When someone comes to me with a sex concern, most of the time the first question I ask is whether they’ve talked to their partner about it. Most of the time, the answer is no.
We sex educators and therapists are notorious for saying, “just talk about it!” Like in your favorite romance novels and rom coms, the conflict can often be avoided if you just talk about it. Unlike in those fantasies, your happily ever after isn’t guaranteed. You have to work for it.
Having Big Scary Talks is part of that work
Often it’s hardest to talk to about sex with the person you’re having it with. You’re worried about judgment, being laughed at, having different desires, what it means if you have different desires, if this will be the person who realizes you’re bananas and finally leaves…just to name a few concerns I’ve heard from my counseling clients!
Plus, there’s a lot of societal messaging wrapped up in these talks, about how a “good relationship” doesn’t need them and so on. That’s not true, but just knowing that doesn’t mitigate the anxiety.
Five strategies for making Big Scary Talks easier
1. Create the right atmosphere for you: Some people love having Big Scary Talks in a car where you have lots of distractions. Others prefer to set some mood lighting, play some soft music, and do some eye gazing beforehand. Whatever works for you!
2. Own your vulnerability: Be the first to say that this feels scary, or awkward, or whatever other emotions come up for you. Doing so invites your partner to have empathy and also to share in an equally honest way.
3. Touch throughout: Maintaining a physical connection helps you stay connected, even if one or both of you doesn’t get the outcome you hope for. Plus, when you touch, your heart rate and breathing sync up. You stay connected on the most elemental level.
4. Keep in mind how your partner learns best: Keep in mind there are two people involved, and we don’t all process information in the same way. For example, my beau is an engineer through and through. He needs to research and read before he decides. When I want to share something with him, our first conversation will go a little something like this: “Hey I’ve been reading about X and am interested in exploring it. How do you feel if I send you some articles?” And then I’ll follow up with him about it later when he’s had the chance to learn more. Which leads me to…
5. Know it might be a multi-part conversation. Many of us need time to sort through our feelings about new things, especially when it comes to something as steeped in shame and stigma as sex. It’s entirely OK if one or both of you needs to take a beat and sort through your feelings about something. In fact, this is way healthier than powering through.
Now that you have some general guidelines for the conversation, how the heck do you start it? There are several different approaches to starting this conversation. Here are my two favorites.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need a reason to bring up sex with your beau but let’s be real: we don’t live in that world. We live in a world that’s lied to us about how great sex and intimacy happens. For example, your partner should “just know.”
Make it work for you
Use this article to broach the topic with your beau. You can say something like, “Hey [pet name], I was reading this article about [topic] and it got me thinking about it. How do you feel about that?”
Notice two things in this structure. First, by saying the article or workshop put it on your mind, you distance yourself from the topic. My clients say this feels freeing and less vulnerable. Secondly, you end with an open-ended question. Nothing shuts down a conversation faster than a yes or no response. By avoiding yes or no questions, you create the opportunity for a nuanced conversation about the topic at hand rather than a knee-jerk reaction.
Lastly, while I generally advocate for honesty, a little fudging here goes a long way to easing your anxiety. Perhaps you say a friend mentioned the sex act or you read an article after the thought popped into your mind. Work towards not needing this, but if you do at the start? That’s OK.
Have a weekly check-in about sex—and more
My friend and colleague Taryn recently tweeted about how much her and her fiancé’s weekly check-ins have improved their sex life and relationship.
She describes the benefit of her approach like this:
“I find it’s immensely helpful to have a designated time every week to talk about the state of your relationship…This makes it a lot less scary than when you get a “we need to talk” text in the middle of the day out of the blue.”
Make it work for you
Use her questions as inspiration to start a tradition of your own. For example, Sundays are couple’s day for me and the beau. We run our errands, cook together, and look at our calendars for the week to get on the same page about our schedules. Throughout the week, we like to ask similar questions about our day-to-day. It helps us stay connected despite everything going on around us and leaves space for sharing about our desires and hopes even if it’s in a small way.
Talking about sex creates more trust, affection, and caring
And when it comes to creating the right context for an intimate, exciting, and fulfilling sex life, these three attributes are key.
Want me to answer your sex questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org