How Do You Talk About Sex?

Specifically, how to talk to our partners about it.

How To Talk About Sex | A Practical WeddingI’ll be honest: when we posted our open thread on sex a few weeks ago, I really just wanted an excuse to do a sex toy roundup. I wanted you guys to flood the comments with requests for thebestvibratoromghowdoifindit, so that I could turn around and say, “See! The people practically demand that I go shopping for them!” And while that was definitely part of the comments we received (and I’m now aware my job is done for me, because you introduced me to the genius of NSFW Oh Joy Sex Toy), what I really got out of the conversation is that we need to talk about how to talk about sex. Specifically, how to talk with our partners about it.

Our culture is, pun intended, pretty fucked when it comes to talking about sex. And I’m not just talking about the parts where sex is abjectly misrepresented in popular culture, in porn, and pretty much everywhere except the bedroom. It’s in the fact that we’re not even supposed to acknowledge the realities of sex; it’s just supposed to happen, and be perfect, and never warrant discussion. There’s a part of me that misses the gossipy nature of early sexual exploration, of running home to tell girlfriends about that thing I did for the first time and how it was totally weird/awesome/not what I expected at all. Because the older I get, the more these conversations are shoved into the bedroom, leaving us all alone to figure out how things are supposed to work. And while I know that there are issues of privacy and propriety at work in this shift, the bigger issue is that I think we’ve been taught to leave our partners out of that conversation too.

In our open thread, many of you asked, “How do I approach my partner about [insert topic here]?” And while my standard answer would typically be, “Just talk to them!” I understand that it’s more nuanced than that. Talking about sex, even with your most intimate partner, can be uncomfortable. (Unless it’s the dirty kind of talking about sex. For the record, I think that’s fun.) No matter how long you’ve been together, there’s always that nagging fear that this might be the day you get rejected. Since Michael and I basically introduced each other to sex, we’ve had a long time to hone our communication skills in this area. (If we were half as good at talking about finances or chores as we are at talking about sex, I’m pretty sure our house would be spotless and we’d have a financial plan to write home about, but I digress.) So today I’m going to share some of the lessons I’ve learned that have helped take our sexual relationship from fumbling teenagers to smoothly running sex machines. But since I can only lend my experiences to this conversation, when I’m done I want to turn it over to you guys again. One of the best things to come out of the conversations in both the open thread and Rachel’s post about porn was the list of resources I walked away from the conversation with. So when we’re done, please add your best links to the mix so that we can create a comprehensive resource list of all the best NSFW websites.

And now, here’s all my best advice for how to have conversations about your private parts:

Just Do It: Let me preface this by saying that I don’t think every sex talk needs a big conversation. Sometimes the best way to talk to your partner is to lead by example. So let’s say you want to create a sexy inspiration Tumblr account, as someone suggested in the open thread, the best approach might be to just create it and start posting to it, then let your partner in on the action. Or if you want to introduce a new item into your sex routine, it may take some of the pressure off if you go ahead and buy it first and let the conversation be, “Hey, look what I bought.” Often the talk is whole lot less scary when the reality of the situation is presented instead of the hypothetical.

Get Brave: But what if you aren’t ready to lead by example? Or you really just want to talk, but aren’t sure where to start? First, I suggest you stop what you’re doing and go listen to this song. This is everything you need to know about getting the conversation started. Because here’s the thing: some conversations about sex are fun. And others are…not. But talking about sex is not the time for beating around the bush (how many puns can she put in this post? Nobody knows!). Lots of the hesitation I hear about talking about sex stems from not wanting to upset a partner, or fear that a partner is going to shut down if the conversation happens, or concern that a partner is going to think you’re a weirdo if you suggest something outside the box. But you know what? That’s okay. Steel your resolve. It’s perfectly fine if the conversation is uncomfortable (I mean, you don’t want it to be traumatic, but uncomfortable is okay. I get uncomfortable talking about money; others get uncomfortable talking about sex. It doesn’t mean the conversations don’t need to be had.) But if you want it to go anywhere, you’ve got to start by getting brave and just letting the words fall out.

Use What You Know: Listen, not everyone is great talking about sex. Don’t beat yourself up about it. No couple is good at talking about All The Things, and some conversations are going to be more emotionally loaded than others. But don’t let the fact that you’re talking about sex trick you into thinking you have to treat the conversation any differently than you normally would. Instead, use what you know and model your conversation after what you are most successful talking about. Pretend you’re talking about chores. Or retirement planning. Which makes me think that maybe Michael and I would be more successful navigating our finances if we were naked.

Be Clear: Sometimes when I’m not sure how Michael is going to respond to something, I’ll preface the conversation with, “I want to ask you about something, and I need you to listen to me before you say anything, and if you try to make a joke about it, it’s going to hurt my feelings.” (Michael said I should reference the trust tree scene from Old School and tell everybody that you have to be in the trust tree when you’re talking about sex.) By speaking bluntly, it opens up the conversation to a more natural dialogue and removes any of that ambiguity that causes hurt feelings. Ideally you want to be able to talk about what you need from your sex life with as much clarity and confidence as you talk about what you need for groceries that week. (And no sarcasm. Nothing kills vulnerability faster than sarcasm.)

Timing: When it comes to sex, timing really matters. You can’t have a logical discussion about sex mid-arousal. Plus, doing so has a pretty good chance of ruining what could otherwise be a lovely roll in the sack, and what a shame that would be. So here’s what works for me:

  1. During Sex: My rule? I only say things during sex that have to do with the sex I’m having, and for obvious reasons. I mean, sure, I may introduce a new position in the moment or offer subtle directives, but anything more than that is usually falling on deaf ears. Plus, Michael and I both say things during sex that we’d frankly never like to happen in real life, but are part of our pillow-talk, so it’s best if we just chalk anything said in bed up to that.
  2. Immediately Before/After Sex: For me, there’s a cognitive middle ground that lives somewhere between foreplay and intercourse (and similarly right after sex). I’m usually still thinking rationally, but I’m also less inhibited in this mind state, so I’m open to new ideas. Maybe I’ll introduce a new toy or suggest sex on the kitchen floor, but since we’re not caught up in the moment yet, Michael still has the opportunity to take pause and say no and it won’t kill the mood.
  3. When No One Is Aroused: My favorite time to have big philosophical sex conversations is on long car rides because we are relaxed and isolated and stuck with each other for a few hours, so we can talk freely and uninterrupted. This is where I have the most success with heavier topics like, “How do you feel about threesomes?” and “Do you feel like we should be having more sex?” But you don’t need a long car ride to have these kinds of talks. The point is just to have them when emotions are level and nobody is aroused. If you’re more time-strapped, try sneaking it into innocuous everyday activities, like when you’re unloading groceries or making dinner. Having the conversation when you’re working on another task can also keep the conversation more casual so that ti doesn’t necessarily turn into A Big Talk.

