How to Talk About Sex with Your Partner

Dr. Karolina Pekala

Why It’s Important to Talk About Sex

Talking about sex with your romantic partner, whether dating, in a new relationship, or an established one, can feel tricky if you haven’t done it before. Communicating what you like, don’t like, would like, and things to keep in mind during sex if you have a medical diagnosis (such as endometriosis, vaginismus, vulvodynia, etc.) can bring relief, lessen pain, and increase sexual pleasure. Here’s how to get started.

How to Start Talking About Sex

One of the best ways to introduce talking about sex is at the start! Many couples never do so, as discussed by the famed relationship experts at the Gottman Institute. What can you do about this? Incorporate it into your routine so it becomes a ritual. When engaging in sexual activity at the beginning of a relationship, you can vocalize what your partner is doing that you like, or describe what they’re doing or what you’re experiencing.

While we’d love our partners to be mind-readers, if they do something new or something that feels good, getting that positive reinforcement means that they know what you like and they’ll do it again.

Similarly, if your partner is quiet during intimacy, you can ask: what do you like that I’m doing? Talking during sex doesn’t only need to be about the physical - it can also include other things such as the person’s voice. For instance, a person can say they like hearing the other person when they experience pleasure. 

Telling Your Partner You Dislike a Sex Act 

Similarly, if your partner does something you dislike that’s become part of the routine, you can express it in a neutral fashion. Separate your partner from the sexual act. Instead of saying, “I hate when you...I don’t like when you…” change the language to “I’m not a fan of...I prefer not to do...” You may also want to express what they do that you like so it doesn’t come off as a criticism. For instance, “I’m not a fan of XYZ, however, I like when you ABC.” You can also give a concrete example of what you’d like to experience or try. 

Make Communication About Sex a Ritual 

Talk about sex after the fact! This means not in the bed, immediately after sex, or getting ready to go to sleep. You can talk about it later in the day or even the next day. It’s easiest to start using this step with a positive sexual experience. Use emotional words and positive adjectives to say what you liked. For instance, are you driving somewhere? You can remark on how fulfilling or how much you liked what happened earlier in the day or the previous night. This opens a dialogue and makes it comfortable talking about sex outside the bedroom, and it lets the other person know they can do so as well.

How to Tell Your Partner Sex Can Be Painful 

Something I’ve found that can be extremely anxiety inducing in patients is having “the sex talk” when they struggle with a pain disorder or if sex can hurt sometimes. How do you tell someone new that you have a medical condition that can make sex painful, when you might not even feel comfortable discussing the diagnosis with your closest friends? The good news: this person is attracted to and wants to have sex with you. They will likely be receptive and open to your needs and want to make it a good experience for you as well. Some examples include: “I have a medical condition that can sometimes make sex painful. It feels better when... (e.g., we include lubrication, you let me handle insertion, we have sex in certain positions, we start off slowly, you do not go too deep, or whatever else you need to make you feel comfortable). Bonus: by talking about sex at the start, it’ll be much easier to do steps 1, 2, and 3.

Furthermore, your partner will be aware to keep your needs in mind, check in with you, and may even watch your face for clues. Often with pain conditions, there is fear of the unknown - what if my partner does something new they think I’ll like, but instead it’s painful? As an example, if you like talking during sex and it feels better for you to know what’s coming, tell your partner to ask you to try something new, and again, check in while doing so. Like in step number 1, communicate how it feels and whether you enjoy it or want to stop.

If you know what can cause discomfort, let them know preemptively! Communication is key. Many fears can wash away if you express them and make your partner aware. 

Not Wanting to Have Sex: Reasons, Solutions, and Communication Strategies

Remember, your comfort sexually, emotionally, and physically is key. Check in with yourself: are you okay with what’s happening? Consent is fluid and ongoing during sexual encounters, and you can express the desire to stop (and start) having sex at any time during the sexual encounter. If sex is painful with a new partner and takes a few times before comfort is achieved  - as is common in some women with pelvic floor disorder, especially in the instance in which muscles are tight - you can say: “As I mentioned before, I have a condition, and I want to stop for now.” For some women, pain may be intermittent and flare up at times. In those instances, you can say: “I’m having a pain flare and need to stop now.”

Our culture is ingrained with women being people-pleasers, including with sex. Women may fall into the trap of thinking it will be over soon or they try counting to 100 to distract themselves, etc.

This kind of distancing can lead to a trauma-like response to what is happening, with the desire to be out of body (i.e., wanting the experience to be over) and out of tune with the self. It’s important to take gentle care of yourself, and to realize that being attuned to your own needs and emotions is valid and important. 

You may also worry about disappointing your partner or think: “I’ll just go through the motions.” To make this easier, you can flip the switch and imagine being your partner who was in the dark. For example, imagine if your partner didn’t like what was happening, but felt like they couldn’t express it or that it was something they had to endure. It likely wouldn’t make you happy, so let them know. Couples often struggle with this, and it can be heartbreaking for someone to learn that they have been unintentionally hurting someone they care about. It’s important to be attuned to your own needs and to understand the deep connection between your mind, body, and spirit.

Your intuition is key. If something feels off, it likely is.Trust yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you and what thoughts or emotions come up.

It may take time to process and to realize the message. Sometimes it may come to you, and other times, it may help you realize that you want to engage in deeper exploration in a therapeutic space. 

Dr. Karolina Pekala is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. To learn more about how mindfulness & hypnotherapy can help you or to make an appointment, please contact us here.

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