Talking About Sex: A Guide to Sexual Communication
Ever noticed how much easier having sex is, compared to talking about sex?
Whether it’s because we’re shy to voice our fantasies and our needs, afraid of upsetting our partner, or we simply don’t have the language to say what we want – many of us put off sexual communication and subsequently miss out on having the sex that we deserve.
While talking about sex with your partner isn’t always easy, it’s definitely worth it.
No matter the type of relationship you’re in, communicating your needs can increase intimacy with your partner, allow you to better understand your needs, and make the sex more pleasurable.
As long as there aren’t other issues in your relationship, talking openly about sex in a kind and considerate manner can only bring good things to your relationship. So, if you’re not doing it already, it’s time to start.
While this guide may appear to be focused more on people who are already in relationships – as these are usually the people who need to talk about sex and renegotiate their needs – the information will also be useful for those who are not in a relationship at the moment or in more casual arrangements.
Why talk about sex?
Research shows that sexual communication positively correlates with more orgasms and more sexual intercourse. When both you and your partner(s) share your likes, dislikes, wishes, and expectations, you can learn more about how to please each other and enjoy more pleasurable sex.
A 2019 study also linked tied better sexual communication with greater sexual satisfaction and fewer faked orgasms:
“Women who continued to fake orgasms were more likely to indicate embarrassment talking about sex with their partner in explicit ways,” the study’s authors state. “More than half of women reported they had wanted to communicate with a partner regarding sex but decided not to; the most common reasons were not wanting to hurt a partner’s feelings, not feeling comfortable going into detail, and embarrassment.”
Communication is also a key part of being vulnerable, both with yourself and your partner. It allows you to explore your thoughts and wants, and understand what turns you on.
Some researchers show that sexual communication—particularly the ability to ask for specific acts—is a mediator between sexual self-esteem and sexual satisfaction.
Why is communicating about sex so hard?
It’s no secret that talking about sex is hard… but why? Theoretically, it should be easy to talk about sex with the person you’re having it with, but it’s not.
Before looking at how to communicate, it’s a good idea to reflect on why talking about sex is so hard for you personally. When you can get clear on the meaning informing your struggle, you can start to understand it and overcome it.
One reason could be that you grew up in an environment where sex was never mentioned. Perhaps you feel a lot of shame and embarrassment and as you’ve never seen people talking about sex, you don’t have anything to mirror.
Or, you may have had an uncomfortable experience having a conversation like this in the past that didn’t go well. Maybe you or a previous partner got upset or offended.
You may feel ashamed or embarrassed by what you want to ask your partner to do. Or, you may simply just not have the words to talk about sex. Unfortunately we don’t have language to talk about sex and have to rely on either medical words or words that seem more “playground” in nature.
Once you’ve reflected on why it’s hard for you, you can come equipped with that knowledge when you have the chat and may even choose to share it with your partner. When you’re ready, read on for the ways to make it easier.
What to discuss in a sex conversation
There are a whole range of topics that can and should be discussed with your partner. What exactly you discuss will be specific to your relationship but here are some ideas:
Where and how you like to be touched
Before you can have open conversations about your sexual wants needs, it’s important to figure out what your needs are. Spend some time getting really honest with yourself about what your sexual needs are. Look back at your previous sexual experiences and think about how they feel now.
While this guide is about speaking to a partner, the most important sexual relationship you will ever have is with yourself. Therefore it’s really important to spend some time nurturing your own relationship and sexual practice. Learn how to give yourself the same attention you’d give to a partner.
This is where masturbation comes in. The more you know and explore your own body through solo sex, the clearer you will know your likes and dislikes. Plus, learning how to have orgasms on your own can make it much easier to have them with someone else.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How do you like to be kissed? Where?
- Where do you like being touched?
- Do you like to be tickled?
- What are your personal erogenous zones?
- How much pressure feels good?
- Do you like pain?
- What would an ideal sexual experience look like?
If you’re comfortable, you can also show your partner how you like to be touched by masturbating in front of them. Or you can both do it at the same time if you like – mutual masturbation is both hot and informative!
