taught that sex is expected to be painful, we absolutely can remind you that if you’re experiencing painful sex, you need to speak up. You certainly need to talk to your partner about it, but if you cannot fix it with things such as more foreplay, lube, and position switches yourself, then you should talk to your doctor, too.
Communicating about sex is just one way to have good sex.
Sex Can Be Risky
BSDM practitioners are sometimes lauded for their communication skills. They discuss scenes, limits, and safety concerns beforehand. Having a game plan can decrease risks if you’re engaging in something that has the potential to be dangerous. Choosing a safe word before things get started means you both know when the scene is no longer working and how to stop it. Check out more on BDSM and safe words in this post.
Even when you’re not trying something with new risks, you can stay connected to your lover by checking in as you go along. In fact, this is a great way to get consent, which is essential to sexual communication. A simple “Do you like this?” or “Does this feel good?” opens up channels of communication, allowing you to adjust where necessary, so no one has to sit through another sexual scene that’s boring or, even worse, painful!
Talk About Sex Early and Often
Some people struggle with talking about sex because they only think to start once a problem arises. That actually might be too late. If you want to be able to survive topics as sensitive and vulnerable as those about sex can be, you need to make a habit of talking about sex frequently. This means you need to start early.
Don’t think of this as a bad thing. Sex often seems great in the beginning because of novelty and hormones. People are willing to put a lot of effort into relationships, including sex, in the beginning. But this sadly doesn’t remain true for many people as their relationships progresses.
But if you make a point of commenting on the sex, saying that you want it, and complimenting your partner’s moves when things are good, you’ve set a precedent to talk about sex. This makes it easier when things might need a tuneup or a change, and you’ve got to bring it up.
Now, this focuses more on a longterm relationship, but the same applies to casual encounters. Just because you don’t plan on seeing someone again doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about some things before you hop in the sack. Because it’s difficult to talk about sex and often seen as “unsexy,” many people forego conversations about sexual health and safer sex. But anytime you have sex with someone, you should also talk about at least the basics with them.
Communicating about sex has been found to increase the rates of condom usage in several demographic groups .
Someone has to start those conversations, and your partners might be relieved when you do (you may even find that this makes you good in bed). You won’t just become more skilled at talking about sex. Your partners will become used to hearing it, and this can become a ripple effect as people communicate more about sex with everyone.
Choose Your Timing Wisely
Knowing when to talk about sex is important. For instance, you can easily direct your partner’s attention to a certain part of your body and instruct him to stimulate you harder, softer or to the right during the moment. When moaned breathlessly, it can become a form of dirty talk. Read more in this guide on how to talk dirty with example phrases. This video will help you talk dirty with confidence, too!
But not every sexual conversation needs to happen inside the bedroom. This is especially true when suggesting new things that your man might need time to warm up to. If you’re not sure how he’ll react, you don’t want to spring a bunch of bondage gear on him before you get down to the act.
Nor do you want to suggest adding something new to your repertoire right after sex if you’re worried that it might bruise his ego. That time is better spent basking in the afterglow. Some people don’t like a lot of talking during sex, either, because it can take them out of the moment. If you only talk about sex inside the bedroom, it might be weird to discuss it at other times, but it will absolutely strengthen your relationship!
Thanks to the Internet, discussing sex has become easier than ever. All you have to do is point to an idea – maybe even an article about bondage or sex toys on this site – to gauge your man’s interest. If you read erotica, you can even use that as a springboard for sexual exploration. That’s why so many people have dipped a toe into the BDSM scene after the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey.
There’s a careful line to walk when it comes to timing. You don’t want to spring a conversation about sex on your partner at the wrong time. You should have privacy and be in safe and positive moods. After all, few people are receptive to change when they’re having a bad day!
One thing you can do is to let your partner know you want to talk about sex by saying something such as “Hey, when you have a chance, I wanted to talk about something I want to try in the bedroom.” This gives your partner a chance to come to you when they’re in the right state of mind and have time for that conversation. Alternatively, you might say “I was thinking we could talk about our sex life on Saturday afternoon when we’re both free.”
It’s important to make sure you have those conversations even if you’re nervous. And if your partner is the one who avoids conversations, you may eventually have to give him an ultimatum if sex is that important to you.
Some couples make it a point to check in with each other every so often. You might have a weekly or twice-monthly jam session where you discuss your relationship satisfaction, and this can include talking about sex.
Whatever you do, you don’t want to surprise your partner or make them feel trapped if you want them to be receptive to whatever it is you have to say.