Approach: Most of the questions in the open thread fell under the category of “How do I approach this?” And the thing is, I think this has more to do with ourselves than with our partners. Sex puts people on the defensive. It’s hard not to hear suggestions or criticisms and take them as personal attacks, but it’s equally hard not to approach the conversation already defensive ourselves, preparing for rejection or a fight. I combat this by consciously opening myself up to whatever way the conversation might turn, and reminding myself that we’re on the same team, just trying to learn about ourselves and make an awesome part of life more awesome.

In our house, an open anything-goes conversation is the way we keep the sex talk productive. But our way is only one way, so leave your best sex resources in the comments and let’s talk about talking about sex.

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  • KC

    My attempted rule for talking about sex (and, honestly, probably everything else that can get sticky) is to start positive and end positive. If you’ve got something you want to fix, make sure the other person *knows* that you’re not saying “EVERYTHING IS BROKEN BEYOND REPAIR AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT” but just “things are good but there’s this little broken bit that we can fix, but things are good”. I suppose, make sure your partner knows what they’re doing right before and after indicating something you’d like to see change.

    (Once, while we were dating, my now-husband accidentally sort of broke up with me due to him starting cold at the relationship thing that he felt was awry and which he had concluded would be a deal-breaker if we couldn’t fix it and putting so much emphasis on the deal-breaker-ness that I drew the [apparently incorrect] conclusion that he was breaking up with me right then. Try to avoid doing this [either on the “giving” or “receiving” side].)

    This might be relationship-dependent, though; some people might be fine with barreling through without the “we’re doing okay” buffer. But the conversations we’ve had *with* the buffer in place have been safer, in general.

    • KC

      (which, I should add: don’t *only* tell your partner the things you like about them when you’re about to tell them something you want them to do differently; that would be a bad plan. Verbal appreciation is a great relationship lubricant. [and, um, not just for sex. The accidental-break-up-conversation previously referred to had nothing to do with sex.])

    • AM


      I’m really, honestly, not trying to be negative here, and am completely asking a serious question, but… do you ever find situations where the negative so outweighs the good that you have trouble finding sufficient positive things for the buffer? And in a case like that, where would you start? Because that’s where I am with our sex life. (The positive column is: we are a married couple who do have sex reasonably regularly, it is always consensual, he would like to please me, and once in a while I enjoy it. It is worth mentioning that I have had enormous enjoyment of sex with previous partners, so it’s not just me.) At the current rate of progress I may have an orgasm for our 50th anniversary. Well, okay, our 25th. (Well, okay, I’m being a little negative. I’m a little discouraged here, obviously.)

      • Anonymouse

        Just wanted to say I understand where you are at. I have been loving these threads for their diversity of experiences in married life that you all are discussing, though.
        My partner is not the best I’ve had ever! When we married, i assumed things would get better. they really haven’t though. But I am gonna be with her forever so I need to figure it out. I owe it to both of us. Sometimes I get so frustrated and want to give up. It feels like work sometimes. I am working on it. I know she is too.
        One really hard thing is that Confidence Is Sexy! When I feel so negative, it sucks both of our confidence and we don’t feel sexy.
        With the orgasms. I think you need to own them. Tell him. “I love you. I know you love me and want to please me. I am really kinda nervous, but I want to have orgasms with you. I could show you how to make me come / tell you how to make me come. What do you think? I think it would be hot for both of us.”
        That is positive, firm, and also doesn’t blame him. They are your orgasms, lady. You got to make them happen!

        • AM

          Yeah, so, the really weird thing is this: when I give him a hint of a small adjustment he could make, such as “maybe a wiggle your finger instead of thrusting?” which has driven me absolutely wild with other partner, and he does it, it is still ineffective or even unpleasant and I end up saying really quickly, “Well, let’s move on.” Because he’s super-sensitive and if I come back and say, you’re still not doing it right (in more or less tactful terms), it won’t have the desired effect. And when you’re talking about such micro-adjustments of movement or angle… I just don’t know what to tell him to do. A lot of times I can’t figure out what the difference is between what he’s doing and what I wish he would do! This just makes sex seem like such an unfathomable mystery. :-(

          • KC

            Wondering if a show-rather-than-tell might work here (such as “can I borrow your penis/finger for a moment? Oooooh, yep, that’s it.”). It’s definitely hard to figure some things out, though, and it’s even harder to communicate them if you don’t really quite know what will work, yourself. Harrumph.

          • AnonCat

            Do you masturbate? Do you have orgasms when you masturbate? I would say 90% of my orgasms during sex with my partner are from my hands on my clit, but it’s still sex, with him touching other parts of me, and helping and encouraging, and mixed with sexy talk and other types of sex. I do wish he would learn to get better at giving me orgasms faster, but it’s really exhausting work teaching him to be better at it. (Like you said, over here, no more like this, and nothing is really any better. Luckily he’s good at cunnilingus, since he’s not so good at getting me off with his fingers, but that takes so much time. I too have had such a hard time with showing him what I want, even with his hands. It’s just not the same as my hands!)

            It’s really helpful, to me, to not feel orgasm deprived during sex. It takes the pressure off. Sure, I’m the one giving me orgasms, but I’m still coming. Usually, I give myself an orgasm as part of foreplay, or after intercourse. Either makes for better sex.

            Have you tried giving yourself an orgasm while playing together in other ways? It might take the pressure off some.

          • AM

            (I wish there were endless reply levels so I could respond directly, Anoncat, but… )

            So, that might be part of it too. Am I the only woman in the world who can’t give herself an orgasm? That is, I do achieve a climax of a very mild kind which isn’t anywhere near the level of pleasure from good-but-unclimaxed PIV sex. And I know they say “You can’t tell a guy what you like unless you can do it yourself,” but the thing is, it’s almost impossible for me to get into anything that doesn’t involve a real, live penis. (I have several toys of various kinds. I find them unspeakably irritating, not to mention unsatisfying, and never use them.) So what really works for me is something I can’t do for myself. (Although I did have a dream once in which I had both parts and could fit them together, and it was the most entertaining dream I have ever had. But I digress.)

            But I’m honestly not too fussed about having an orgasm during sex, as much as I would like to (well, duh), because it has never happened even when I have had spectacular, falling-off-the-bed, screaming-to-bring-the-neighbors-to-the-windows, shaking-with-pleasure-so-that-the-guy-actually-got-scared-and-stopped-what-he-was-doing (but otherwise could keep going all night) sex. That was probably a mental block which, yeah, I wish hadn’t been in the way, but the sex was still satisfying. If I could have satisfying sex often enough to remember that I’ve had it since I got married, and so that I could actually get excited about having sex, that would be enough.