Try the Pleasure Your Pussy guided masturbation on afterglow
This guided practice will help you experiment and explore new ways of self-pleasure and get you out of habitual ways of touching yourself.
Sexual fantasies and desires
Talking about your sexual fantasies may be difficult at first but it can be the secret to much more fulfilling sex. Keep in mind that everyone has sexual fantasies, and they are usually much more common than you realise. We tend to think we’re alone in our desires and that they make us strange, but when we share them we find that this isn’t true. Plus, being vulnerable and opening up about your fantasies can increase intimacy between you and your partner(s).
It’s important to think about why you want to share your fantasy with your partner beforehand – is it something you want to try in real life? Do you want to tell them as a form of bonding? Or do you want to watch porn with this fantasy in together? Check out our guide to fantasy & desires for more on this.
So, what are some sexual activities you think you might like to try? Try these practical – but sexy – conversation starters to get you started:
- “I want to receive [blank] from you for the next three-minutes” or “I want to do [blank] to you for the next three-minutes”
- “I thought it would be really hot if we told each other our sexual fantasies. Would you be open to that? When is a good time to talk about them?”
- “I’ve never tried it, but the thought of [blank] really turns me on…”, then continue to share your curiosity about this new thing, and what makes it so intriguing for you.
- “Is there a particular porn film that turns you on to watch? Do you want to watch it together?”
- “It really turns me on when we try new things together, I was wondering if you’d like to try [blank] together?”
- “What do you think about when you masturbate?”
If you find it too hard to talk about your sexual fantasies face-to-face, you can also broach the idea by message and start sexting.
And remember, with any of these conversation starters, never pressure your partner into agreeing to something that they’re not interested in. Part of asking is knowing and allowing the other person to say “no.”
Likes & Dislikes
It’s important to know what turns you on and off, and communicate this to your partner. Your partner isn’t a mind reader so you can’t expect them to get this right without telling them.
You may choose to make a yes/no/maybe list to share with your partner.
Encourage them to do the same. Under the ‘yes’ column, you list things that you like and want to engage in. The ‘maybe’ column is for things you might want to try, but you’re not sure yet. And the ‘no’ column is for anything you absolutely don’t want to do.
See where your and your partner(s)’ lists overlap, what similarities do you have? What do you not share? Sex contains such a wide spectrum of activities, this exercise is a great way to get a better idea of what you and your partner(s) like in sex.
Get communication inspo from How to Hook Up on afterglow
Watch ‘How To Hook Up’ on afterglow to see how adult performers Mickey Mod & Vanessa Vega tell each other their likes and dislikes both before and during sex. From how they like to be kissed to how they express their wants during sex – this is a great lesson in sexual communication.
But, what if I don’t know what I like?
No fear. If you’re not sure exactly what you like, you might want to try our exercise So, What Are You Into? on afterglow first.
A lot of us aren’t sure what we are into when it comes to sex because we haven’t spent much time intentionally exploring what turns us on. In this exercise, we help you answer the question by covering topics such as types of touch, moods and styles, settings, kinks, fantasies vs desires, and toys and props.
In part two, we guide you through an erotic body scan to help you identify and articulate your in the moment desires.
What are your boundaries? What sexual activities do you not want to explore? Are there parts of your body that are off limits? It’s important to understand your sexual boundaries before engaging in sex with another person and then communicate them to your partner(s) to ensure that your boundaries aren’t crossed. And remember that your boundaries are constantly changing, so what may have been great at the beginning of your relationship might not be doing it for you, and that’s ok.
If you don’t know your sexual boundaries yet, try adrienne maree brown’s somatic exercise Discovering Your Sexual Boundaries on afterglow. This 15-minute audio exercise will help you feel, generate and articulate your own boundaries.
Check out these ideas to talk about your boundaries with your partner:
- If there is something that you know you’re not into anymore, you could say, “You know, I think I’m not into [blank] anymore, but I’m really into that new thing you did to me last night.”
- Try out a red and yellow system when you’re having sex. Saying “yellow” means “let’s do something else” and saying “red” means “let’s stop.” This can be helpful in all sexual situations, regardless of whether it’s vanilla or kinky, and remind us that consent can be revoked at any point. It also helps if you don’t want to ‘ruin the mood’ during sex and would prefer to have a discussion about it properly after sex.