Finally, it should go without saying that location is important, too. Privacy is key for each of you to open up fully. And it’s not cool to discuss your sex life in front of others who haven’t consented to hearing about it.
Once you’re both engaged in the conversation and free to be honest, you can start a conversation about, say, threesomes.
Prepare for your Conversation About Sex
Before you can talk about the things you want in bed, you need two things: to know what you want and to have the words to ask for it.
Know What You Want
The best way to know what you like is from experience, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to spend some time on your own figuring that out. Masturbation is one of the best ways to find out what you like and want in bed. Some women find it easier to orgasm the first time from masturbation than sex.
Of course, there may be things you’re interested in trying after learning about them that you cannot try without a partner. If you talk to your partner about sex, you might be able to try those things and see if you actually like them. Remember that not every fantasy works well in reality. That means you might not like something once you try it, and you should talk about that, too.
Also, if you know that there’s something you only want to stay in fantasyland without making it a reality, be clear about this when talking to your partner about sex.
Before you can talk about the things you want in bed, you need two things: to know what you want and to have the words to ask for it.
Find the Right Words to Talk About Sex
Secondly, you need to find your words. We mean this literally as in knowing what to call certain body parts, positions, or activities. Obviously, reading the Bad Girls Bible can help with this one. Why not start with this guide to vaginal anatomy.
Once you’re familiar with your body or your partner’s, you can get more specific in your requests, which increases the likelihood of him doing what you want. For example, some people mistake the vagina, the inner part of the genitals, with the vulva on the outside. There’s a pretty big difference there.
You also need to choose the words you’re comfortable with. Some people might prefer the medical definitions for clarity while others might think those terms sound harsh. Figure out what you like to call your vagina, your clitoris, your anus, your breasts, your labia, and every other part and use those words. It might be a bit awkward at first, but practice will help you become more comfortable with saying those words along with helping your partner to become more comfortable hearing them.
If you want to practice using these phrases in a low-pressure way, you can work them into dirty talk (which is also a form of sexual communication!). You might tell your man to “fuck your pussy,” “kiss your clit,” or “cum on your tits.” We use specific examples that you can stray from as long as you’re making a point to use those words.
Finally, you have to think about the words to use when expressing your feelings or making a request. It’s not uncommon for people to want to talk about sex but to struggle simply because they don’t know how to say what they’re thinking, especially if they haven’t made a habit of talking about difficult subjects or being vulnerable with their partners. This is why you’ll find some specific examples in this guide to talking about sex. Again, you don’t have to use them word for word, but they provide you with a foundation to work from.
One skill that can be useful when discussing a subject as sensitive as sex is to use “I” statements. This means you talk about how you feel, think and experience. Starting a statement with “You never do…” sounds accusing and combative and often leads your partner to become defensive and not receptive. But if you say “I’d like more clitoral stimulation to ensure I feel pleasure” sounds more like an opportunity and removes the blame that might lead to your partner shutting down.
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to your partner, and it’s one of our dating rules, too. If you pretend to enjoy something about sex, how will he learn what really makes you tick? How does that help you get closer together? And does it foster a happy and healthy sex life?
Faking orgasms, for example, trains your partner to do exactly what you don’t like. In her book Tongue Tied, Stella Hariss puts it best:
Every time we lie about how much pleasure we’re experiencing or fail to say when something doesn’t feel good, we’re making it even harder to start having the kind of sex we will enjoy [9 ch 2].
Being honest isn’t just about being honest with your partner. You must first be honest with yourself about your desires, experiences and even your anxieties. Discussing these in a safe and open environment can help to dispel some of the negativity and make sexual communication that much easier. In some cases, you may find professional support is necessary, but you might be surprised to learn how many anxieties are common across the human experience.
If you’re not honest about what you want or even need from sex and your relationship, resentment could build. Not only won’t you be getting what you need sexually, but you’ll be emotionally and mentally frustrated, too.
Start Slow and Explicitly
Just because honesty is the best policy doesn’t mean you need to say everything all at once. Revealing your innermost desire isn’t the end game. Instead, it’s a continuing project. Start with the easier things, gauge your partner’s interest, experiment, and work your way to the bigger or stranger requests.
This might be easier said than done if you’ve been wanting to try new things in the bedroom for some time and have a list of things you’d like to try in your head. However, sexual communication needs to be done at a digestible pace, just like any communication that would happen outside the bedroom.
