If You Want Better Sex, Tell Your Partner What You Want
Sexual communication takes practice, but it's usually worth the effort.
Posted April 26, 2019
If someone asked you if you were good in bed, old scripts would predict that your response would be a sly smile and something along the lines of, “Well, I’ve never had any complaints.” The punchline rests in the nature of the topic—people still have a hard time talking about their sexual needs, experiences, or satisfaction with their partners (Rehman et al., 2017). If your partners aren’t exactly thrilled with what’s happening in the bedroom, they may be hesitant to speak up for a couple of reasons, one of which might be the fear of hurting your feelings, and the other being their own discomfort with talking about sex at all.
Even in a world of pervasive sexual objectification of people, the ubiquity of easily accessible pornography, and the mainstreaming of once unspeakable sexual preferences, including BDSM, couples still feel anxiety when preparing to discuss their own sex lives with their partners. Rehman and colleagues (2017) found that when couples were independently preparing to discuss any type of non-sexual conflict, they experienced significantly less anxiety than they did when preparing to discuss conflicts or differences related to sexual intimacy or needs. What is it about sexual communication that makes it so tough?
While some families may encourage their kids to feel free to ask any questions or bring up any topics in conversation with parents, there are still a vast number of families that openly or covertly discourage discussions about sex-related topics. Some cultures encourage silence and convey expectations of abstinence in terms of any discussion of sexuality. Religious values may hinder open discussion of sexuality and reproduction. In some homes, the “Taboo Four” topics are still avoided: sex, money, politics, and religion.
Family or Parental Taboos
In other families, parental anxiety or embarrassment may limit discussion. Generational patterns may result in parent-child communication vacuums regarding sexuality. Children and adolescents may grow up without appropriate words to label their own reproductive anatomy—much less be able to describe feelings of desire, arousal, or sexual preferences.
Broaching the Subject
What isn’t a mystery is what the results can be if a couple gets over their hesitation to talk openly about their sexual relationship. If you are able to ask for what you desire and make clear what you would like your partner to avoid, the chances of enjoying higher levels of sexual and relational satisfaction multiply exponentially. Rosier and Tyler (2017) found that the by-products of practicing the skill of sexual communications included greater satisfaction with your sex life and relationship, less fear altogether about broaching the topic, and more effective skills in coaching your partner to do the things that please you most.
There are some fundamental basics about successful couples’ communication that should be followed—especially when the topic is sex:
- Strike while the metaphorical iron is cold, not hot. Don’t complain about performance immediately after the curtain closes on a final act in the bedroom. If you didn’t agree to a “review session” beforehand, don’t bring up complaints or “what if’s” now. “Monday morning quarterbacking” is of little use and can be counter-productive if you’re lying in bed and the deed has already been done. Don't invite post-coital conflict as it is unlikely to bring about any positive results.
- Give your partner advance warning. Let your partner know that you’d like to make time to discuss your sexual relationship and make sure you both are okay with whatever time is chosen. There’s a lot of self-doubt that can bubble up when a partner wants to have a discussion about any relationship issue, but when it’s about sexual performance, it can leave a person feeling especially vulnerable. Share that it’s about making things “even better,” and don’t stress that it’s about “what’s missing.” Don’t complain about being “unsatisfied,” but share your desire to enjoy “even more satisfying” sex than you’ve been having.
- Intentionally choose a “safe” location of the discussion. This means that you should plan your conversation to take place somewhere other than a “personal turf zone” or the bedroom. When someone has home field advantage, it affects the perceived power balance in the relationship and sexual intimacy and satisfaction are best facilitated by equality in the relationship.
Coaching for Success
Once you’ve had your opening discussion about ways in which you might like to experience sexual intimacy in different ways, it’s time to help your partner know exactly what you would like to see happen. Using a model of coaching originally presented by Beebe, Mottet, and Roach (2004), Rosier and Tyler outlined a 5-step process for initiating discussions with a partner about what your sexual desires or needs are from the relationship. The 5 steps were:
- Telling your partner what activities or behaviors you do and don’t like
- Showing your partner exactly what you are describing so that nothing is left “murky”
- Inviting your partner to engage in the things that you enjoy
- Encouraging your partner by sharing what feels good, what feels better, and what feels best
- Correcting any confusion or misunderstandings through direct, open communications
It’s not unusual to assume that a partner might take constructive feedback as criticism of their sexual prowess. It’s also not unusual to be fearful of damaging your relationship through the provision of feedback relating to sexual performance. However, the fear that keeps you from sharing your preferences and needs is also the self-imposed blockade that can keep you from receiving the satisfaction you crave or engaging in activities you would prefer. It’s true that if you don’t ask for what you want, you can’t complain if you don’t get it. Rather than starting with a complaint about what you don’t like, start with praise for what your partner is doing right. Help your partner learn about your needs through positive feedback and encouragement. And don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your partner about what your partner does and doesn’t like.
Open the Sexual Communication Pathway in the Way that is Best for You
And for those of you who still might be a bit hesitant to ask for what you want or need, you might consider a text or email to your partner to open the conversation or detail your most intimate desires. Even individuals who are actively involved in some pretty heavy BDSM have acknowledged that “typing” their needs can be easier than “stating” their needs (Rubinsky, 2018). Send your partner a message sharing your desire to engage in a little “one-on-one tutoring” in the bedroom or make plans to “catch up on your homework,” and this lets you broach the subject, open up the communication lines, and get you both on the same page so that the subsequent face-to-face conversation is expected, not a surprise attack.
Beebe, S. A., Mottet, T. P., & Roach, K. D. (2004). Training and development: Enhancing communication and leadership skills. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Rehman, U.S., Lizdek, I., Fallis, E.E., Sutherland, S., & Goodnight, J. A. (2017). How is sexual communication different from nonsexual communication? A moment-by-moment analysis of discussions between romantic partners. Arch Sex Behav (2017) 46: 2339. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-017-1006-5
Rosier, J. G., & Tyler, J. M. (2017). Finding the love guru in you: Examining the effectiveness of a sexual communication training program for married couples. Marriage & Family Review, 53(1), 65–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/01494929.2016.1177629
Rosier, J. G. (2017). Finding the love guru in you. Lulu Press.
Rubinsky, V. (2018). “Sometimes it’s easier to type things than to say them”: Technology in BDSM sexual partner communication. Sexuality & Culture, 22(4), 1412–1431. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-018-9534-2