When we fall in love, sex seems so natural and easy—we can’t imagine that one day, like any other part of a relationship, we will need to talk about it. But it’s entirely normal to have to discuss and negotiate many aspects of sex, from frequency to quality. After all, two people bringing two separate histories, expectations, and blueprints for physical intimacy are going to have differences.
Here are a few tips for a productive conversation:
1. Don’t surprise your partner with a sex talk.
Pick a neutral spot (not the bed!) to discuss this sensitive topic. Invite your partner out for coffee or drinks, and let them know ahead of time about your agenda. You might say, “I would love to talk about how we might increase our sexual frequency comfortably for both of us. Could we go out for coffee next Saturday morning and talk about it?”
2. Pick only one topic per conversation.
While it may seem efficient to try to get all of the bedroom talk out onto the table at once, sex discussions should be short, targeted, and limited. It’s best to sort out complex feelings about relational issues a little at a time.
For instance, Joan wishes Paul would be the partner to initiate rather than herself. She worries that he doesn’t find her attractive or feel much lust for her. Recently, his erectile dysfunction seems to inhibit him further. Here are the three separate conversations:
- (Subject: Initiation) Tell him how loved she feels when he initiates, and ask him if he’d be willing to do that on a weekly basis.
- (Subject: Attraction) Discuss his attraction to her. Maybe share how reassuring she finds it when he initiates sex and then ask if there is a way she could be more approachable.
- (Subject: ED) Talk about his erectile dysfunction and create a list of ideas to address it, like visiting a urologist, taking medication, building high-arousal scenarios, etc.
But she shouldn’t talk about all three of these things in one sitting!
3. Make suggestions rather than complaints—and use the utmost tact.
First, give your partner some reassurance by commenting on positive aspects of your sex life: “I really love it when we laugh in bed together.” Then, suggest what you want: “Other times, I long for more intensity.” Follow the suggestion with a specific example, “I think it’d be hot if you’d try a really sexy come-on.” Then, open the discussion for their viewpoint: “What do you love, and what do you wish were different?” Don’t say: “You are so goofy, I just can’t get turned on.”
4. Don’t forget the basics.
There are some basic questions you can ask to get a better understanding of each other’s expectations:
- What is the time of day when you feel most sexual?
- In your mind, does seduction belong to one gender?
- Do you like sexual initiation to begin with touch or with words?
- How often do you like sexual contact in one week?
- What moods, rhythms, and acts during sex turn you on?