          • Cat K

            AM, don’t worry, you’re not alone. I tend to lose fine muscle control the closer I get to climax, which makes masturbation tough for me. My husband and I still mutually masturbate to jump start the car, so to speak. ;-)

      • KC

        Yes, absolutely, you are totally right, and it is not always easy to find enough decent positives. (if I can’t find *any* positives, that’s a hint that I should postpone the conversation a day or a week or until I’ve had enough sleep and am definitely not grumpy – and if I still can’t find any positives about the topic at hand [which, this hasn’t happened for sex, but other things], then we definitely need to schedule a time to talk, and the “buffer” is the other-marriage-things-that-are-going-well-or-okay or awesome memories we’ve shared or something similar)

        But you gotta start somewhere. I can usually find enough positive things for the first thing, and then you move on slowly from there, hopefully accumulating good things. (I love that I know I can trust him, awesome [insert body part here] turns me on, it makes me feel good that he likes the way I look/feel, etc.) As came up with the teaching-a-grownup-to-cook thread, making one change/suggestion at a time is probably generally a good call anyway.

        And orgasms are kinda tricky things, especially when you throw in age changes, birth control changes, and/or the weird mental shifts between risk and security and why-didn’t-he-take-the-garbage-out and drama vs. low-drama and all the rest of it, even beyond skill and physiology. Augh.

        I hope things get better. And hopefully all the reasons you married him other than sex help improve the sex. ;-)

        • AM

          Ah! Yes! Looking outside the narrow subject to find the good things is a good idea. Thank you. :-)

          Not quite sure, logistically, how to borrow body parts when they’re, you know, kind of inaccessible… but there may be a way. It’s an idea worth some thought anyway. *wink*

      • Rachel

        I find it can be hard if you have different libidos, different sex drives. I usually want it more than my partner and he’s often happy to do what I need to get me there but then I end up feeling guilty that he’s not getting the same satisfaction. Is that a problem? He says he doesn’t need it. I don’t always believe him

  • Laura

    YES to long car ride conversations. They’re good for all kinds of tricky topics besides sex, too, including but not limited to the emotional availability of our parents and the drug habits of our close friends. Other good forums for tough issues that require depth and time? Camping. Hiking. Beach vacations. Basically any time you are alone (together) and relaxed.

    • Rachel

      YES! Driving to and from holiday gatherings is a great time to talk about family stuff, I’ve found.

    • Katie

      Car ride talks are the best because you don’t have to figure out if you’re supposed to look at each other while you’re being uncomfortable. You get to stare straight ahead instead of avoiding eye contact!

  • K

    Codewords are awesome. For example, I will describe my period situation/likelihood of being down for sexytimes in terms of crime scenes. My guy knows that “nonfatal stabbing in a park” is much more likely to end up in the bedroom than “triple homicide.”

    • Caitlyn

      Bahahahaha!! OMG I love this!

    • Js

      This is the best thing I have ever heard and I am going to steal it!

    • itsy bitsy

      That is possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever heard! You win the internet today.

    • aubry

      awesome! I totally use code-language as well, just to get over a (not very grown-up) weirdness around certain words.Totally adopting some of that idea :)

  • Hazel

    My FH and I are long distance, and have been for our entire relationship, so we do a lot of talking about sex :) We are each others first serious relationship, so a our experiences have included some trial and error and a lot of uncertainty. One of the things that really helped me was listening to some podcasts that talk about sex in a positive way. I like to listen to them while traveling to see him, and it give me a jumping off point for a conversation about whatever the topic was. I.e. Hey I was listening to a podcast about this, what do you think?, etc. Listening to other people talk about sex really helps take away that taboo feeling too.

    The ones I listen to the most also talk about communication a LOT. Often because they are talking about open relationships and more non “traditional” kinds of relationships, but all of those communication skills apply to those of us in monogamous relationships too. We had a conversation about what we each thought being monogamous meant because of a podcast I listened to and it was a really awesome to really talk about our boundaries and what we thought being a couple meant. It makes me happy to know that we are monogamous because we chose it and not by default.

    Two podcasts I recommend are Sex Nerd Sandra and Sex is Fun (which sadly is not updating anymore but you can still check out their archives). Sex is Fun also has a website that sells some pretty cool sex games, and has a illustrated comic-style book also titled Sex is Fun. The people who run these podcasts are passionate sex educators and I’ve learned so much from listening!

    • Alice

      I’ll second the podcasts!

      My partner and I were listening to Savage Love together for a while, and it really got us talking about sex in a helpful way. Listening to a conversation about one person in a couple wanting to try x, created a natural opportunity for us to say to each other: Would you want to try x? How about y?

    • Alison O

      I totally agree, listening to others (sex-positive “authorities” in particular) talk about sex can really help make it feel more normal and give you vocabulary for things you weren’t sure how to talk about.

      I recommend the podcast Sex Out Loud with Tristan Taormino on Voice America.

  • Sarah

    Can I just want to say I love the deCordova Museum so much and the two heart statue this post has at the top?

  • RVS

    I learned a lot about how to talk about sex from the BDSM community. Even if you don’t identify with any of these particular proclivities, there are some really great, concrete communication tools there about how to ask for what turns you on without shame or fear – which my hubby and I have also applied to our vanilla sex life. I agree with what Hazel wrote above, that couples who are trying to do something “different” often have to do a lot more communicating around sex – but everyone can benefit from it. For example, making a ‘sex list’ (modeled a bit on the bdsm checklists I’ve found on the internet) of erotic activities and then going over it with my partner and sharing – tried it / loved it, haven’t tried it / but sounds fun, tried it / didn’t like it, didn’t try it / but don’t think I’d like it, etc… whatever helps you bring up new possibilities in a spirit of playfulness. I think having really clear, explicit, honest communications about bdsm activities helped me to be able to communicate clearly and explicitly what I enjoy and would like to do more of in my vanilla sex life. I so agree with all Maddie’s advice – it’s so important to keep coming back to the basic underlying truth that you and your partner are on the same side – you both want each other to have a good time in bed. Approached from this place, conversations about sex can be surprisingly not awkward. And if I ever do feel awkward bringing up something sex related, I find it helps if I just admit that, like, “I feel totally awkward right now!” or “I’m really nervous to share this!” sometimes just admitting how you honestly feel in the moment really clears the air, it can make you laugh, and often makes space for a really heartfelt (and fun) conversation

    • Hazel

      Yes! I’m all about owning the awkward. I think finding a place where you can just be together and say ok this is going to be awkward, we are going to be awkward, and it is going to be ok can be really liberating. This is true for me both when we are talking about sex and when we are having sex. And laughing during sex is the best :)

  • Anon

    Downer alert! So I’ve been having painful sex issues for the past couple of years, and been in PT for a year. I got cleared by my PT but am still scared to start having sex again. Plus, we haven’t had any sort of sexual contact at all in years, so I don’t know how to start from zero. Do I need to see a sex therapist? How do you even go about finding one?

