How to Talk About Sex With Your Partner

In the start of a relationship, passion and sex tend to come more easily. As Sue Johnson says in her book Hold Me Tight, the chemistry that we feel in the early days of a relationship is “nature’s way of drawing us together.”

But many of us have been conditioned to consider sex as a passing sensation, the end goal of finding our perfect match, instead of an ongoing mechanism in lasting relationships.

Making matters even trickier is the lack of example we have in addressing sexual communication, as sex is typically portrayed in media as a natural, flawless act, leaving us to think that if communication is required, there is something wrong with us.

Satisfying sex life and secure attachment in relationships tend to go hand in hand- great sex creates emotional closeness, and emotional closeness leads to great sex. While only 15% of content spouses attribute their relationship satisfaction to sex, 50-70% of unhappy couples attribute distress to sexual relationship problems.

When stressors creep into a relationship over time, sex tends to be the first relational dynamic impacted. But it actually represents a loss of connection and safety between partners. Less closeness leads to less satisfying sex, which leads to less sex and hurt feelings, which leads to less closeness, et. cetera et. cetera.

Healthy sex is paramount to emotional closeness in a relationship, which we need for safety and security. Talking about sex throughout your relationship might seem awkward, but opening up about these topics is key to staying close. In this post, we are sharing practical tips on how to make sex talk more productive, less scary, and more connecting.

“We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”

Tom Robbins

How to Talk About Sex With Your Partner

Here are our best tips for talking about sex with your partner.

Focusing on a partner when thinking about sex is natural. But before you can bring anything to your partner, the first step is actually some self sexual exploration.

  • What does good sex mean to me?
  • What do I like to feel leading up to sex? (e.g. we were really connected today, I was missing you today, etc.)
  • When do I feel while having sex?
  • What do I what sex to feel like?

Becoming clear on your own sexual desire and relationship to sexuality is a great place to start, so we don’t get wrapped up in what sex “should” be or feel like.

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Talking about sex can feel awkward if it isn’t part of your relationship language yet. However, a lifetime of seamless, conversation-less sex is a myth.

Instead of waiting until things are feeling disconnected or uncomfortable to start to discuss sex, incorporate some dialogue into your communication regularly. This could look like talking about what you enjoyed from your partner after sex, or describing something you want to try.

Having a pattern where you talk to your partner about sex regularly will make it more approachable when there is disconnection you want to address. Create time to talk about sexual activity and it will start to feel more normal.

The topic of sex is vulnerable, and taking feedback can be intimidating and lead to shame or self-consciousness if it’s not delivered lovingly. Emotional safety is absolutely crucial for vulnerable exploration in the bedroom.

To facilitate that safety, and have a productive conversation, focus more on what you like and what you want more of from your partner. Instead of criticizing something that doesn’t feel good, try adjusting them by telling them what they have done and could do that will make you feel good.

Sexual disconnection can lead to emotional connection, and vice versa, which ultimately lead to a lack of secure attachment and safety in a relationship.

Instead of blaming either person on something you may be dealing with, externalize the issue from both of you. Approach whatever you are facing as a team and work together to become connected again. This prevents either person from being labeled the “problem”, which would only lead to further shame and disconnection.

Some questions you could ask are, “how can we make this work together?” or “how can we both adjust to find each other again?”

Recognize that everyone’s need are different. There is no such thing as being “good” in bed- everyone has unique desires and preferences.

No one is expected to be a sexual expert. In a long-term relationship, both partners are always growing and changing. The only way to know what your partner craves or likes is by talking about sex.

Leave the conversation open and continue checking in with one another, and build your own confidence by exploring and pleasing your partner. Be open and honest about your sexual fantasies and create a space where your partner can do the same.

During conversations about sex, it can be really natural to feel vulnerable or shameful and shut down. Most of us grew up in a world where we were shamed if we explored or discussed sex. And the natural response to that shame are still alive in our bodies.

Just like you want your partner to know what works for you, without it meaning there is anything wrong with your partner, allow space for your partner to express their pleasures and desires, and don’t take it personally if it isn’t what you expected.

It can be helpful to have conversations about what you learned about sex growing up. And how conditioning makes this conversation feel sensitive. Create the emotional safety together be being honest and open.

Let’s be honest- sex is awkward. Being completely vulnerable with a partner with the most private parts of your body is an experience that should be handled with care and openness.

As you discuss ideas or desires you hold, don’t think experiences should be perfect the first time around. Allow yourselves to be awkward, get oriented to each other, feel playful, and adjust as you go.

No person is meant to perform perfectly, and the expectation can lead to shame. Approach the experience as a chance to connect with your partner, not a chance to validate your own worth.

Along with this idea, let go of any images you hold from the media of what you think sex should look like. And remember, none of that is real.

In her book Hold Me Tight, Sue Johnson (the founder of emotion-focused therapy) describes three sexual cycle patterns in couples:

  • Sealed Off Sex- Sex is used in place of emotional closeness
  • Solace Sex- Sex is used for validation of self-worth
  • Synchrony Sex- Emotional closeness and erotic exploration come together

While we all want to aim for synchrony sex, many couples fall into the first 2 categories.

There are often emotional wounds that need to be addressed in order to develop healthy sexual patterns with your partner and integrate emotional and sexual closeness.

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Healthy sex is part of a health relationship. Working with a marriage counselor, in sex therapy, or couples therapy for young adults can help couples to identify their sexual pattern and work in a structured way to heal the emotional wounds that are manifesting as sexual distress.

Often, these wounds are fears or longings about not feeling worthy or desirable, and instead feeling rejected and abandoned.

When partners have a secure emotional attachment, resources and safety for physical intimacy expand. And partners feel free to explore their sexual needs and share their longings with one another.

A relational or sex therapist can guide you to communicate with your partner in this sensitive and difficult conversation.

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