(Plus, four guidelines to make the conversation easier.)
By Gottman Institute — Updated on Mar 10, 2023
Photo: Anton Astrada / CanvaPro
Let’s talk about sex because it turns out the most important part of cultivating a healthy sex life is talking about a healthy sex life. Research shows that only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually.
Here is an example of a conversation about sex a married couple had in my office.
Ashley: We’re doing better. It’s not as much of a problem as a few years ago.
Ryan: I feel like we are more secure as a couple now. I’m not sure I would say the problem is solved, though.
Ashley: Do you feel like anything has changed?
Ryan: How do you feel about it?
Ashley: Well, I viewed the problem as something that would destroy our marriage, and now I don’t worry about it anymore.
Ryan: I never thought it was a threat.
The issue in their marriage is that Ryan has wanted sex more frequently than Ashley. During this conversation, Ashley sought Ryan’s reassurance that this was no longer a problem. He still thinks it is but avoids telling her so directly because he doesn’t feel comfortable asking for what he needs sexually.
When partners talk to each other about their sexual needs, their conversations are often indirect, vague, and left unresolved. Typically both partners are in a rush to finish the discussion, hoping their partner will understand their desires without saying much. The less direct you are about what you want, the less likely you will get it.
Talking about sex is a powerful way to deepen intimacy and connection. Saying things like, “Last night when you gave me your full attention, I felt sexy and I loved it,” or “Making love in the morning is the best part of waking up!”
When communication is full of tension, frustration, ambiguity, and hurt feelings will follow. This is why friendship outside the bedroom is crucial to a passionate sex life.
It’s common for couples to want to talk about sex, yet struggle to find the right words to express themselves without sounding critical or feeling embarrassed. Below are the four guidelines for talking about sex.
How to Talk About Sex With Your Partner
Be kind and positive.
The key to talking about sex is not to criticize. If you do, the conversation will end faster than a “quickie.”
Saying, “You never touch my body,” is going to make your partner touch you less. Instead, try, “Kissing last weekend in the laundry room was sexy. I want more of that; I felt so good!” Instead of “I hate it when you touch me there,” try “It feels so amazing when you touch me here.”
Many of us sometimes feel embarrassed about our bodies or performance. Adding judgment or criticism to the mix will only worsen these insecurities. Sharing your positive needs will open up new ways of loving each other.
Talking about sex can be uncomfortable. Due to our upbringing, many of us have shame connected to enjoying sex, much less talking about our needs and desires. If you or your partner feel this way, go slow.
Start by talking about your feelings about sex, such as the messages you received growing up. Having that kind of conversation is a powerful way to enhance your feelings of safety with each other.
Don’t take what your partners needs personally.
I know this sounds counterintuitive because sex includes you, but a large part of what turns your partner on or off isn’t about you. Sex drive can be blocked by stress, feelings of shame, and so on. Just because your partner isn’t in the mood doesn’t mean they don’t find you attractive. Nor does it mean your lovemaking skill is lackluster.
Develop a ritual for gently refusing sex. Noted sex therapist Lonnie Barbach suggests that couples communicate their level of arousal through an “amorous scale” from 1 to 9, with 1 being “no thanks” and 9 being “oh, yes!” Using Barbach’s scale, refusal isn’t personal. It’s just saying that right now my body’s not feeling it.
Be accommodating and creative.
Good sex requires both partners to understand and communicate what feels good and safe and what doesn’t. Making accommodations for each other’s desires can become a pleasurable experience for both partners.
Returning to the couple above, Ryan wanted sex three times each week, but Ashley only wanted to have sex once weekly. Ryan felt rejected and frustrated by this, so he bought books and sex toys to turn Ashley on. This backfired, and Ashley’s desire disappeared as Ryan’s frustration grew. Eventually, they entered into gridlock with no idea of how to turn things around.
I encouraged them to focus on sensuality instead of sex and suggested that the partner with the lower level of desire (Ashley) be in charge of the couple’s sensual enjoyment. Since Ashley found massages both relaxing and pleasurable, she planned massage nights that included no sex but lots of touching and holding. Eventually, Ashley’s desire was back up, and the couple started having sex about twice weekly.
The way to enhance romance inside and outside the bedroom is to learn the art of discussing sex. Learning to communicate sexual needs, desires, and frustrations in a way that lets each partner feel safe will enhance the experience for both of you.
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What Men Really Think About Small Breasts (As Told By VERY Honest Men)The 9 Sex Positions That Help You Fall In Love (Yes, Really!)6 Expert Tips On How To Be Waaaay Better In Bed3 Erotic Sex Positions That Make Women Orgasm
Kyle Benson is a relationship coach who writes for the Gottman Institute and helps people create secure-functioning relationships so they can be happier, healthier, and more secure than ever.
This article was originally published at The Gottman Institute. Reprinted with permission from the author.