How to Talk About Sex With a Partner

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The Giant AskMen Guide for How (and Why!) to Talk About Sex With Your Partner

How to Talk About Sex With a Partner

The Giant AskMen Guide for How (and Why!) to Talk About Sex With Your Partner

How often do you talk about sex?

I don’t mean bragging to your friends about someone you’ve hooked up with, or complaining about not having it often enough. I mean, how often do you talk to whoever you’re sleeping with about what you both like?

Depending on your comfort levels, that might sound super hot, or it might sound super uncomfortable. But either way, for too many people, it’ll probably feel too daunting to actually undertake.

After all, whether it’s your body or your desire or the things you’ve done, it’s hard to reach adulthood without being made to feel ashamed of your sexual self in some way, either concretely and intentionally by people you know, or simply by interpreting sex-negative messaging that you encounter out in the world.

Unfortunately, the relative reluctance to actually talk about sex that many people feel is actively making their sex lives worse. And while it’s an issue that can impact people of all genders, this might be more of a concern for guys, since, in relationships with women, they are often expected to take the lead and make sexual decisions for both partners — i.e. when to start, when to stop, when to change positions, and so forth.

When a guy feels that he should be controlling or directing the goings-on, but doesn’t feel comfortable navigating a discussion about them, you have a recipe for underwhelming, unpleasant, or possibly even nonconsensual experiences.

On the flipside, feeling comfortable talking about your likes, dislikes, boundaries, and the things you’re curious about will make having a satisfying experience much easier for you and anyone you sleep with.

In order to help you get better at talking about sex, AskMen spoke to a handful of sex experts to break down what you need to know. Here’s what they had to say:

The Benefits of Talking About Sex

Sex, like many human experiences, doesn’t come with an instruction manual. And while there are certain aspects of it that you can be fairly sure will be pleasing to a broad range of partners, there’s nothing sexual that will appeal to every single person. In order to be the best at pleasuring any specific person, more than anything else, you need to be good at understanding what they like.

And while it might seem tempting to just try to guess, or read their mind, in practical terms what this means is that you’ll have to talk about it. This means that, more than anything else — more than your penis, more than your stamina, more than your technique — the thing most likely to make you good in bed is your ability to communicate.

“Talking about sex makes sex better. Period,” says Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast.

“When you talk about sex,” she says, “you have the opportunity to express your values, needs, desires, concerns, boundaries, fantasies and more. When a partner has a better understanding of your view on sex, they can be a better lover by honoring your values, adapting to your needs and desires, addressing your concerns, respecting your boundaries and indulging your fantasies.”

And while those are serious sexual benefits it’s hard to ignore, they can extend to other aspects of your connection with someone.

“Talking about sex with your partner isn’t just about unlocking the treasure trove of awesome sex (though that’s a perk worth mentioning!),” says sex coach Kenneth Play author of Beyond Satisfied: A Sex Hacker’s Guide to Endless Orgasms, Mind-Blowing Connection, and Lasting Confidence. “It’s like having a secret handshake that leads to this whole new level of emotional closeness. Think about it: you’re not just discussing positions or preferences; you’re unveiling layers of vulnerability together. It’s like sharing a secret stash of feelings and desires that makes you feel totally understood and embraced.”

And while this approach benefits people in any kind of ongoing sexual relationship, from a loose friends with benefits arrangement to a full-on marriage, it can have a seriously positive impact on those in long-term relationships.

“Studies consistently show that couples who discuss sex openly have happier relationships,” says SKYN Condoms’ sex and intimacy expert and author Gigi Engle. “We need to allow for more emotional intelligence not just into our relationships, but in our sex lives. The way we do this is by breaking down these nonsensical barriers in which we are entrenched and talk the heck out of our sex lives.”

In addition to simply helping you have better sex, talking about sex with a partner can also help address problem areas or aspects of it that you struggle with.

“Talking about sex can help you to shed shame and break stigmas related to sex, which can be particularly meaningful if your identity has been forced to the margins,” says O’Reilly. “Sharing experiences, talking about how you feel and hearing from others can chip away at the layers of shame that tend to shroud sexuality.”

“And,” she notes, it can “help you to work through sexual hangups, issues and blocks. When you keep worries to yourself, they can spiral and intensify in secrecy. Simply opening up with a supportive friend, partner or therapist can help to ease stress related to sex.”

Why Talking About Sex Is Hard for So Many Guys

1. They’re Afraid to Appear Vulnerable

“For most of us, sex talk wasn’t normalized when we were growing up,” says O’Reilly. “Many of our parents, teachers and friends avoided talking about sex or only did so in jest. It follows that having serious conversations about sex can feel awkward.”

