Salt-N-Pepa’s song, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” was a hit for a reason: Couples who discuss tricky topics, like what’s going down in the bedroom, are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who ignore difficult subjects, says Joseph Grenny, social scientist and co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. “A handful of conversations make the biggest difference in the strength and duration of a relationship,” he says. “Talking about sexual intimacy tops that small list.”
Before you get beneath the sheets (and maybe even after), experts say you should have these sex conversations with your partner. Trust us, doing so will make the experience that much more enjoyable.
1. What your sexual limits are.
Yes, it’s possible to have a good experience trying something new with no verbal communication. But it’s also possible to have a major fail, landing you smack in the middle of a 50 Shades of “OMG, what are you doing?!” situation. That’s why it’s important to talk about boundaries before experimenting in bed, says Carol Queen, Ph.D., staff sexologist for the online sex toy shop Good Vibrations.
There are three things you can do to help make this happen. First, determine what kinds of play you and your partner are OK with by taking turns telling one another about a sexual fantasy, discussing it, and placing it on the yes, no, or maybe list, Dr. Queen says. Then, vocalize firmly what makes you uncomfortable. (For some people, that could be anal sex; for others, maybe it’s being blindfolded.) Last — and arguably the most important — choose a safe word. It should be something that’s unrelated to sex so there’s no confusion, and saying it means whatever is happening must come to an immediate halt.
2. When you feel stuck in a rut.
It can be easy to move into the same old sex patterns in a relationship, especially if a couple doesn’t really discuss their sexual preferences from the beginning, Dr. Queen says. Simply not talking means you could easily try a position, deem it decent, and stick to it — it’s kind of a “if it ain’t broke” situation. But that scenario doesn’t leave room for much excitement.
If that sounds all too familiar, Dr. Queen suggests one of two options: Talking to a sex therapist or a coach together, as having a mediator in a safe space can make it easier for some people to open up and it can move the conversation in a productive direction, or reading together. “Some books, like Hot Sex! Over 200 Things You Can Try Tonight, are made to be browsed together, giving you spicy ideas and info to boot,” Dr. Queen says. Regardless of what book it is, the two of you should agree to read it, then have an open conversation about the ideas each chapter brings up.
3. When someone’s experiencing sexual dysfunction.
Failure to launch and premature party ending are touchy subjects. “Most guys don’t want to talk about it while in bed,” says Joel D. Block, Ph.D., author of Do It My Way. So the first thing you can do to avoid any awkwardness is reroute. “Ask him to pleasure you,” suggests Dr. Block. “It takes tension away from his difficulty.”
If you’re the one experiencing issues, like dryness, give him prompts that will help make your sack session more enjoyable, Dr. Block says. Saying things like, “I love when you go slowly” or “I need more foreplay to get me started” makes what you need crystal clear, and most men are all too eager to please, he explains.
Once you’re out of the bedroom — and it’s clear that the dysfunction isn’t a one-time situation — Dr. Block says you shouldn’t shy away from discussing it, as doing so can prevent it from becoming a bigger deal than it actually is. Be encouraging, remind him that you’re in this together, and potentially suggest seeing a doctor so you can both get to the root of the problem and back to a happy, active bedroom.
4. Whether one or both of you needs to get tested.
This isn’t a matter of how many sexual partners each of you has had, nor an opportunity to judge said number, Dr. Queen says. “HPV and other bugs hitch a ride on human genitals just as the common cold goes for your nose and throat,” she says. That’s why it’s best to talk about testing in a matter-of-fact manner before you have sex for the first time. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal either. Simply saying, “This is what I do for birth control” and “these are my standards for safe sex” gets the ball rolling. But it is important that you talk before getting busy. “It’s your body, and some conditions are forever,” Dr. Queen says.
5. When you’re just not in the mood.
As wonderful as sex is, let’s be honest: the act can be exhausting. And sometimes you just don’t want to invest in the action. There’s nothing wrong with that — so long as you’re honest with your partner about it. “If one person is raring to go and the other gives compliance sex, it will not only fail to be physically gratifying, but it won’t produce an emotional connection,” Grenny says. That can snowball into bigger issues, like emotional distance, when in reality you just had a long day and are desperate for some shuteye.
When you’re feeling this way, it’s possible to let your partner down without it sounding like a “we’re never having sex again” situation. “Touch your mate, smile, and suggest another time,” says Laurie Puhn, creator of the nationwide couples course Fight Less, Love More. “This says I love you and want to be intimate, but not tonight.” You can also be honest about why you’re not in the mood, as having a concrete reason (like feeling exhausted) makes it clear to your partner that it’s not a problem you’re having with them. Oh, and be sure to follow through on that reschedule to really drive the point home.
6. How often you want to have sex.
It may seem 1,000 percent unromantic, but couples should talk about how to fit sex into their busy schedules, Dr. Block says. “Americans, on average, have intercourse a bit more than once a week, he explains. Figuring out how close you want to be to that average is important. Otherwise, one partner could quickly start to feel unsatisfied, be that because they’re not having it often enough or because they’re feeling pressured to do it more often than they’d like.
To open the conversation, start by saying something like, “For me, I’d be happy if we were intimate at least X times a week. What about you?” Once you have that covered, you can discuss related details, like whether period sex or sex at the in-laws’ house is fair game.
As for the timing of the actual act, Dr. Queen says it’s key to look at your lifestyles. If one of you is a morning sex person while the other tends to be evening-only, consider a calendar compromise. “A weekend afternoon delight or a post-work session could be a nice change,” Dr. Queen says.