Moving slowly, perhaps more slowly than you think you want, allows your partner to ease into new ideas if he’s hesitant. Plus, it allows you to work your way up to those more intimidating activities. While you might think you’re ready to jump into hardcore BDSM after reading Fifty Shades of Grey, this might not actually be true. Light bondage might really be what you want. More on that in this guide to light bondage.
Whenever you’re suggesting something new to a partner, it’s helpful to explain exactly what you want. In the example of BDSM, using the term “bondage” might scare off your partner. If all you want is to use some fuzzy handcuffs once in a while, or you’re interested in some light spanking, tell him explicitly what you want. Of course, you may want more than that, but start slowly and ease into it.
One piece of advice we like for easing into BDSM is to first add a blindfold to your regular sex. Add restraints such as cuffs or a spreader bar separately, without the blindfold, before you finally combine the blindfold and restraints for a heightened experience. Knowing what will happen before you try something new is crucial to allowing both you and your partner to enjoy new things comfortably, which brings us to our next point.
Make It Fun
It’s understandable if “fun” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. It can cause quite a lot of anxiety when you’re mentally preparing for a conversation that has the potential to be awkward or uncomfortable. But there are a few ways you can relieve stress and even have a little fun when it comes to communicating about sex.
There are a plethora of fun quizzes and tools on the Internet to figure out what you might like to try, which is good if your partner wants to experiment but you’ve never given it much thought. One such site is Mojo Upgrade, where both you and your partner can log in and select activities that you’d like to try. You can each do it from separate computers, which might make you feel more comfortable.
A number of checklists also exist to help you expand your sexual horizons and talk about things you might want to do with your partner. “Will, Want Won’t” charts enable you to mark what you will and won’t do, want to try in the bedroom. Scarleteen offers a Yes/No/Maybe-style checklist to get the ball rolling.
Take the time to honestly fill out the checklist and compare yours with your partner’s. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Aside from the Internet, you can try watching a sexy movie or porn or reading erotica and discuss what the characters do. Or a trip to the local sex store (or online store if it’s a better option for you) might be in your future.
Finding a way to make talking about sex fun can take off the pressure.
Sexual communication isn’t all about what you want; although, it can certainly turn your sex life up a notch or two. Effective communication means you’re listening to what your partner has to say as well. People who can do both are known for having expressive and receptive skills .
It’s normal to fear criticism, but talking about sex will give you insight into what your partner likes and doesn’t like, which may differ from what previous partners liked or even from what you naturally tend to do. Plus, it’s super hot to see our partners doing something for us just because they want to!
Not All Sexual Communication is Talking
Although this guide to talking about sex emphasizes verbal communication, you can absolutely communicate about sex without using words. This includes things such as placing your partner’s hand where you’d like it, moving your body toward or away from a partner, and even showing your partner how you touch yourself so that he can learn what you like and provide you with similar stimulation.
Just don’t get caught up in only using nonverbal communication. It leaves a lot of gaps that only talking about sex can fill in.
Sex educator Cory Silverberg sums it up nicely:
Communication isn’t always about talking, but I can promise you that one of the keys to great sex is an ability to talk about it. I can also promise that it’s easier to learn to talk about sex than it is to learn to read minds.
No matter how well you try to communicate, your partner may not be receptive to some of your ideas. Perhaps he has internalized some of the reasons why sex shouldn’t be talked about, and you can look over this post together. Or, you might simply be suggesting that he’s not into. Some people will never be into the idea of bondage or golden showers or any of the other hundreds of sexual desires, and you have to be prepared to receive a “No.”
Talking about your sex life enables you to determine your hard limits, those things you’ll never want to do, and soft limits, things you might do in controlled situations after warming up to the idea. When you know your partner’s limits, you can more easily draw a line between enjoyable and uncomfortable. You can also try to negotiate. Perhaps you want to be dominated sometimes, but your partner is more submissive. Thanks to sexual communication, you can swap roles from time to time, so you’ll both be happy.
While your ultimate fantasy might be pretty extreme, there may be aspects of it that you can play with. Some people enjoy edgeplay, which can incorporate knives. It’s understandable that this freaks some people out. It can be dangerous, after all! But if you’re blindfolded, the edge of a ruler or a dull knife can feel like the real thing without running that risk.
The same goes for any other activity. If you expect your partner to try something, you might be able to offer fulfillment of his own desires to make him more happy to comply. After all, relationships are a game of give and take.
Sex doesn’t have to be either/or, so looking for that middle ground might provide both of you with a way to be satisfied. However, it’s not about changing a “No” to a “Yes.” It’s about recognizing what might be an option. If your partner has expressed a firm “No” to any idea, you must respect it. Trying to wear a person down is a form of coercion and may even be considered assault.