This can be extra tricky for men. Few people enjoy being bad at things, and guys especially don’t enjoy being seen struggling. It is, after all, a very vulnerable experience, and most guys were taught that vulnerability is bad when they were growing up.

It may seem easier, to, as Engle puts it, “choose bad sex […] over an uncomfortable series of conversations.”

2. Their Idea of Sex Doesn’t Involve Any Conversations

Another issue may come from the way sex is framed in cultural depictions — as something that should happen in a rush of passionate bliss, without any discussion (in movies and TV) or something purely bodily, almost mechanical, without any discussion (in porn).

“Many people also avoid talking about sex because they assume that sex should flow freely or come naturally without conversation,” O’Reilly explains.

“If anything deviates from this script, we have no language to communicate,” says Engle. “For instance, if you have an erection problem or you want to explore something sexually, we don’t have vocabulary to talk about this.”

3. They’re Afraid to ‘Rock the Boat’

If they don’t necessarily believe that all sex should be free of discussion, maybe they believe that good sex shouldn’t need any kind of conversation in order to occur.

In this context, O’Reilly says, people might “worry that talking about sex might upset their partner. They worry that asking for what they want might be interpreted as a complaint or criticism.”

4. They Feel Ashamed by Sexual Matters

Many people “consider sex a topic we cannot discuss openly,” says Engle. “The subject of sex is shrouded in shame and embarrassment.”

Whether they were taught to feel that shame by their parents or guardians, adults they encountered in childhood like teachers or religious figures, their peers, or simply society at large, most people have some form of shame around sex, and it’s no surprise that this can make it hard for people to start honest and open conversations about it, even when they would like to.

How to Start Talking About Sex

Once you’ve gotten some practice in, talking about sex will start to feel like second nature. You’ll be able to say to the other person — whether it’s your spouse of many years or someone you’ve been hooking up with here and there for a few months — almost anything you’re thinking or feeling about the sex you’ve had together, because you’ll recognize that it’s not embarrassing and that it can help make your sex life better.

But until you get to that place of comfort, here’s how to start having those conversations, even when they’re awkward:

1. Be Open, Honest and Vulnerable

It might feel more natural to hide your true self. After all, you may not have opened up to anyone about the specifics of your desires, or any kinks and fetishes you have, before.

“Speaking about what gives you pleasure is vulnerable,” says Engle. “It is not easy, yet vulnerability is what connects us to our partners. So you need to share your vulnerability with your partner.”

However, while it may make sense to hold back about more taboo forms of sex you find exciting at first, keeping them hidden indefinitely doesn’t benefit either of you. If there’s a certain kind of sex that you need in order to be happy, your partner needs to know about that in order for the relationship to move forward.

2. Be Kind

“Be sure you’re not coming from a place of judgment, but are expressing your needs with empathy, kindness, and clarity,” says Engle. “You can say something like:

“I want to share with you what would really turn me on, make me feel really cherished and desired. I would like to try _______ with you.”

“The key is to emphasize the positive feeling it would arouse in you, rather than criticize your partner about the things that aren’t working,” she explains. “We want everyone to stay open.”

3. Be Curious

However confident you feel about all this, there’s a decent chance that your partner will feel at least some degree of shame revealing their sexual desires. So you shouldn’t frame this as a pressuring situation where they have to tell you things — but rather as a situation where you’re excited to learn more about them.

Showing genuine interest in the things that arouse them and/or get them off will be Step 1 in the process of making them feel comfortable enough to share with you, and Step 2 will be sharing your own desires and thoughts so that they can get ready to reciprocate.

4. Consider Doing a Yes/No/Maybe List

While it can be fun to slowly and organically list your desires and ask your partner about each one individually, there’s a fascinating tool for discussing sex that you can use to help find potential avenues for exploration together called a yes/no/maybe list.

In short, you’re looking at a long list of sex acts and kinks and going through it comparing which ones you both said “Yes,” to and which ones you both said “Maybe” to, and which ones have one “Yes” and one “Maybe” — with all the ones that got at least one “No” being off the table.

You can find a template for this kind of list online, or you can build your own, but either way, it can be a fun and fascinating way to establish where your desires overlap.

Another fun option is taking a kink quiz and sharing your results — or you could try sharing some of your favorite masturbation material with each other, whether’s that’s porn, erotica or just fantasies.

5. Recognize That It’s Not a One-Time Thing

Relationships don’t begin and end in a day. If you’re committed to each other in any meaningful way, your relationship is a kind of journey you’re taking together.

From this perspective, O’Reilly notes, it’s important to remember that the first time you talk about your sex together probably won’t be the last — nor should it be.

