As someone who writes and talks about sex regularly and openly, I still find it to be one of the most difficult topics to bring up in a relationship. Why is it so hard to ask for what we want sexually? Learning how to talk about sex with a partner isn’t something we’re taught in sex ed (not like it’d be nice to know that sex is pleasurable for women or anything).
Psychologist and sex and dating coach Myisha Battle said that while “our culture tells us that talking about sex ruins the organic or spontaneous nature of sexual desire,” her experience with her clients has shown that this is certainly not the case. A healthy sex life is crucial for a healthy relationship, but what that looks like is different for everyone, which is why it is so important to have open and honest communication with your partner about your wants, needs, and desires.
Why are we so afraid to speak up about our sexual pleasure?
“Women are taught in society that speaking up for any reason is a negative,” said Dr. Kryss Shane, LSW, LMSW. “Women are also taught that wanting or enjoying sex makes a woman less desirable (it’s why terms like slut and whore are considered insults). When you put these teachings together, it’s no wonder a woman can feel fear in speaking up about wanting sex or wanting something specific during sex!”
“Many women are taught that the needs of others are more important than their own, and some are taught that sex is to please their partner,” said Dr. Rachel Needle, licensed psychologist. “For many, sex is a taboo topic even with their romantic partner(s).”
Many of us are afraid that if we bring up what we want, the other person won’t want it too, and they will ultimately then reject us because of it. Battle said “part of it is being vulnerable and part of it is practice.” The more we work on being open about sex with our partner, the more natural it will start to become. “You just have to keep doing it in small ways, and little by little, over time, it does get easier,” she explained.
Battle explained that when people “gather the courage and the strength to talk to their partners about what they really want, they are opening up for someone to actually give that to them.” And actually, “when they are at their most vulnerable is when they receive the biggest benefit.” In her practice, Battle often works with couples who haven’t had sex in months or have been having difficulty in that area, but when they have the conversations they’ve been avoiding, it actually opens up some of that “erotic energy,” and they start having sex again. Feel like talking yet?
How to start talking to your partner about sex
Discover what you want
The first and most important step in communicating your desires is knowing what they are. If you don’t have a clear vision of what you want, how are you going to ask for it? If we have the confidence and assuredness in our needs, we’ll likely bring people into our life who are going to meet those needs or at least be open to hearing them.
Lead with the positives
Battle advised talking about any must-haves as early on in the relationship as possible and to provide feedback early on as well. Her advice is to lead with positive reinforcement. “If your partner does something that you like, make sure you express it to them,” she said, going on to say that some people even like a “debrief conversation” after sex to talk about what they liked and what they want to do next time.
“Approaching a long-term partner about sex can cause them to wonder if they’ve left you dissatisfied in the past,” Shane warned. “When approaching them, be mindful that they want to make you happy and they may have their own insecurities.”
Use foreplay as a time to talk or talk during sex
Certified sex therapist and clinical psychologist Dr. Kristie Overstreet recommended using foreplay as a time to talk, saying that you can “make it light and airy to test the waters.” I’m a big proponent of talking during sex too. If you like something, speak up in the moment.
You can even guide your partner with non-verbal cues if you are hesitant to say it out loud, like your body language or sounds. “If they are doing something you like, moaning can help your partner know you’re happy,” Shane explained. “If you want something different, place your hand over theirs and show them while continuing to kiss or rub on them so that it becomes a bit like ‘follow the leader’ without it being ‘here’s what you are doing wrong.’”
Turn to movies, television, or podcasts for inspiration
Overstreet and Shane suggested referencing a television show or a movie if you are nervous to come out and say exactly what you want. You could even tell your partner you read an article or heard something on a podcast and ask them what they think about it. “You don’t have to ask them if they’ve done it before,” Overstreet said. You can simply ask them if they’ve ever thought of it or if it sounds interesting to them.
Keep your overall communication healthy
Overstreet explained that in her experience, “couples that work on keeping their bond tight and healthy can bring this stuff up in the moment” and that it really depends on the type of relationship you are in. If you are often nervous to bring things up even after a long time together, you may need to do some deeper work on your communication in general.
However, Shane warned to be understanding that your partner might not know how to do this either. “Remember that everyone grew up being taught things about sex and everyone has insecurities about their bodies and whether they are a pleasurable partner. By considering your needs and your partner’s, everyone can decrease the stress and increase the fun.”
Ask about each others’ fantasies
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We need to start embracing our sexual fantasies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that your partner likely has a fantasy they have always thought about trying but have been too nervous to bring up. Step up to the plate and ask them to share it with you. Asking about it doesn’t mean you have to do it (unless, of course, you want to!), but it does open up the door for them to ask you about yours too.
It is never too late to start these conversations with your partner. Do the inner work, figure out what you want, be open about it, and lead with positivity. And remember, communication goes both ways. If your partner brings up something they want, listen, ask questions, and be open to hearing from them too. Battle said these conversations are a great opportunity to “flex our communication skills and to practice being open in the interest of getting what we want.” And the way I see it, good sex is worth a difficult conversation. Needle said it best: “And what’s the worst that can happen? Because the best could be pretty damn good!”