How to talk about sex with your partner

As a journalist covering sex and intimacy, I spend a lot of time listening to experts extol the virtues of open and honest communication. To have good sex – and to continue having it over time – couples need to be willing to talk about it, they say.

But some people would rather abandon their relationships than have those conversations, said Jeffrey Chernin, a marriage and family therapist and author of “Achieving Intimacy: How to Have a Loving Relationship That Lasts” — especially if things in the bedroom bed are not good. particularly well.

“One of the things I often say to couples who are having problems is, 'I wish there was another way to get through this,'” she said. “But the only way I know to have a better sex life, or get your sex life back, is to talk about it.”

Dr. Chernin acknowledged how stressful these conversations can be, sometimes turning into accusations, belittling or stonewalling. That said, these tips can help.

It's normal for partners to have difficulty talking about intimacy and desire. Research suggests that even in long-term relationships, people only know about 60 percent of what their partner likes sexually and only about 25 percent of what they don't like.

Cyndi Darnell, a sex and relationship therapist in New York City, said her patients often tell her that talking about sex is “awkward” — which is especially true “if you've spent months or years avoiding it,” she said .

“We have been led to believe that sex is natural,” he added. “But, if it were easy and natural, people wouldn't struggle as much as they do.”

He mentioned a couple he worked with, both in their 50s, who hadn't had sex in years. Every time they talked about it they argued. So they sought outside help to overcome their embarrassment and anger.

During therapy they realized that they had only focused on penetration, but the husband really wanted closeness and tenderness. And once the wife realized that her husband wasn't going to “jump on her” every time she cuddled him, they were able to be more sensual with each other — and talk about what they like do and why, Ms. Darnell said. . But it took a spirit of availability, curiosity and acceptance.

It may be possible to mitigate the terror that often accompanies these conversations if you approach them sensitively. “When one partner says, 'We need to talk,' Dr. Chernin said, “the other person thinks, 'I'm going to the principal's office.'”

Instead, try:

That means saying something like, “On the one hand, I know how difficult it is for us to talk about this,” Dr. Chernin said. “On the other hand, I think it's important for our marriage or relationship to be able to discuss our sex life.”

So ask yourself, “What can we do about it?”

A script offers scaffolding, Ms. Darnell said. She made suggestions like, “Our relationship is really important to me and I'd like sex to be a part of it (again). I was curious if you would be interested in this too?”

Maggie Bennett-Brown, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and assistant professor at Texas Tech University, said “it doesn't have to be explicit.” Maybe you tell your partner you like it when he hugs you or plan a romantic night on the town.

If it's been a while since you've been intimate, it can be helpful to reminisce and this can lead to a deeper question. “If people have never had a conversation about, 'What do you like?' this is a good first step,” Dr Bennett-Brown said.

Be careful about starting a discussion about sex while in bed, Dr. Chernin said, especially if you're critical. (Though some couples might find it easier to talk about sex when they're basking in the evening light, he said.)

“Think of a conversation as a series of discussions,” Dr. Chernin said. “That way, you're not putting too much pressure on yourself or your partner.”

If your partner isn't willing to talk — or if the conversation feels painful, not just uncomfortable, Ms. Darnell said — a sex therapist or couples counselor may be able to help you mediate.

He didn't downplay how high stakes these conversations can be. But he added that sex may not always be a necessary component of a satisfying romantic relationship.

“One of the questions I often ask my couples for whom sex is a tenuous and difficult issue is: Does this relationship have to be sexual?” she said. She worked with a couple in their 30s and 40s who realized that she liked to engage in flirtatious banter, but she didn't want to take it any further. “The permission not to have sex at this stage of their relationship was huge – and a relief,” she said.

“Sex is so much more than what we do when we take our pants off,” she said.

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