“It’s not a one-shot conversation, as how you feel about sex will inevitably change over time,” she says.

Acknowledging that this is Part 1 of an ongoing conversation can lower the stakes, as well as allow for both of you to slowly get comfortable talking about these kinds of things together.

Instead of a yes/no/maybe list, you could use one conversation to discuss hard nos, for instance, another to discuss things that really turn you on, and a third to discuss things you’d be curious to try someday.

Talking About Sex in a New Relationship

New relationships are great, but it can be stressful to instigate serious conversations in one — you can feel like you’re breaking an unspoken rule to simply have fun rather than engaging in anything that feels like work. But the beginning of a relationship is the perfect time to start modeling the healthy habits that will help you learn and grow together. So here are some tips for kickstarting the process:

1. Have the Conversation Before the Conversation

Before you start having a frank conversation about sex, “Start a conversation with your partner about why talking about sex is important,” says Engle.

Here, without getting into the specifics of your desires or secret fantasies, you can talk about the fact that sex is important to you, that you want to have a good and exciting sex life with the other person, and that you know talking about your sex life is the foundation of having great sex.

2. Pick a Context That Works for Both of You

Next, you can decide on when, where and how to have a conversation about it. It could be right away, or in the future, so long as you actually do plan it. And it doesn’t need to be IRL, either.

“For example, if you’re more comfortable sharing your thoughts via text, don’t feel pressure to talk in-person right off the bat,” says O’Reilly. “You can ask simple questions over text and gauge their comfort level to put yourself at ease.”

3. Take Your Time

As you saw earlier, this shouldn’t be a one-time conversation — which means it’s OK to break it up into smaller chunks as the two of you start to get comfortable with this kind of sharing.

“Don’t feel pressure to share everything all at once,” says O’Reilly. “You can talk a little bit at a time and share as much as you feel comfortable sharing to begin with.”

4. Have Fun With It

“Talking about sex doesn’t have to be sexy — but it can be,” says O’Reilly. “You can reveal your desires, interests and fantasies while flirting — via text or in person. You can also talk about sex during sex by giving feedback and guidance.”

Or, if it’s not feeling super-sexy, you can also just try to keep it from being purely serious.

“It’s OK to feel awkward and laugh your way through conversations about sex,” O’Reilly adds. “That can be part of the fun, as a bit of awkwardness can heighten awareness, excitement and pleasure.”

Talking About Sex in an Established Relationship

If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time and haven’t yet established a pattern of talking about the sex you have, it can feel extra daunting to finally begin — and much easier to stay the course of silence.

But if you don’t ever address the issue, it’s unlikely to resolve itself. So here are a few tips for finally getting the ball rolling:

1. Choose the Right Moment

“Make sure you have the full attention of your partner, that they are not busy with something else,” says Engle. “Choose a designated time that is carved out to discuss intimacy.” She suggests you say something like:

“I’d like to share with you some thoughts I’m having about our sex life. It’s very important to me that we can talk about this. Are you in a place to have this conversation?”

“If the answer is no, don’t be offended; ask when would be the right time. Just make sure you actually do get it scheduled.”

2. Be Gentle

“Open the conversation with a positive affirmation and share why you want to talk about sex so that they don’t jump to conclusions or assume that a conversation is indicative of a deficit,” says O’Reilly. She suggests saying something like:

“I love the way it felt when we did ___________ last night. I’d love to hear more about your fantasies so that we can explore together.”

“Remember that time we ___________? That was hot for me. How did you like it?”

3. Use Shared References as a Conversation Starter

“Use references from popular culture to start conversations,” says O’Reilly, suggesting you try saying something like:

“What did you think of that scene from ___________?”

“Sometimes using a third-party bridge can make it easier to share what you think and how you feel in the hypothetical,” she notes.

4. Talk About What You Like

“Normalize talking about sex when it’s good,” O’Reilly suggests. “Many people avoid talking about topics (including sex) until something is awry. Rather than waiting for issues to arise, talk about what you enjoy on the regular, and be generous with praise.”

5. Acknowledge the Awkwardness

A lot of the weirdness around sex comes down to the fact that we have high expectations of ourselves. Recognizing that sex is messy, confusing and complicated and that good sex takes work can go a long way towards making talking about it feel less stressful.

“Picture this: you’re sitting there, both feeling like you’re playing a high-stakes game of verbal Twister, and then you just blurt out, ‘Hey, isn’t this awkward?’” says Play. “It’s like popping a balloon; once you acknowledge the tension, it deflates a bit. Embrace the fact that it’s a bit like navigating through a maze blindfolded — it’s messy, but hey, at least you’re navigating together!”

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Source: AskMen


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