- Practice reconfirming consent throughout sex, even if you’ve been having sex in the same way for years. It can be a helpful reminder to ensure that you’re both safe and having fun. Check-in with your partner by asking them, “is it ok if I do [blank]?”, “how does this feel?” etc.
- Write up a list of your boundaries separately and share them with each other. Share and discuss the boundaries, and make sure you both really listen and understand each other, before comparing any similarities or differences.
This should be a constant conversation as boundaries are ever evolving and can change day-by-day and depending on the person you’re having sex with.
Watch this short video of Esther Perel & Margie Nichols discussing the importance of sexual communication, why it’s so important to know what we like, and what we can learn from the BDSM community about communication.
A common issue for people in relationships, it’s super important to communicate to your partner when you’re not feeling like sex.
Libido can change day by day, and sometimes two people’s sexual desire don’t align. When you don’t want sex, communicate that to your partner honestly and kindly.
If this is a recurring theme in your relationship and it’s starting to cause problems, consider speaking to a professional for advice. There are so many things to consider when it comes to sex drive, including your physical and mental health.
Even if there are no specific issues you want to address, speaking about things such as your favorite sexual times together or sex dreams you’ve had can normalize talking about sex together and may lead to more intimacy, and more sex.
If you’ve been with your partner for a while, you will have likely discussed your STI status before but it’s important to leave space for this conversation to come up again. Whether you’re in an open relationship or not, this should be a normalized conversation and not something to feel awkward about, but it comes with practice. If you know you have an STI, you need to share this information with your partner(s) before sex, regardless of whether you’re using barrier protection or not. The more honest and straightforward you can be with this information, the better.
Gather as much information about the STI before speaking to your partner so that you can come with the facts on transmission, prevention, and treatment. Allow your partner time to ask you questions, and do your best to answer them honestly. Remember that everyone reacts differently in the moment, and your partner may need some time to adjust.
When to have the sex chat
Timing is everything when it comes to talking to your partner about sex, especially if you’re hoping to address some issues in your sex life.
While it may seem more natural to talk about sex just before or after you’ve been intimate with your partner, this is not necessarily the best time to do it. After sex, your emotions are heightened, and you may not be in the best emotional state to talk.
It’s a good idea to talk about sex before you get hot and bothered. This is especially important for topics that require logic, like safer sex, STI status, boundaries, etc. It’s important to make time away from the bedroom, when you are both dressed, and sex isn’t necessarily on the menu for these topics, as most of us don’t act rationally in the heat of the moment.
Although, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t apply when it comes to some conversations that are great fun to have while you’re turned on and that can enhance the sexual experience. For example telling your partner how good something they’re doing feels, or what you want them to do, how you want them to touch you, or when sharing your sexual fantasies.
Lehmiller tells The Guardian, “Your disgust response lessens when you’re aroused, so your partner may be more receptive. Break the ice: watch an erotic film, have some wine – find something that gets the ball rolling.”
How to talk about sex with your partner
Talking about sex can seem incredibly daunting if you’re not used to it, and it’s ok to feel nervous! It shows that what you’re doing is important and also exciting. The nerves will disappear over time as this conversation becomes more normal.
Get consent first
Before talking to your partner about sex it’s important to get consent first. It’s important that your partner is in the right headspce to talk about sex before you start.
- Are you in a good place right now to have a chat about our sex life?
- I’d love to have a check-in about our sex life, when’s a good time for you?
- Can we have a date night this week? I’d love to spend some quality time with you and would also like to chat about our sex life.
Consent can also be revoked during your chat, if this happens then the conversation should stop immediately. Try to end it on a positive note by telling your partner that you care for them and you can pick the conversation up at another time when they’re able to.
Consider your partner’s feelings
Being in a relationship means you should bring empathy to any conversation about sex. The first thing to keep in mind when going into this conversation is to consider your partner’s feelings just as important as your own. Both you and your partner(s) should feel safe, secure and calm. Though it’s important to be direct with what you’re saying, especially if it’s something you’re saying no to, remember to be positive about what you do like and direct your partner(s) in a way that lets them know what you do enjoy.
