Let’s talk about sex, bay-bee. In the song, it sounds fun. In real life? Bringing up sex can be nerve-wracking. Even if you grew up with amazing sex ed (which most of us didn’t), you probably weren’t taught how to talk about sex with your partner.
How do you ask for something different — for them go down on you with a specific technique, bring a sex toy into the bedroom, try a pleasure exercise, or watch porn together — without offending them? What words should you use to get what you want? How do you even start the conversation?
A lot of our community members at afterglow struggle with these questions. We created this guide to help. (Disclaimer: there’s no one right way to do it. Feel free to take what’s helpful for you and leave what isn’t.)
How to talk about sex with your partner
Let’s dive in. The best place to start? Your own head and body.
Acknowledge your feelings (especially judgment and shame)
There are so many valid reasons to feel complicated feelings when you think about sex. Anxiety, resentment, frustration, sadness, shame, guilt, and judgment are all normal.
The problem? When we’re flooded with judgment or shame, it’s hard for us to feel anything else (like confidence or curiosity). So many of us judge or blame ourselves when something in bed isn’t quite working, and we don’t even notice we’re doing it.
Check in with yourself. When you think about sex with your partner, what feelings come up? Try not to judge the feelings (even judgment). Instead, ask yourself what you need and practice self-compassion.
If this is challenging, consider talking it out with a trusted friend or a therapist.
Being aware of your feelings will help you have a more confident, intimate, and productive conversation with your partner. 💕 Plus, self-awareness is sexy.
Explore what you want, sexually
So much of communicating about sex boils down to knowing what you want. But knowing what you want is easier said than done.
Common advice tells you to spend quality time with yourself in the bedroom to learn what you want. Often, though, what we do solo doesn’t end up translating when we add a partner to the mix.
Masturbating is a wonderful way to learn more about yourself sexually, but we recommend taking it one step further.
Next time you masturbate or fantasize, take mental notes. Describe what you’re doing or fantasizing about in plain, specific words. Maybe even write these words down (you can open the notes app on your phone or use a journal. You can also delete what you write later, if you don’t want anyone to be able to see it.)
This practice will help you communicate with your partner, even if your wants with them are completely different than your wants solo. It takes practice to put words to sexual desires.
You can also try a guided audio exercise to help you clarify what you want. This exercise helps you answer the question, “What are you into?” It also gives you the chance to hear other people share what they’re into (and reminds you that your desires are normal and hot).
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Gather your thoughts
Now that you’ve practiced naming what you want with yourself, take some time to think about what you want from your partner.
Here are some categories and ideas to help you brainstorm:
- Communication — I want us to talk more in bed. I want us to talk about sex more often
- Understanding — I want to understand you better, sexually. I want you to understand something about me, sexually
- Sex — I want us to have sex more/less often
- Initiation — I want you to initiate sex more often. I want you to initiate sex less often, so my imagination has time to get going. Or, I want to initiate sex more often
- Newness — I want us to try something new in bed. And I want us to keep trying new things all the time. I have ideas
- Pace — I want us to do [insert sex act] slower/faster
- Softness/Roughness — I like sex that is soft. Soft touches, soft kisses, soft words. I want us to have rough sex. Firm touches, bites, and scratches, please
- Whatever you’re thinking about right now. Add it to the list. This is your sex life, after all. You deserve to get what you want
- General sex acts — I want you to go down on me. And I want you to do it every time we have sex
- Specific sex acts — Before you go down on me, I want you to cup my vulva while I grind on your hand. Then, I want you to spread open my labia, make your tongue pointy, and lick my clit from side to side as fast as you can
- Kinks — Would you ever be open to having me tie you up?
- Fantasies — Sometimes, I think about how hot it would be if we watched porn together. Wanna try it?
- Practices — Would you be up for trying a guided pleasure mapping exercise? It might be a fun way for us to learn more about each other
Tip: Combine a specific want with a general want. I want us to try new things in bed more often. And I have some ideas. Would you ever be open to having me tie you up?
Tip: It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re asking for a change. I know we usually have slow sex, but I’m actually really into rough and fast sex. Would you be up for trying it?
Feeling inspired? Good. This is your reminder that talking about sex is hot. (Your partner will think so, too.)
Start the conversation
Now that you know what you want to say, you’re almost ready to say it. The last step? Starting the conversation itself. If this step is hard for you, you’re not alone.
We live in a culture that teaches us to be ashamed of having sexual feelings, let alone talking about them. The fact that you’re reading this, though? It means you’re ready. You can do this.
Here’s how to start a conversation about sex with your partner in five simple words:
“Can we talk about sex?”
If that sounds straightforward, it’s because it should be. This question sets the tone for an open-ended conversation. It’ll likely spark your partner’s curiosity. And it might even turn them on.
If uncomfortable feelings come up, or if it feels weird to initiate a conversation, it’s okay to acknowledge that it feels weird.
You can say things like:
- I know we’ve never really talked about this before
- It can feel weird to talk about sex
- I know we haven’t talked about this in a long time
- It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about sex
- I feel vulnerable
Your partner will appreciate your honest communication. Plus, your vulnerability might give them permission to share their honest feelings, too.
And remember: vulnerability is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Same with awkwardness and discomfort. Whatever you’re feeling is okay.
We recommend starting the conversation in a non-sexual context (not right before or right after sex). When you talk about sex outside of a sexual environment, there’s often less pressure. You can take your time with the conversation, you don’t have to make decisions right this second, and neither of you will feel like you’re being critiqued based on sexual performance.
Practice non-judgmental listening
Now that you’ve started a conversation, let’s talk about an underrated aspect of talking about sex: listening.
Listening is always a challenge, but when you’re talking about sex, it can be particularly vulnerable to listen.
Remind yourself to breathe. This is not the only opportunity you’ll have to talk about sex with your partner; it’s the beginning of an ongoing conversation. You can (and should!) revisit desires, boundaries, and feelings about your sex life on a regular basis.
No matter how your partner reacts, the conversation will go better if you approach it from a place of genuine curiosity. Ask your partner open-ended questions based on what you hear. Show them that you’re listening by repeating what they say. Validate their feelings.
Remember that you’re on the same team and that you are a badass for bringing up sex in the first place. No matter how the conversation goes, you did the right thing by starting it.
Celebrate yourselves and each other
If talking about sex were easy, there wouldn’t be a need for articles like this one. Take a moment to appreciate yourself for prioritizing your pleasure!
You can also take a moment to express gratitude for your partner. A simple, “I appreciate you. I know talking about sex isn’t always easy,” can go a long way.
One other way to celebrate yourself and your partner? Put into practice whatever you just talked about, together. Actions speak louder than words, right? 😉
60% of women are dissatisfied with their sex lives. We’re on a mission to change that.
What if you didn’t have to search to find a body that looks like yours, a sex act that turns you on, or a guided exercise that helps you tell your partner exactly what you’ve been craving?
What if YOU came first? ✨
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