    • Hazel

      So I’m *not* a professional or super experienced but I would start slow and talk a lot about your expectations and concerns about having sex again. Do you have an ob/gyn? They get lots of questions about sex and could probably refer you to sex therapist if you want to try that.

      Sex can be scary/intimidating even when it doesn’t hurt, so try not to be too hard on yourself! Maybe also try masturbation first and find out what feels good for you or masturbate together so you can get used to trying to feel sexy again with a little less pressure? My partner and I have some anxiety issues sometimes and I’ve noticed we relax more when we recognize before we start that one or both of us might not orgasm, but we still enjoy the experience of being together.

    • C

      Anon, I just want to say that although I have no experience with this or any advice on finding a sex therapist, my heart goes out to you.

      And my total non-qualified suggestion is to start SLOW. Get used to just holding each other closely. Work up to kissing. Get comfortable with touching one another. Take as long as you need to feel comfortable with physical intimacy. If either of you enjoys oral sex, that could be something you work up to. But don’t worry if it all doesn’t happen at once. It is TOTALLY understandable that you would be afraid to have sex again.

      Oh, and don’t make “having sex” the goal. The goal should be “becoming comfortable with my body and my partner’s body.”

      However, if you believe that a sex therapist is the best move, I would use our good friend Google.


    • Sarah

      You should look into it here:

      On that website is a list of sex therapists that belong to the organization, there is a certification process of some sort in order to belong. You can search by geographic area.

      I got this information from an old Dan Savage article back when my SO and I were thinking about going to a sex therapist. I believe the organization is legitimate, though I haven’t found a therapist through the organization myself. In my opinion sex therapy and self-knowledge can never hurt, and we’ll likely find ourselves seeing a professional someday as well. Good luck!

    • KC

      There are networks for finding different sorts of therapists in different geographic areas. I suspect asking your PT might be a good way to find someone, though (since you would *not* be the only person who has this question). If not, you could search, say, your insurance listings for therapists who specialize in that area, or could search online.

      Have you informed your significant other that you’ve been cleared by the PT and would be interested in talking about how to start back up from zero? (if you think that wouldn’t be a good plan in your relationship and want to see a sex therapist first, then don’t and don’t worry about it; but if you know approximately what you want, then maybe?)

      My I-am-totally-not-a-sex-therapist advice for starting from zero would be to start slow on a specified occasion with clearly defined limits, probably starting with a limit of “exterior play” controlled by you and possibly “finished” by mutual masturbation (to make sure you don’t feel like you “ought to” stretch beyond where you’re comfortable) and then repeat on another day, gradually move inward as you’re comfortable and not in pain (because the more tense you are, the more pain, in general, and you may have to “train” your body a bit out of freaking out due to prior associations with pain). If you doubt whether your partner would be capable of this or okay with this (some people are short on restraint when hormones are involved or have this odd idea that their partner will be okay with it once it’s happening even if they’ve said they’re not okay with it beforehand [conveniently not my husband, but some nice people are confused/let their hormones be their guide when they really shouldn’t]), then definitely sex therapist/couples therapist first.

      Hope everything goes really, really well!

      • A Nurse

        KC, thanks for your reply to the original poster. I hope you don’t mind if I extrapolate a bit from your post.

        Ladies and gents!

        I know you already know this but a reminder never hurts: if your partner has sexual contact with you for which you have not given permission or that you have said you don’t want, this is abuse! It includes:

        -Your partner engages in sexual activity that you don’t want using the excuse that s/he is incapable of restraining his/herself (because of hormones, or any other reason)
        -Assuming that you will be ok with the sexual activity once you get going, even if you said beforehand that you don’t want it.

        When there is not consent on the part of both parties, it is abuse!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      These sound like concerns you should bring to your physical therapist. If your therapist can’t help with these concerns, s/he will know what kind of referral you need. Another resource is whatever healthcare professional referred you to the physical therapist.

      As we approach our first anniversary, sex still hurts. (I’ve had some treatment, but decided more was not something I wanted to pursue.) One of the things about our limited sex life that my husband (says he) really enjoys is helping me develop my sexuality. Going slow can be sexy!


      Just wanted to drop in to share my experiences finding a great sex therapist who has helped me through some very similar fears stemming from years of physical discomfort from penetrative sex.

      First of all, I found that most of the advice I’d read about this on the internet made me feel worse about myself because it all sounded so simple: learn what feels good to you (I know what feels good to me!); just try to relax (I’m trying to relax!!); remember there’s nothing to be afraid of (I know that consciously, but my feels have not caught up with my brain!). I’m also only in my mid/late 20s and I have a very supportive partner, which ironically made me feel worse about myself. This stuff seems so easy for all my peers, so logically, my sex machine must be broken. It took seeing a sex therapist to help me understand there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

      I love my OB, but she was absolutely no help whatsoever with this. It was actually a great personal therapist I saw a handful of times who suggested I go see a sex therapist she’d heard good things about from other clients in my area. This particular sex therapist specializes in pain disorders so I felt optimistic that she’d be able to decode my layperson descriptions of the kind of physical and emotional discomfort I felt during sex (this is where my OB fell short). During my first meeting with the sex therapist, she helped me pinpoint the kind of pain I experienced, validated my fears about painful sex, explained to me that the fears needed to be dealt with because they manifest in muscle tension that can make sex even more painful, and reassured me that we’d be able to figure it all out. She tried to help me conceptualize it as something external, a problem for my partner and me to deal with together, instead of something screwed up in me.

      Most of my sessions involved both me and my partner because we needed to reconstruct the way we related to each other sexually. I realized I was feeling a huge amount of pressure to “perform” (ie, enjoy and be enthusiastic about sex) because it had been so long since we’d really had a happy intimate relationship. That pressure was itself sabotaging my enjoyment of any sexual contact. Even a passionate kiss could make me feel anxious because what if he expected it to lead to penetrative sex and my body didn’t cooperate? I also worried a lot that I was letting my partner down.

