Five tips for talking to your partner about sex

Or anything else you’re kinda scared to talk to them about.

Talking to your partner about your sex life — or, perhaps, the lack thereof — can be difficult for so many reasons. Especially if you want to talk to them about something that you’re unhappy about, or dissatisfied with… or if you want to talk to them about something you think might make them uncomfortable.

There are so many reasons why it can be difficult to talk about sex with your partner — whether you’ve known them for a few weeks or a few decades — and these reasons are very worthy of exploration. But for the purposes of preparing for a conversation about sex that’s going to happen in the near future, it’s more practical to simply appreciate the fact that for a lot of people, talking about sex isn’t easy. It can provoke a lot of discomfort and vulnerability… and this can be true even if you and your partner know each other well, and are generally pretty comfortable with each other.

So the point, simply, is to proceed with sensitivity and awareness. It’s so important to get into the habit of communicating openly and honestly about sex — whether it’s with someone you get to know only briefly, or with someone you spend the rest of your life with. For most of us, doing this takes practice. Here are five tips to guide the way.

ONE: Before you try to talk to them, give yourself some time to figure out how you’re feeling and what you want to say.

This is so important. You can’t ensure the conversation will go well, but you can ensure that you go into the conversation feeling relatively calm and centered and prepared to talk. So take the time to get your end of things in order before you do anything else.

Ask yourself: what are the circumstances that you want to talk to them about? What are your thoughts and feelings about the circumstances? What are you hoping to change? What do you want to happen as a result of the conversation?

So for example — perhaps you and your partner used to have sex every day, and you really liked that, and now you have sex once every two or three weeks, and you’re really upset about this. (Note: “having sex” can mean many different things to different people. Do you and your partner mean the same thing by “having sex”? That could be a good question to explore…)

You’re entitled to your experience of the situation, and to your thoughts and feelings about what’s going on. But it’s also important for you to take responsibility for how you’re perceiving your circumstances — and taking responsibility for your perceptions is so much more empowering than the alternatives.

So maybe you’ve started telling yourself that you and your partner used to have sex all the time, and now you never do. Perhaps you’re thinking that maybe they aren’t attracted to you anymore, maybe they don’t love you anymore, maybe they’re having an affair and they’re going to leave you. Maybe you’ve even gone ahead and dropped the “maybes” from these thoughts, and gone ahead and decided that what you’re thinking must be The Truth.

Perhaps you feel angry and sad and scared and confused and vulnerable about all of this.

This is exactly where it’s time to hit the brakes, and clarify the distinctions between the circumstances, and your thoughts and feelings about the circumstances.

The circumstances are that you and your partner are having sex less frequently than you used to. (Not that you’re never having sex anymore.)

You have a lot of thoughts about why this might be the case. And thinking those thoughts makes you feel crappy.

And it’s pretty normal to speculate about the possible reasons behind circumstances (especially circumstances we don’t like). And if you’ve come up with a sad/bad/scary story that explains what’s going on, it’s alsoreally normal to feel unhappy if you believe the story you’ve dreamed up.

Here’s the thing, though: your story about what’s going on — about why you and your partner aren’t having sex as often as you used to — is still just your story. It could be the truth, but if it is, you don’t know it yet.

It’s okay to have fears and desires and concerns and wants and suspicions and wishes that you want to share with your partner. If, for instance, you’re worried that the changes in your sex life mean that your partner doesn’t desire you anymore, it’s okay to tell them that. But there’s a way to do this in which you take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, which is super important.

Here’s an example of what that might sound like:

“Baby cakes, we don’t have sex as often as we used to, and I’m bummed and frustrated by this, and I’m worried that you aren’t attracted to me anymore.”

Or perhaps:

“I really enjoy our sex life, and I’ve noticed some changes in that aspect of our relationship lately, and I’m sad about that. Could we talk about what’s going on?”

Or whatever. Use your own words. The point is that saying something like the statements above is a lot different from saying something like,

“We never have sex anymore and I know it’s because you’re having an affair.”

These examples might seem ridiculously simplistic. But we humans do and say some ridiculous things sometimes, especially when we allow ourselves to believe everything we’re imagining about a situation.

So — get clear about what’s going on with you. Do your best to distinguish between the situation/circumstances, and what you’re thinking and feeling about the circumstances.

Remember that it’s your job to take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. But the circumstances can be collectively addressed.

After some reflection on what’s going on, and what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, decide what you want to say to your partner.

Get clear about what you want to convey. What do you want them to know? What do you want to find out from them? What are you hoping will happen as a result of this conversation?

It might take some time to figure this stuff out, and if it does, that’s okay. Sometimes when we’re frustrated and upset, it’s easier to pick a pointless fight with our partner than it is to figure out what we really want to address, and then go about initiating a conversation in a calm, respectful manner.

A good rule of thumb is to sit with your thoughts and feelings until you feel reasonably calm and centered, and reasonably clear on what you want to say to them. You don’t have to iron out every single wrinkle of ambiguity in what’s going on with you, but you also don’t want to throw a bunch of unprocessed thoughts and feelings at your partner and make them deal with stuff that it’s really your responsibility to make sense of.