When you create a space where you are both free to say “No,” then it’s safe to make requests even if the response is a negative one.
Sometimes you might find yourself with a partner who doesn’t think sexual communication is important or who doesn’t know how to talk about sex. It’s difficult to get to the root of the problem if your man doesn’t offer anything for you to work with. You may be able to reason with him that talking about sex will only bring you two closer together, or you might suggest seeking the assistance of a licensed professional – either together or separately – to get over sexual hangups.
You might find seeing a therapist beneficial if you don’t even know how to start the conversation about sex and are struggling with finding your words. It can also be helpful if you experience shame over your sexual desires. A therapist can help you deal with rejection or cope with your partner’s requests if they seem too out there for you, too.
Talking About Sex to Everyone in Your Life
So far we’ve focused on sexual communication with your partner, but there are many other instances in life when you’ll need to talk about sex. This includes talking to doctors and therapists, any children you might have, and friends and family members who may want advice or simply to bond. While these conversations will all look different from those you might have with a sexual partner (and even from each other), becoming comfortable with talking about sex in any sense will make it easier to have other conversations about sex.
Especially in the United States, people don’t talk about sex enough or in the right ways. This leads to needless misinformation and shame around sex.
One example is with teaching our kids about sex. Many parents find themselves in the position where their children are dating and interested in sex, but they’ve never talked about it before. At this point, they think they need to have “the talk.” But it’s almost too late at that point. Discussing bodies, gender, sex, and everything in between is a lifelong conversation between parents and children.
It’s really not that different from relationships. As long as you’re sleeping with someone, you should have good sexual communication for the life of that relationship.
In some, hopefully rare, instances, issues with sexual communication could be a deal-breaker. When your partners refuse to try new things or even talk during sex, it can breed resentment and even lead to cheating from either partner. If you find yourself in that position, it might be time to consider whether breaking up is the right thing to do, or if you can live with your current sex life for the duration of the relationship.
Fortunately, many couples come out stronger after making more effective sexual communication an active goal. If you’ve struggled with sexual communication, no matter how long you’ve been with your partner or even if you’ve had plenty of partners, your sex life may have suffered as a result. But talking about sex doesn’t have to cause anxiety or be uncomfortable in any way as you’ll see if you use the advice in this post. Sexual fulfillment is closer than you might think!
What the Science Says
No matter how you slice it, talking about sex is good for your sex life. For example, one survey by Jones, Robinson & Seedall found that
The extent to which couples communicated about sex (or sexual communication content) was significantly correlated with both relationship satisfaction for both males and females .
Another study found that “open sexual communication accounted for unique variance in both sexual and overall relationship satisfaction .” Yet another survey of 402 married couples found correlations between sexual communication and sexual and relationship satisfaction  while one study revealed that “inhibited” sexual communication correlates with marital distress .
As people disclose more about their sexuality, they may become more sexually satisfied .
And when it comes to painful sex, talking about it can lead to higher sexual functioning and satisfaction according to one study into women who experience painful sex due to a condition known as provoked vestibulodynia .
However, this doesn’t mean that talking about sex is easy. Participants in one study reported that sexual communication is often avoided by couples  and that people view it as presenting a threat to their selves and relationships that other kinds of communication do not present [18 p. 139–161].
Still, one study found that couples tended to display more warmth during sexual than nonsexual communication, and it suggests that they behave more cautiously during sexual conflict discussions. .
Finally, while verbal sexual communication is important, it’s not the only way to communicate about sex. If you and your partner are more comfortable with nonverbal communication about sex, some researchers suggest it might be better to focus on “finding consistency and satisfaction” within that communication style than forcing a style of communication (verbal) that doesn’t fit .
Stella Harris has literally written the book about talking about sex including information for navigating kink. Check out Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships.
Lehmiller breaks down how many people have had the seven most common sexual fantasies on his blog, which gives you an idea of how normal you are.
In this video, therapists Esther Perel and Margie Nichols discuss how BDSM practitioners rely on communication to establish consent before any scene has begun and how everyone can benefit from talking more about sex
Check out the chapter on communication in the book Becoming Cliterate.” In it, author Dr. Mintz discusses some of the (incorrect) assumptions that people make that prevent them from talking about sex, ways to communicate with your partner that may not necessarily be verbal, and why not communicating (or sending the wrong signal) won’t get you what you want in bed.
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