      So our therapist had us start from zero. I got to learn to enjoy everything again, from the simplest non-sexual touch to making out to sexual interactions. For me the key was starting out with super clear expectations with my partner – we will do x (and only x) for a specific number of minutes, we will alternate initiating, we will do this a specific number of times per week. Once we both go comfortable and happy with that routine, we’d relax or change the expectations A TINY BIT and debrief after a few sessions to see if/how we needed to adjust. After a little while, we stopped having to specify anything except that we would have some kind of sexy times on Tuesday evening (or whenever). This set up completely relieved the pressure I was putting on myself, and helped my partner learn to trust me to stand up for myself when I wasn’t feeling ok with something. He has also learned to enjoy himself more as result because he no longer has to worry about me.

      I almost never feel broken or inadequate anymore. That alone has made sex therapy worth its weight in gold to me. Also, it’s partially covered by my (pathetically terrible) insurance, so it might be more affordable than you think.

      So sorry for writing you such a massively long reply about this, but I thought it might be helpful since the whole sex therapy process can seem pretty mysterious from the outside. Long story short, you could start by asking your PT or your personal therapist (if you have one) for a recommendation. If they’ve got nothing, try the database posted by a prior commenter. Don’t hesitate to meet with a potential sex therapist once and if you don’t click with them, keep looking! If you have any specific questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        This is helpful. Thank you.

    • itsy bitsy

      Just wanted to jump in here for a solidarity fist-bump. Painful sex sucks. I’m also in the process of figuring out how to find a sex therapist because of fear/anxiety around the issue and, from what I’ve heard from others with the issue, it can really help for you (and your partner).

      Aside from therapy, one teensy thing that helps me in that arena is being up-front before sexy-time that we may not make it to intercourse and that has to be okay. Maybe we make out, maybe we make it to “trying,” maybe we stop somewhere in between. When you’re getting over painful sex there’s a LOT of emotional/mental baggage and I felt/feel the need to be in total control of calling the shots- as soon as I say “I’m done now,” we’re done. And then I ask for lots of reassurance that 1) what we did was fun, 2) I’m sexy and 3) it wasn’t disappointing that we had to stop. For me, that helps with the feelings of vulnerability and fear of “BUT WHAT IF I DON’T REALLY WANT TO AFTER ALL” or “WHAT IF IT HURTS AND I HAVE TO STOP AM I TERRIBLE?” It’s difficult for him sometimes to end abruptly (understandable), and sometimes I help him along if you catch my drift, but ultimately it’s what’s helping us move forward with better/more frequent sex.

      Sending you positive vibes in your healing!

    • lmba

      I’ve had pretty bad pelvic pain that has come and gone at different points in our relationship. When you’re in any new transition phase with your condition, my suggestion is to have “getting acquainted” sessions with your partner. Have him/her visually and manually explore your pelvic area while you provide feedback (“That area is really sensitive,” “It’s uncomfortable for you to touch there,” “That is a good starting place for turning me on,” etc.). The point is not to turn it into a lovemaking session (although if it goes that way, great); it is for both of you to understand what you’re really dealing with so you can use that information to your advantage when you do end up having sex.

      Also, always remember that penetration is not the only kind of sex! I cannot stress that enough!!!!!

  • k

    Just want to say wow, Maddie, thanks for linking that video. That made my day, especially the guy dancing in the library. He is on FIRE!

  • teafortwo

    I love the advice about remembering that you are on the same team.

    We do a pretty good job of communicating about sex, but one of the things I am trying to work on with my partner is getting him to tell me things that he thinks will be hard. He (and most of his family) really avoid conflict, and so he never wants to say anything that could be perceived as negative. What I have spent years trying to get him to see is that OF COURSE I WANT TO KNOW.

    If he hates the way I do the dishes, I want to know, so I can stop. If it hurts his feelings when I tease him about xyz, I want to know, so I can stop. If he doesn’t love lasagna, but can’t get enough of my chickpea curry, I want to know, because I want him to enjoy the meals I cook for him, the music I play when we’re both home, the clothes I wear when we’re on a date, and the things we do in bed.

    As far as possible, without giving up the things that make me me, of course I want to make him happy and treat him well – I love him. And I think that is useful to keep in mind when you’re talking about sex (or anything difficult) with your partner: OF COURSE THEY WANT TO KNOW. They may not be able to give you everything you want, but as long as the message is delivered with love, of course, OF COURSE your partner wants to know how to make you feel more loved.

    • Anonforthis

      I thought this as an “of course” too. But somehow I ended up with a (otherwise wonderfully loving) partner who thinks sometimes I should put up with not loving what he is doing, in bed or otherwise because that’s a form of me loving him. Uh, yeah it requires a little mental gymnastics from the standard view. Luckily I still love him to pieces, and the sex generally happens to be great, or else I would have a lot more trouble with it.

      • Alison O

        I think it goes both ways. The old, “pick your battles”. Also the old, don’t get into a relationship thinking you can/intending to change someone. You’re likely to both end up miserable. On the other hand, compromise is a big part of any relationship because people are different. So, some things are worth knowing about and fighting for, others you have to make peace with even if they’re not ideal.

      • anon for this

        Ouch, the old acceptance v consideration thing. Know that one. Because I ask everyone this, have you tried chatting about in with a couples’ therapist? It did wonders for us (not about sex though, so YMMV)

    • AshleyMeredith

      I’m a huge fan of “OF COURSE I WANT TO KNOW.” I keep trying to get my husband to understand that, too. Unfortunately I sabotage myself a little because, as I finally got him to express, I don’t always react well when he’s trying to tell me something, so then instead of saying, “Honey, right now you’re not reacting well to that thing that of course you want to know,” he just shuts down and doesn’t say anything the next time (whether about that issue or another). I wish he would keep trying… but I get, mostly-almost-completely, why he doesn’t. So it’s really important for people who belong to the school of “OF COURSE I WANT TO KNOW” to invite such confidences, and it’s something I’m working on.

      Another thing I’ve figured out recently is that some people (my longsuffering husband included) don’t view a “hey, this isn’t working” as an invitation to discuss, but a complaint and request to immediately and completely cease-and-desist and it can easily become a negative experience for them. Like the time he was listening to music on his new noise-cancelling earbuds for a decent stretch and I’d try to say something to him and not realize he couldn’t hear me, and I got frustrated. I also felt like he was avoiding me. So I said something (because, OF COURSE HE WANTS TO KNOW) and he took it as, “She didn’t like it, so I can never listen to headphones again.” When really, after a big fight and me puzzling it out for a while on my own, I realized that well, of course he sometimes needs quiet time, and I don’t mind him listening to the headphones, and I just wanted for him to give me a heads-up: “Hey, I need some time to myself and I’m going to listen to my headphones for a while and won’t be able to hear anything you say (but I still love you).” Long story short, it can help to lead into it more gently and remind them that the goal of speaking up is for everybody to be happy, not to impose the unhappy person’s will on the other one, something I’m also working on.

