How To Talk To Your Partner About Sex

by | Mar 15, 2023

Have you ever felt nervous or uneasy discussing sex with your partner? Do you get caught in the pursue-withdraw pattern, where one person wants to talk about or pursue sex while the other avoids it?

You’re not alone.

Many people find it difficult to discuss sex openly and honestly with their partner. This can be especially true when there are mismatched or unrealistic sexual expectations in a relationship. It’s common for these conversations to be marred by tension and they may lead to conflict.

With the help of expert opinions and research, we’ll provide some helpful tips about how to talk to your partner about sex.

Considering Your Comfort Level

According to a study published in the Journal of Sex Research, people who reported higher levels of sexual communication with their partners also reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction.

As a result, before engaging in a conversation with your partner, you must first assess your own level of comfort. This is no different for married couples, where unspoken marriage expectations around sex can create added pressure that makes open discussion even harder.

If you are uncomfortable discussing sex, your partner may sense your discomfort and become uncomfortable as well. Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a sex researcher and author of “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life,” suggests reading sex books, exploring your own body, or talking to a trusted friend to become more comfortable.

Tell Me What You Want by Justin Lehmiller - Book Trailer

Selecting the Appropriate Time and Location

Choosing the perfect time and place for a sex chat might make all the difference. It’s best to choose a comfortable, uninterrupted moment when both of you are free of distractions. You should also find a secluded, calm location where you may speak freely without fear of being overheard. This is especially true for partners with children or other family members living with them in the house.

Getting the Discussion Started

I want to spend a little more time on this section because this is often the greatest hurdle with any difficult conversation, but especially sex. The topic may feel charged or tense, and the feeling that it’s easier just to leave it alone is how months or even years go by in a flash and you realize it only gets harder to do.

With a few therapist-recommended exercises, you can initiate the discussion in a respectful, honest, and useful manner. Here are some specific examples of how you can start the conversation:

Ask for Permission: Checking in with your partner to see if they feel comfortable discussing the subject is crucial. You could ask something like, “Hey, I want to talk to you about our sex life. Is that something you’re okay with?” This approach shows that you’re willing to have the conversation on your partner’s terms and respect their boundaries.

Use “I” Statements: By beginning the conversation with “I” statements, you can avoid criticism or blame. For instance, you could say, “I feel like we’re not as intimate as we used to be, and I want to talk about why that might be,” as opposed to, “You never initiate sex anymore.”

Start on a Positive Note: Setting the tone for a productive discussion can be accomplished by beginning the conversation on a positive note. I love being intimate with you, and I want to make sure that we’re both getting what we need from our sex life, you could start by saying.

Bring Up a Specific Concern: Keeping the conversation on course and preventing it from becoming too broad or overwhelming can be accomplished by focusing on a particular issue. You could use language like, “We haven’t been having sex as frequently lately, I’ve noticed. Are there any current events that call for discussion?”

Share a Personal Experience: Opening up and breaking the ice with your partner can be accomplished by sharing a personal experience. You might say, “I recently read a piece about how important sexual communication is in a relationship, and it made me realize that I want to have a conversation about our sex life.”

Keep in mind that the purpose of the conversation is to establish a secure and transparent environment in which you and your partner can express your feelings, thoughts, and worries. You can lay the groundwork for a fruitful conversation about your sexual relationship by coming off the conversation respectfully and positively.

Listening Actively

Active listening is a cornerstone of healthy communication in any relationship, but this is especially true when talking about sex with your partner, when it’s even more critical to carefully listen to your partner. This entails paying them whole attention and not interrupting them. Try to listen without passing judgment or becoming defensive. If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation.

I urge you to read my article on active listening for more on the incredible impact it can have on a relationship.

Sharing Your Ideas and Emotions

It can feel scary to share your thoughts and feelings regarding sex. Nonetheless, it is critical to explain yourself in a non-judgmental manner. Employ “I” statements rather than “you” expressions. Instead of expressing, “You never satisfy me,” try, “I occasionally feel unsatisfied and am unclear how to solve it.”

If your partner is listening actively, they should try to validate your emotions before moving into their feedback and response.

