It can be difficult to talk about sex, especially with new partners. However, open and honest communication is an essential part of a healthy, satisfying relationship.
Sexual shame and discomfort, communication barriers, and a lack of cultural messaging can make conversations about sex feel difficult. Despite this, there are many benefits of sex communication.
Sexual communication is a skill — a person can learn how to do it and improve over time. It requires practice, a willingness to be open and honest, and a readiness to listen.
Read on to learn more about how to talk about sex with a partner.
Talking with a partner or partners about sex offers many benefits, including:
- Consent: Talking openly about sex can ensure partners enthusiastically consent to sex.
- Better sex: Discussing sex allows partners to discuss their needs, desires, and concerns. A
2017 studyfound that sexual communication could increase the frequency of female orgasms.
- Exploring desires: Partners who do not talk about sex may have more difficulty exploring their sexual desires together. Discussing needs and wants can help partners find common ground.
- Relationship satisfaction: Talking about sex helps couples communicate better and may improve their sex life. This can also improve relationship satisfaction, according to a 2020 study.
- Practical concerns: Talking about sex allows partners to address practical concerns such as safer sex, avoiding pregnancy, and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
These tips can help individuals prepare for conversations about sex.
Sometimes a person may not know exactly what they want or do not want, so it can be helpful to think about their needs and desires ahead of time.
A person can try asking themselves these questions:
- What do I think about when masturbating?
- Is there anything I want to try?
- Do I have any sexual desires that are not part of our current default sexual script?
- What sort of protection do I feel comfortable using?
Focus on finding common ground
No two people will have the exact same sexual interests and desires.
Instead, they can use the conversation as a chance to explore common ground, for example, mutual interests, concerns, and preferences. Sexual quizzes and lists of sex acts are useful tools for identifying this common ground.
Individuals can also categorize a common list of sex acts into a “Yes/No/Maybe” list. They can use it as a way of talking about acts that fall under the “Yes” category as common ground.
Discuss basic safety and consent
There are many ways to give sexual consent, so it is important to have a conversation beforehand. People can talk about the following:
- How do we want to show that we consent to something?
- What will we do if we don’t like something? Do we have a safe word or sign indicating it is time to slow down?
- What contraception is right for us? What are our concerns about STIs and unplanned pregnancies?
- Does a partner have a history of trauma or abuse?
Choose the right time
It is usually easiest to talk about sex when there is no conflict or sexual tension in the relationship. Some suitable times to try include:
- during a date night when partners are content
- on a long car ride when there is little or no conflict
- at a time when partners have the time and emotional energy the discussion requires, such as in the kitchen before or after a meal
Find a comfortable way to discuss sex
Talking verbally in person is not the only way to discuss sex.
For example, some people express themselves better in writing, so they may prefer to send an email or text. Others find that distance makes it easier and like talking over the phone.
If a partner or partners feel anxious or shy, they can try taking it slowly. Make sure they know they can stop at any time if they are not comfortable.
Talking about sex in a new relationship can be fun and exciting, but it can also be intimidating. The following strategies can help a person start the discussion:
- Begin by asking if a partner is comfortable talking about sex. Sometimes it is easier to talk on the phone, via email, or via text.
- Talk about basic needs and safety. Ask when and whether a partner wants to have sex, what type of sex they want to have, and how to practice safer sex.
- Avoid planning sex or getting consent when a partner is intoxicated. Before partners know each other well, this practice can affect consent and even cause trauma.
- Start small and go slowly. It is often easier to have several shorter conversations, each leading to more intimacy and deeper discussion.
Talking about what a person wants can be fun and exciting, as it helps people fulfill one another’s needs. However, it can also feel like criticism, and some individuals may worry their partners will judge them for their interests.
People can try some of the following:
- Try a sexual interests quiz: Partners can take these together as a way to talk about their desire. Some quizzes also allow partners to complete the survey separately and provide results of their shared interests.
- Talk with a partner about the things a person enjoys: Saying “I want you to do more of this” is often more effective than telling someone what not to do.
- Give positive feedback.
- Try using nonverbal cues: These can include moving the person’s hand or head.
- Invitation: Invite a partner to share their desires and accept their feedback.
Some strategies for discussing safe sex include:
- Begin by talking about a partner’s risk factors. Is there a history of STIs? When was the last STI test for each partner?
- Talk about goals for safer sex. Is avoiding pregnancy a goal?
- Discuss who will be responsible for birth control and safer sex. Will the partners share the responsibility?
A person can say no to sex at any time, even if they have previously consented to sex or are in the middle of having sex. Partners should see enthusiastic consent to sex — reluctant acceptance is not consent.
To say no to sex, try the following:
- Give a clear, firm “no,” rather than hoping that a partner will accept subtle nonverbal cues.
- Push the person’s hand or body away if they do not hear or listen to a person’s “no.”
- Talk about what each partner does want to do. Intimacy does not require sex.
- Be clear about whether this is “not this time,” “not this act,” “not this second,” or “not ever.”
Some people grow up with messages telling them that sex is bad or that talking about it is shameful. However, talking about sex can improve relationship communication and sexual satisfaction.
Partners who feel nervous about discussing sex can talk about those feelings too. It can be helpful to explore why sexual conversations might cause anxiety. Additionally, it is particularly important to talk about boundaries, safer sex practices, and consent.