Ask the experts: How can I talk to my partner about sex?

Talking about sex with a partner or partners can feel like a difficult topic of conversation for many people. It can lend an air of vulnerability as you open up to each other, but how do you actually start the conversation? Here, psychosexual and relationship therapist, Jacqueline Jones, answers your questions on communicating about sex and intimacy.

Can you explain the difference between sex and intimacy?

Sex is generally thought to be about sexual function, like the act of vaginal, anal and manual (using hands) intercourse, or oral-genital stimulation, with a partner or partners. Solo sex is also a thing. Plus, for some people, sex equals kissing, holding hands or the use of fantasy. Some people have no interest in sex whatsoever. And that is fine and to be respected.

Others are more interested in intimacy, which is the closeness that is felt when the private and personal self is shared with one or more people. Intimacy is about feeling, emotion, warmth, and connection. Some people feel more intimate playing chess with another rather than taking their clothes off for sex. We are all different. We are all unique. That is what makes us so special.

Why is communication important in sexual relationships?

Communication is important because of consent. If sex is not consensual, it is abuse. If sexual intercourse takes place without consent, it is rape. Consent is not silence, and it is sober. It is a clear and enthusiastic ‘yes’ rather than the absence of ‘no.’

Remember, just because your partner/s wanted sex yesterday does not mean they want it today. That is why open communication is important. What you wanted to do an hour ago, you may not want now. Not everyone wants sex or wants sex all the time, and that is OK.

Partners are not mind readers, so unless we tell them how we feel or what we want, they may not know. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect another to guess our innermost thoughts and desires. Such expectations can put undue pressure on a sexual relationship. Clear communication is the key to a consensual, contented couple or intimate partnership.

I’m uncomfortable talking about sex with my partner. How can I make it less awkward?

Be assertive – take a course on assertiveness. Learn the skills, because assertiveness makes us feel connected to others, feel in control of our lives and create a respectful environment to deepen trust. Assertiveness allows us to state our needs, get them met, and improve mental health, thus creating an environment for better sex. Which is what you want, right?

Perhaps you’re uncomfortable talking about sex because you don’t enjoy it. Have you discovered an interest in kink or BDSM? Do you find sex painful, boring or anxiety-provoking? Then all the more reason for a conversation to take place. Schedule a time when you feel safe and relatively relaxed. Make sure it is a good moment for your partner, too. Write a letter or note and have your partner read it with you. Doing this you may find it makes your bond stronger. Feel proud of yourself.

Top tips for talking about sex

  • What would a good sex life look like? Share what you like, enjoy, or do not.
  • Breathe. Have some water and hydrate because when we are anxious, we can sweat, and our brain seems to stop, inhibiting us from saying what is on our mind. Take a breath and go with it, having practised what you want to say beforehand. 
  • Speak in a calm, clear tone of voice.
  • Trust yourself.
  • Try to keep it simple, factual and use ‘I’ statements.
  • Let your body do the talking, show your partner/s how you engage in solo sex, take their hands and guide them to where you want.
  • Take heart from the fact that many people struggle with talking about sex.
  • If you are having great difficulty communicating about sex, you may wish to seek help from a qualified professional who can provide the tools and support needed.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 81, 2023). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app

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Written by Emily Whitton
Emily is a Content Creator & Marketing Coordinator at Happiful and a writer for Counselling Directory.
Written by Emily Whitton
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