  • Anonforthis

    I personally love talking about sex and have no problem discussing what I like or don’t like, what I’d like to try, and vice versa from my partner.

    Of course, it takes two to tango.

    We have trouble talking about things that I don’t like (and there aren’t many!) because he gets hurt and feels inhibited, even if I do it in the most gentle, positive way I can, or try to show him what I like. Case in point: we literally had an argument about how he touches my hair because I tried to (cheerfully, gently) explain that I really liked when people stroked my (shoulder-length) hair, rather than his scrunching/rubbing of it (makes me cringe just to write that).

    I’m trying to find other ways to guide him that are less direct. Everything is a compromise, after all.

    • C

      Oh GOSH, I could be you about the stroking vs. scrunching thing. My lovely fiance likes to vigorously rub my back in the same spot over and over…kind of like you’d scratch a dog, I guess. And it gets pretty painful, pretty quickly. I try really hard to encourage him when he strokes me nicely (“Mmm, that feels nice”) and gently try to say, “Ooh, okay, that’s enough” when he’s doing the weird rubbing thing…but seriously, sometimes my brain is screaming, “How can he think that feels good?!?!”

      And although my fiance isn’t one to get his feelings bruised easily, I think we are ALL sensitive to how we are in bed or as sexual creatures pleasing our partners…so I try to be gentle when he does something I don’t love (which doesn’t happen often!!!) and try to be SUPER positive when he does something I do love.

      But I am with you…it’s not always easy.

      • KC

        Definitely more of a cat than a dog, here. Do not rub any of my hair backwards. Do not vigorously rub me in the same place over and over (especially sensitive places. They do not take long to get Very Peeved).

        But how to communicate these things without saying something that accidentally ends up coming through as “your physical affection techniques are terrible and you are lousy in bed” is not always easy. Positive reinforcement seems to work the best (I like it when you do this better than that, or would you do this instead?), but sometimes you really gotta just say “that feels like fingernails on a chalkboard” somehow to get the message through (I’m guessing due to some sort of “all girls like this thing” cultural messaging [like some porn] that subtler methods of communication can’t overrule?).

      • ontheball

        Lol! My hubby does that rubbing thing too. As we’re quite into massage, and he takes criticism much better than me, we’ve been able to discuss the issue of pressure in a not necessarily sexy situation. Always good to talk about things.
        Like, at the weekend I finally told him something was uncomfortable for me and he was truely wounded that I hadn’t told him sooner. I just have to remember -he’s on my team, of course he wants to know!
        Thanks ladies x

    • Alison O

      If you don’t/haven’t already, you might try saying really explicitly something like, “I want you to know when I think about this hair touching thing, it doesn’t at all make me like you less or feel less attracted to you or think you’re bad at this.” Maybe acknowledging that he could be reacting in one of those ways would help clear the air.

  • Addie

    Something that we started doing recently that has really helped was the “Name One Thing” game. Manperson isn’t much of a talker and I need LOTS of information so he would gets easily overwhelmed if I pepper him with questions. So I learned to break it down to one thing I want to know, we address it and then I can ask the next question. Makes a fun game in the car as well.

    Sample questions:
    Name one part of your body you like to be touched
    Name one thing you wished I touched more often
    Name one sex position we do now that you like best
    Name one sex position we have never tried that you’d like to
    Name one thing about our regular foreplay you’d like to change
    Name one thing you want to try that you think I’d like

  • EF

    Read Dan Savage’s ‘Savage Love’ together. Seriously.

    I started reading it when I was about 19, and pretty soon, nothing seemed particularly strange to me, and I also knew how to bring up all sorts of things. My fiance wasn’t all that open (but not closed either; it’s just, he’s stoic and British) about talking about sex when we first got together, but I think about a month in he saw me reading Savage Love, then read tons and tons of the back columns. Fast forward a couple years, and it’s still one of our best communication areas, and even when other things aren’t perfect, we have a great time in bed.

  • Rachel

    I have found that talking about any uncomfortable topic or topic that is going to warrant some discussion is best when we can both emotionally prepare ourselves for it. Once I make up my mind to talk, I want to talk RIGHT NOW, so then I’d find myself getting mad that Eric didn’t want to turn off the TV to have this serious and important conversation. He, on the other hand, felt blindsided. Things did not go well. So now when I want to talk, I just say, “Hey, I want to be sure that we talk this weekend about our joint bank account/sexytime things/the wedding guest list…is that cool witchoo?” And so then we can both sort of prepare/process and go into it feeling calm and not cranky or defensive. We also have an agreement not to start any stressful conversation after 9 PM, which has been really helpful.

    Also, walking while talking/arguing is some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever gotten so I definitely recommend that! I find we are more open on walks and I’m not quite sure why. So maybe after you’ve established that the convo is happening in the near future, when the time comes you can say, “Hey, how about we go for a walk while we discuss?”

    • KW

      We’ve had some of our tough conversations on walks too (or in the car, as referenced in other comments). I find it easier to talk side-by-side than face-to-face at those moments, as does he I think. I feel less vulnerable and exposed, and thus makes it easier for me to find the right words.

      • Amanda

        Yes to the conversations on walks! I don’t know what it is, but we always have some of our best conversations on evening walks.

  • TempAnon

    While generally an open person, I struggle being open with my husband re: our sex life because it comes down to this:
    What really does it for me is PIV intercourse and ours lasts no more than 90 seconds. I understand that there are other things we *can* do, but they don’t bring me the same amount of pleasure (or really much at all).

    So sadly, this feels to me like “his problem” and though we’ve talked about it a bit, I don’t know what else to say because 1. I don’t understand male physiology very well, not being a man and 2. He won’t see a doctor which is the only option I can come up with.

    I would like to be very blunt and honest with him, but I feel that would be too harsh. In a perfect world I would say, “I do not get any pleasure from our sex life. Our interactions are so unfulfilling for me that I do not look forward to them. In order for me to enjoy sex, I need our intercourse to last approximately five minutes without ‘cool down breaks’. I want to make our sex life better, but the thing I enjoy seems to be a struggle for you and I don’t know how to help”

    Is that too much? And/or does anyone have resources on how to talk to someone about premature enjaculation? I feel so lost because it’s not something I can really discuss with anyone.

    • Sara P

      I don’t think that’s too harsh – sometimes I will feel like something I’ve said was too blunt, and my SO didn’t think so, and it makes for better conversation than trying to be more gentle about it. And if you guys haven’t talked about it very much, maybe he doesn’t really realize how much of an issue it is for you.