TWO: After you’ve decided what you want to say, find a time and place for the conversation that feels safe and relaxed for you and your partner.

Put in the request to have a conversation in a non-threatening way.

Maybe try: “I’d really like to find some time for us to talk without interruption. There are a few things I’ve been thinking about that I’d like to share with you.”

Maybe be more specific: “I know we’ve talked about our sex life before, and I know the conversation didn’t go too well, but addressing this is really important to me, and I’d like to try to talk about it again. Can we find a time to do that that works for both of us?”

This may sound ridiculously obvious, but bombarding your partner with a statement along the lines of, “Our sex life is terrible and we need to talk about it now!” immediately after they walk in the door after a long day of work is not going to lead to anything good. But sometimes we say and do things like this, because we’re nervous or scared about having the conversation, and our anxiety dictates our actions. That’s why step number one is so important: deal with your own state of affairs before you talk to you partner.

THREE: Begin the conversation by establishing trust, then speak your truth without shame or blame.

When you have the conversation, establish a sense of comfort and safety by stating or reiterating what you’d like to talk about. Ask your partner if it’s okay for you to share what you’ve been thinking and feeling, and tell them that you want to hear what they have to say, too. If you feel nervous or vulnerable, tell them! Being open and honest about what feels difficult may feel scary, but being brave enough to do so may yield huge dividends in terms of building intimacy and trust.

When it’s your turn to talk, tell your partner what you want them to know. Remember that you have a right to feel what you feel and want what you want, and that it’s important for you to be honest in sharing your thoughts and feelings — even if what you say may ruffle their feathers or lead to an uncomfortable discussion.

Two important sub-points must be emphasized here.

First, you do not get to blame your partner for how you feel. Yes, you may explain to them that you feel hurt or angry or resentful or whatever, and that these feelings are associated with circumstances in which they are involved. And — depending on the parameters of your relationship — it’s fair to expect that your partner will take your feelings seriously, and treat them with sensitivity and respect. But your feelings are still yours to take responsibility for. Your partner did not make you feel the way you do, no matter what the circumstances are.

Second, there’s no need for honesty to be brutal. Speaking hard truths for the sake of improving understanding, and your sex life, and your relationship overall, is different from complaining for the sake of complaining, being overly critical, or cataloging everything you think is wrong with them or your relationship.

Keep your comments as efficient and to the point as you can. You want to make sure your partner understands what you’re talking about, but you also don’t need to overwhelm them with an endless list of grievances. It’s not an opening argument in a court case, after all!

FOUR: Then ask them what they think about what you’ve said and how they’re feeling about your sex life these days. And LISTEN to what they have to say.

Who knows what they’ll have to say in response to what you’ve just said! They may have things they’ve been wanting to share with you, too, and may be really grateful that you’ve initiated this conversation. Or they may have strong responses to everything you’ve just told them. Maybe they end up blaming you for the decline in your sex life (or whatever your situation is). Maybe they say something that completely surprises or angers you.

Maybe you don’t understand where they’re coming from, and/or don’t agree with a word they say.

Pause. Or at least try to.

Remember that they haven’t had preparation time for this conversation in the same way you did. You came in having processed your thoughts and figured out what you wanted to say to them. They may feel surprised by what you’ve brought up, and may be having a hard time absorbing what you’ve shared.

Do your best to be receptive to what they tell you, even if their comments provoke uncomfortable feelings on your end. If you’re tempted to respond quickly to what they say, practice taking a breath before you speak. See if you can be curious about what they’re telling you, instead of being reactive. If you start to feel defensive, try saying things like, “Can you tell me more about what you mean by that? I’m not sure I understand where you’re coming from.” Saying this (or something like it) buys you a little time to dial down your own reactions, and thus gives you a chance to actually receive what your partner is saying instead of rejecting their statement as soon as the words are out of their mouth. It also gives the conversation a chance to go in productive directions.

None of this is necessarily easy to do, by the way. In fact it’s often really, really hard. Just commit to the practice of doing your best… and then go do your best.

FIVE: No matter how the conversation goes, thank your partner for engaging in the discussion with you. End with as much respect and kindness as you can muster.

Maybe the conversation goes really well, and if it does, that’s great. Give yourself and your partner credit for that success. But maybe the conversation does not go well, and both of you end up feeling sad or hurt or pissed off or bad in some other way(s). That’s okay too. Talking about intimate things can be really hard, and the only way to get to a different place is to engage in the practice of talking about them, and being open to whatever ensues.

Communicating sensitively and effectively about sex with your partner(s) is an ongoing learning process, whether you have one partner or many, whether you stay with a particular partner for a matter of weeks or for a lifetime. Investing in the process of learning how to talk about sex is a transferrable skill. Learning how to be self-aware, and how to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings and reactions to circumstances will benefit you no matter the circumstances or configurations of your relationships. The same goes for learning how to listen with respect and curiosity.

And effective communication is a key ingredient in having an awesome sex life. But don’t take my word for it — go try it out and see what happens.

Relationship coach, specializing in helping people who are having affairs decide what they want to do. No judgements. www.mariemurphyphd.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store