Take responsibility for your own pleasure
When communicating with your partner, you must accept that you are responsible for your feelings and your pleasure. Don’t place blame on your partner, because it unfairly turns your problems into your partner’s. Instead of saying “you always…” or “you never…”, use “we” statements and account for your own role in the issue.
Be positive, not critical
When having this conversation it’s important to be patient, kind, supportive, and compassionate. An important part of sexual communication is to remember to be positive and to avoid focusing too much on criticism or frustration.
“For every one negative thought or comment we hear, we need 3-5 positive ones to rewire our brain, and rebuild its neuroplasticity,” sex & relationship therapist Jackie tells Fatherly. “Healthy couples understand and validate each other. They make sure to address everything, while focusing on positives and allowing their partner to share as well. And during these discussions, they’re open, honest, and engaged.”
Talk about the good bits too
It’s important to discuss the good parts of sex too! Tell them what you love, what turns you on, what’s great about your sex life. The next time something sexy happens that you love, let your partner know it! Ground the conversation in the parts of your sex life that you love and want to continue, before moving onto a discussion about what you’d like to change.
Keep it light if you can
Have fun with the conversation. Sex should be fun, so sexual communication should be too! Make jokes, smile, laugh, and flirt. Keeping it light will make it feel way less intense and help combat awkwardness at the same time.
Communicating during sex
Remember that communication can happen during sex too. We can often become quiet and shy during sex, and we don’t tell our partner what we want them to do for fear of ruining the mood.
Try using positive affirmations such as “that feels good, keep doing that”, and sex noises. A moan when your partner is doing something that feels good can sometimes say more than a thousand words!
Communication can also be non-verbal during sex. You can move your partner’s hand to where you want it, guide their hand for the right pressure or touch, push your body into theirs, adjust the pace.
Combining verbal and non-verbal communication is the key to more pleasure.
How to say no to sex
Another part of sexual communication is learning how to say no to sex without feeling guilty, or like you somehow owe your partner(s) sex. You have the right to say no to any kind of sexual activity you don’t want to do.
Don’t rely on your body language and hope that they’ll get the message that you’re not interested. Be explicit, and say no.
It doesn’t matter if they’re a long term partner that you’ve slept with hundreds of times before, or someone you’ve just met. Whatever your reason – no means no.
You also have the right to change your mind during sex and say no, after saying yes. Maybe you started having sex and then you decided it doesn’t feel right. Or you said yes to a certain sex act but then didn’t enjoy it. You can stop sex at any time you want.
How to receive feedback
OK so you’re all set for how to give feedback, but what about receiving it? Sexual communication is a two way stream. Invite your partner to share their wants and needs with you and reassure them that you will listen without judgment.
Listening can be just as difficult as plucking up the courage to start the conversation. Many of us tend to start thinking of our response while the other person is still talking instead of properly listening to what they’re saying.
To really hear what your partner is saying you must focus and be an active listener. Don’t listen to respond with your ideas, listen to learn more about your partner. Ask questions, confirm what they’re saying, ask them to repeat things. And try not to take things personally or become defensive.
If it helps, you can listen to their feedback and then ask for some time to process before discussing any further.
Schedule the sex talk regularly
Sexual communication is necessary throughout a relationship, from the beginning to the end. Once you’ve been in a relationship for a while, you may be hesitant to give feedback in case it hurts your partners’ feelings, or because you feel like it’s “too late” to bring it up. It isn’t! It’s never too late to start talking about sex. Plus, our interests and desires change – what you liked last night or last year, may not feel good now.
Once you establish a way into these conversations, turn it into a regular occurrence. You could suggest making it a monthly check-in that happens as part of a date night. You can discuss what is working for you, what you want more of, and what isn’t giving you pleasure anymore. If you get into this regular habit it will be much easier long term to give and receive feedback.
The bottom line
The sex talk is not a one-time conversation, it should be an ongoing part of your relationship. A healthy sex life should be enjoyed and nurtured. So, check in with your partner often and engage in regular sexual communication to enjoy a great relationship, and great sex. 😏
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 YOUR pleasure came first?