      Could you ask your doctor about resources for premature ejaculation? They might have suggestions, or maybe be able to refer you to someone (like a sex therapist?), who you might be able to get help from. Obviously this wouldn’t help your husband directly, but might give you tools to talk about it more, or just provide evidence that it would help him. (I don’t know anything about sex therapists or premature ejaculation, but I do have a very skeptical man and I suspect that I would need as many tools of persuasion as I could find. Though “this isn’t working for me” spelled out very clearly should help. Depends on the person.)

      And internet hugs. This sounds hard, I wish you the best of luck.

    • Meigh McPants

      Warning, bluntness ahoy: cock ring. Get one, make it seem like a fun/sexy/kinky thing instead of a “dude, you come way too fast” thing. You could also have him use an insertable toy on you, so you’re still getting the PIV you want, it’s just not his P, so to speak. Mostly it’s about not blaming your partner (which is hard when you’re frustrated!) and thinking of creative ways for you both to get what you want. Also, there are lots of great places to get info on what happens during arousal for men, so you can be familiar with what’s going on even if you don’t have the equipment. You might want to check out “Bonk” by Mary Roach, which has a lot of interesting anatomical info, and is a super fun read.

    • Alison O

      I can see why this would be really frustrating for you and hard territory to navigate! For me, though, your comment could be pretty devastating and not motivating, depending on how much I already knew about how you’re feeling. Of course, you know your partner and all the backstory and how he might take it and respond.

      Sexual stamina is deeply connected to masculinity for many people, so if that’s under the surface for your partner, I would not be surprised if he were feeling even more frustrated you, plus a big dose of shame, which is far worse. He might feel helpless with a physical issue and that you’re getting angry and blaming him for something he can’t control, as if you were mad at him for having cancer. But I can see how from your perspective, it would be more like being mad at someone who has cancer but refuses to seek potentially curative treatment (and in this case, it’s something that directly relates to your satisfaction, so the refusal to try to improve things is more of a personal affront, suggesting that your needs are not important to him). With regard to his openness to change, I’d be curious to know why he refused to talk to a doctor about this and his general reaction to your suggestion to do so. Before thinking about next steps, I’d also want to know what his opinion is of your sex life in general. (Like…for example, could there be something lurking like him not liking PIV for some reason other than physical difficulty? )

      As far as the physiology goes, I don’t know a lot about this (at all), but what I’ve always heard is that to build stamina, it helps to get close to coming and then stop and not come. (This is assuming there’s not some actual physiological defect.) Then keep practicing and try to lengthen the amount of time before you come. So, ‘cool down breaks’ might be the name of the game for how to improve, in which case that is something you may need to embrace in the process of helping him improve. I think it makes sense for you to state clearly that the status quo is not meeting your needs and to articulate what your goal is for what would meet your needs. However, I would be careful not to take such a hard line that you imply that anything short of your goal is terrible, because he probably won’t go from 0 to 60 immediately regardless of the approach you take, and it won’t be very motivating to work toward 20 mph…30….40…if he thinks you’re hating all of those encounters. What I would want to hear if I were in his position is that you want to work together to get to the goal, that I’m not alone in my struggle, and you’ll help me practice and make it more fun (if the above technique is relevant in this case). When we hit roadblocks, I’d want you to express patience and support rather than disappointment, which would reinforce the inadequacy and shame I may already feel. Bad in general and also a total mood killer.

      Other than that, I agree with Sara P that if things don’t improve and he refuses to get help, I would definitely seek help on your own from a therapist because they can help you navigate things from your end. Yikes, no pun intended.

      • KC

        Yes on the sex-shame-for-males thing. I’m also not a guy, but it seems almost like sexual stamina/prowess in a male is as culturally indoctrinated to be important as “attractiveness” is for a female. It can hit out of the blue even if the male is intelligent and generally sane, and it can be *incredibly* hard to get over even just to the point of talking confidentially to a doctor about it. Which seems weird, but… yeah. He is most likely already feeling a lot of inadequacy about it, which does not mean you should stop trying to find resolution, just be aware that there is potentially Big Stuff under this topic.

    • C

      I really, really know what you’re going through here. Have you guys tried condoms? They can decrease sensitivity and help him hold out longer. I’ve also heard that perhaps cock rings can help. I’ve never tried this, but I’ve heard you can even wrap a hairband around it and that can help him hold out longer.

      • Maddie

        Seconding condoms and cock rings (they also used to make special condoms that had a bit of desensitizing lube in them, I wonder if they still do? And you can introduce cock rings as fun vs. problem solving, so that there’s less chance for hurt feelings.

        Also, are there positions that help vs. hurt the situation? Things where he can control the speed and timing? We’ve got positions that have a shelf life of about three minutes, and others that are much longer. There’s always the option of having him orgasm before sex (manually, orally, etc.), and then giving a little break before going for PIV sex.

        These are of course all short term solutions. The bigger issue is how to talk to him about it. Even if he won’t see a doctor, are you able to talk openly about it at all? I think the first step, though, is acknowledging that its both of your problem. Which means that both of you have to be in it together to fix things. In a perfect world, he will be able to openly acknowledge that the lack of stamina is not satisfying for you, and you’ll see fixing the problem as something that you have to tackle together. When both of you are in it together, then the conversations can go more like, “Hey, I found out about this position that may help us last longer. Want to give it a try?”

    • Kris

      Would he be open going one round on his own before sex? Guys are often slower to have their second orgasm than their first. Or he could have both orgasms with you. Just switch to kissing or a toy while he recovers. Also, try to take it as a compliment, you’re just too sexy! A good attitude can help with the shame/frustration which is likely making things worse.

  • Cee

    This has come up in variations in the previous comments, but I want to reiterate/add a different angle. The policy or mindset that has helped me most in sex life difficulties is to be HONEST and KIND.

    HONEST……you guys, it took me the longest time to realize it was NO help to anyone to be a martyr. I used to cry in the bathroom post-coitus because I really wanted to orgasm and the guys I was with came really quick. Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize that my partner cannot read my mind and that I need to speak up. So when I had the opposite problem– my person now struggled a lot with maintaining an erection– I brought it up post-sex. I said that I was worried about it. We had a few conversations about possible causes. When the issue persisted, I screwed up my courage to be honest in a different way and say (well, sob) “I feel really unsexy with all of this, and I need you to put some effort into telling me otherwise.” He stepped up his sweet nothings, went to a doctor, and we’ve worked things out now.