Being Open to Feedback

Your partner may have feedback for you too. It’s important to be open to feedback without becoming defensive. Ask for specific examples and try to work together to find solutions.

Finding Solutions Together

Finally, it’s important to work together to find solutions to any issues that arise. This could mean trying new things in the bedroom, setting boundaries, or seeking outside help from a therapist or sex counselor. The key is to approach the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to work together.

Putting it all together: How to Start the Conversation

Using the steps outlined in the blog as a guide, I’ll give several specific examples of how to begin the conversation with your partner. I love descriptive writing so I will set each example up with a scene, since the details of how, where, and when the conversation is started are all equally as important. While each couple’s experience may look completely different depending on the dynamics of the relationship, the setting and language all work to foster a respectful and supportive environment for talking about sex and intimacy.

Example 1:
It’s a warm summer evening, and Sarah and John are sitting on their back porch enjoying a glass of wine. The sun is setting, casting a warm golden glow over the yard.

Sarah: (pausing for a moment) John, can I talk to you about something?

John: (putting down his glass of wine) Of course, what’s on your mind?

Sarah: (taking a deep breath) I wanted to talk to you about our sex life. I feel like we’ve been distant lately, and I want to make sure we’re both getting what we need out of our intimacy.

Now imagine the same words, but set in a busy household, with kids vying for attention or phones ringing with texts and emails from work or friends. The scene here, and in the following examples shows the couple is connected and bonding together before beginning the conversation, creating a safer and more open environment where guards may have already been let down and the discussion won’t be shot down before it ever began.

Example 2:
It’s a cold winter evening, and Maria and Tom are sitting on their living room couch watching a movie, holding hands beneath a warm blanket.

Maria: (pausing the movie) Tom, can we talk for a minute?

Tom: (putting down the popcorn) Sure, what’s up?

Maria: (taking a deep breath) I wanted to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind. I feel like we haven’t been as connected lately, and I think it might have to do with our intimacy.

Of course, pausing the movie might not work for everyone, and might actually be a trigger for some, but as mentioned before, to each their own. You have to draw on what you know about your partner to ensure the setting is conducive for the intended conversation.

Example 3:
It’s a rainy day, and Lauren and Mark are sitting in a cozy coffee shop, sipping their lattes.

Lauren: (putting down her cup) Mark, can we talk about something?

Mark: (setting down his phone) Sure, what’s on your mind?

Lauren: (taking a deep breath) I wanted to talk to you about our sex life. I’ve been feeling disconnected lately, and I want to make sure we’re both happy and fulfilled in our intimacy.

These examples all draw on the steps outlined in the article. They all ask for permission, use “I” statements, start with a positive, bring up a specific concern, and create a safe and open space for discussion. Each person will need to adapt his/her approach to their relationship and attachment style. While some may need to be more direct, others will need to be more gentle in their approach.

Final Thoughts

Talking to your partner about sex can be difficult, but it’s important for a healthy relationship. Remember to assess your own comfort level, choose the right time and place, start the conversation with open-ended questions, actively listen to your partner, share your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way, be open to feedback, and work together to find solutions. With these tips, you can have a successful conversation about sex with your partner.

Mara Hirschfeld, LMFT
Mara Hirschfeld, LMFT
I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and the proud founder of Holding Hope MFT. I created Holding Hope as a space for individuals and couples to delve into their deepest selves, free from the fears of judgment or shame. Through my writing, I strive to cultivate a deeper understanding of mental health topics, breaking down barriers and fostering a more supportive and informed community.

Looking for a therapist?

Book a free consultation to see if we’re a good fit.

Interested in therapy?

Work with world-class therapists at Holding Hope. Take the first step today by filling out the form below, or click the link to self-schedule a free consultation with Mara, the founder of Holding Hope.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name
Why are you reaching out?
Book a consultation online

Click to self-schedule a free 20-minute call.

(917) 740-7199
connect@holdinghopemft.com

The latest from our blog

How To Identify Needs and Wants In Your Relationship

How To Identify Needs and Wants In Your Relationship

Have you ever wondered what truly makes a relationship work? Through my training and experience as a couples therapist, I've discovered that one of the keys lies in understanding the importance of identifying and fulfilling needs and wants in a relationship. In this...