    KIND….again, it’s been said, but– you’re gonna catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Include the parts of sex you like. If he/she/zie is doing something that you don’t like, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. (Ya know, “I feel good when you go down on me first, and I want to make this a more frequent thing” vs. “You never go down on me unless I push you down there, jerkface!”) I like the point Maddie makes about being on the same team. With that in mind, I have to be very conscious of my phrasing, approach, and compliments when discussing What’s Not Good with my partner.

    One more thing– the two of us are talking about open relationships now. Unfortunately we recently hit a rough patch in this journey, but we’re getting back on track. One thing that’s REALLY helpful is reading books and discussing them together. It feels educational and collaborative…I just have to remind myself that going slow is okay. If anyone else has more experience in the poly department, I’d love to hear how you communicated on this!

  • Liz

    Hello deCordova museum! Who took the photo? We visited just last weekend.

  • I’d like to hear about scheduling sex. How have others gone about doing this and how do you decide how often and when to schedule it?

    The main reason I’m interested in this is because we have a baby now and we aren’t taking the time for ourselves as a couple that we should. We both enjoy our personal time, but it seems like sometimes we’re putting that ahead of the time we need to nurture our bond as a couple. I think some structure like a scheduled sex time would help us prioritize each other.

    I think I’d really enjoy having a kind of guarantee that I’m going to get to have sex with X frequency, but I also wonder if that guarantee would start to make me feel like I’m only getting it from husband because he’s obligated because he agreed, and not because he’s just that turned on by my irresistible sexiness. (This worry is entirely imaginary; nothing husband does makes me feel like he only does this from obligation.) So that makes me lean toward scheduling sex less often than I’d ideally like to have it. The scheduled sex would be a bare minimum that we would hope to exceed. And by keeping the scheduled sex minimal, we wouldn’t feel pressured to meet an artificially high bar of lots of sex, with time constraints and a baby. Is this logic sound?

    In previous talks, husband has agreed in theory that this is a good idea. How do you go from ‘it’s a good idea’ to ‘Ok, this Friday at 9….”? I think part of it is the unpredictability of life with a baby, and the fact that if something social comes up we want to take advantage of it because we are becoming recluses.

    • Anon

      Totally hear you on this one! My fiance thought I was nuts the first time I suggested “sex tomorrow night at about 8pm?” – so unromantic! But really, when there are kids involved and life is so busy, you kinda do have to schedule it in!

      And when it came to tomorrow 8pm, we were both really excited! It was like getting ready for a flash date. We were both there, all loved up, we’d both put in some effort, and were ready for sexy fun times… Because we love each other and find each other incredibly sexy there wasn’t any awkwardness about it.

      It actually made it better in some ways :)

      It’s not a fail safe thing – sometimes one or other of us will have had a bad day and just not be in the mood for it. But even then, we usually end up spending focused time hanging out and talking to each other.

      I’m all for routine!

      • AN ANON

        My recommendation is to either: 1. schedule slightly nebulously (“Wednesday before work? Friday after dinner?”), or 2. schedule super specifically (“Wednesday at 6am. Set an alarm”) with the mutual understanding that it’s ok to break the appointment as long as you reschedule within 24-48 hours. We alternate between these two strategies depending on how busy the week is, and both work equally well for us. We also usually get an extra unscheduled bone in there every few weeks, which can be a nice reminder that we can still have spontaneous sex too.

      • anonymous

        I find it so frustrating that scheduled sex gets a bad rap. After having some huge sex issues in our marriage, we’ve learned that the ability to have sex that both of us enjoy is more important than the sex being spontaneous. We have a very young child as well and we co-sleep so setting aside time has become even more important and challenging. We tend to do more vague planning like “hey tonight after kid goes to sleep?” or “sometime this weekend.” For us, if we don’t actively think about it and make some sort of plan we tend not to do it as often as we would ideally like. It’s fun to change things up but I wish more people didn’t knock scheduling sex like it means the death of your sex life. It most certainly does not.

    • Maybe it would help to re-frame it? Like, instead of calling it the “Sex Schedule” it could be “Planned Date Nights”.

      Because I mean… what were date nights (when you were dating) other than slightly more elaborately scheduled sex nights? Sure, you would see each other because you liked each other and liked eating sushi/seeing movies/going on walks together, but you kinda always knew that at some point you’d be boning (you haven’t seen each other for a couple days, after all!). So you’d have that mental anticipation of “sex will likely happen” without the pressure of “sex must happen” weighing you down.

      Small semantics quibbles, but it’s the semantics that do wonky things to my brain, and even though I know full well “Date Night” is just our secret code for “Scheduled Sexytimes”, having plausible deniability really helps keep my brain from choking under pressure.

  • Kathy

    Two things that have been really effective and helpful for my husband and I throughout our years together:

    We have regularly scheduled “state-of-the union meetings” (we call it something different, but you get the idea). It’s every other week on the same night and it is for talking about anything either of us may have on our minds about our relationship. We found it to be really helpful in neither person feeling like they needed to figure out how to bring up something or open up a conversation. We sometimes tell the other person a few days ahead of time that we have ‘x’ on our minds and want to talk about it that night; other times it’s just an open time and we talk about whatever is currently relevant and gives us insight into what the other person is thinking/feeling. For us, it’s a really positive experience and not a “this is what I want to complain about now” time. I think one of the biggest strengtheners of our relationship is that we recognize how hard it can be to know what it’s like to be the other person in a relationship. And the only way we are going to understand it is to get the perspective/view from that person. We vowed to always ask the questions that help us understand that and our every-other-week sessions are some time we set aside in which we know we will always be able to do it.

    For physical intimacy, reading David Schnarch’s “Passionate Couples” was eye-opening (figuratively and literally – part of his book covers open-eye orgasms in which you are looking into the eyes of your partner as you orgasm). His approach is that good sex is a manifestation of good emotional intimacy between partners. Rather than only talking about the how-to’s of what to do during sex, he talks about how to increase the overall intimacy between two people. This results in really, really good sex because there is nothing at all between you and you are completely open with each other in a deeper way. I may not be doing the book justice in my explanation, but I highly recommend it.

  • Anopeymous

    I also find that it’s particularly helpful to choose the medium through which you communicate best. We’ve had some productive conversations over Gchat, because sometimes I’m more willing to type things than I am to say them. Even if we were in a car ride, each doing the “facing forward no pressuring eye contact” thing, it’s easier for me to talk about some stuff without being in the same room as my conversation partner, and sex is definitely one of those topics. Plus, then I get a chance to work on my wording a little bit more to make sure I’m really saying what I mean, and we each get a chance to pause and take in whatever was said before responding. We generally communicate really well and have a good sense of how to interpret what the other one is saying (plus we make an effort to be especially clear on harder subjects) so we don’t have too many read-between-the-lines issues, but YMMV.