9 Real-Life Ways to Talk about Sex More


Talking leads to doing (or doing it better)

by Najva Sol, Brand Director

couple in bed with white sheets in front of window
Confession: I’m really terrible at talking about sex. Unless you’ve dated me, you’d probably never know this, because in public I’m the “super sex positive, kink positive, no detail is too dirty” friend. But when I’m in a partnership and someone tries to send a sext or dirty talk or even just… get me to open up about what turns me on, it’s like everything shuts down. Getting me to talk about sex is, in a word, difficult.

No matter how unreasonable, my brain always defaults to “don’t you already know,” “can’t we just act more and talk less,” “shhhhhh leave me alone”—none of which are productive. And I can assure you, it’s not about the other person, considering past partners have included sex workers and educators who had excellent communication skills. The awkwardness was entirely mine. Learning to have open conversations about sex with someone I’m actually doing it with has been a steep learning curve

If there’s one thing I keep reminding myself, it’s that there’s power in naming your desires. Somehow (maybe social conditioning? JUST A GUESS), admitting that I want something sexual out loud has always felt intimidating or like I was putting pressure on a situation, and I’ve been much more comfortable giving (and going with the flow). So imagine my surprise now that I’m finding that instead of feeling weak or needy, after telling a partner exactly what I need done to me, I actually feel…. strong? Fierce? And like I deserve pleasure? It’s hot!

So, being late to the “talking about sex” party, I’ve loved these IRL tips from APW readers about the best ways to make lusty conversations fun and easy (or, at least, easier):

Tips to Talking About Sex (More) With Your Partner

Talk about sex… right after having it:

I found an easy segue into talking about sex more was to start talking about it openly immediately after sex. Because it’s a more vulnerable time where it’s just the two of you (and it JUST happened), it made for a safer space to actually be open about it… and the more we talked about sex afterward, the more comfortable I got, and the easier it was to talk about in a casual way.

Or, wait till you’re both trapped together—um—relaxed together:

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.

Tell ’em what you like:

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,” versus, “You never go down on me unless I push you down there, jerkface!”)

Tell ’em what you want, what you really really want:

One thing I would say is essential is being willing to talk about fantasies with each other. My husband and I started out really honest before we ever got married. He was into bondage and eased me into it. Now it’s something we share that really has helped, umm, bond us closer together. Recently, we’ve overcome a tougher spot sex wise and that was by once again diving into fantasies. These aren’t necessarily ones we will act on, but just talking about them in the bedroom spices things up nicely.

Talk about one thing at a time:

Something that we started doing recently that has really helped was the “Name One Thing” game. My partner isn’t much of a talker and I need lots of information. That meant he would gets overwhelmed as I peppered him with questions. So I learned to break it down to one thing I want to know. 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?

Or, make a list, check it twice:

I learned a lot about how to talk about sex from the BDSM community. They have some really great, concrete communication tools there about how to ask for what turns you on without shame or fear—which we’ve applied to our more vanilla sex life. 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. We check off: 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. 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 pretty vanilla sex life.

Listen to other people talk about sex:

Listening to other people talk about sex really helps take away that taboo feeling. 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 an 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!

If one or both of you isn’t into porn (though, catch up on our feminist porn recs right here), how about books?

Even if watching things is off the table, reading together might not be. Pull out your sexiest book/blog. Reading a book aloud to each other can be a great way to get reactions. Guide to Getting It On (book) and Savage Love (column) have been two of my go-to resources.

Finally, while not technically a conversation, still, get thee to the toy store:

Investing in toys is fun if you can get over the awkwardness of buying them. Online shopping is also a lot of fun, though perhaps more likely to result in a box showing up at your door after a night of drunken browsing.

How about you guys? Have you cracked the code on talking about sex… even if one or both of you is more into doing it than talking about it?

Najva Sol

Najva Sol is a queer Iranian-American writer, photographer, branding consultant, artist, and ex-poet.  She’s the token staff Slytherin and—while formally based in Brooklyn—tends to travel as much as possible. Storytelling is her life, but making chicken broth is a close second.

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  • anon

    We had one of these sex talks just last night, negotiating a boundary. Since I got pregnant my breasts have been off limits. Now that the baby is almost 2 and weaned, they have still been off limits, and I’ve been wearing a bra during sex. Breastfeeding was painful and almost traumatic for me, and it’s like there’s a switch in my brain that has been turned off. I no longer see this part of my body as erotic at all. My breasts are for babies, and that is it. Plus I don’t like how they look anymore, all saggy and flat and deflated. Husband misses my breasts. I agreed to take off the bra during sex but nipples are still entirely off limits. I’d like it if my breasts could be sexual again but I don’t know how to turn that switch back. Is that a topic for a sex therapist?

    If anyone has any ideas about how to talk to a guy about erection issues I’d love to hear it. Husband gets frustrated when he loses his erection, and I mostly have been just breezy about it and saying it’s no big deal. I’ve said a couple times, ‘if it’s really bothering you, you should talk to a doctor about it.’ I don’t know what else I can or should say to reassure him. We’re younger than I thought most people who deal with this issue are.

    • HH

      If you want to help your breasts feel more sexual again, could you try to see how it feels to touch them during masturbation, where there isn’t the same pressure as in a sex situation with your husband? I am no sex expert, but I know that experimenting alone can really help me with understanding where my boundaries are and what I am/am not okay with.

    • A. Nonny Mouse

      I accidentally posted my reply to you above. Whoops!

    • quiet000001

      I like the suggestion of touching them yourself – maybe not even sexually at first, just take care of them nicely to ‘reclaim’ that part of your body and get comfortable with it post-baby-changes. I mean like treat yourself to pampering evenings and do a ‘boob mask’ instead of just a face mask. Take time applying moisturizer after a shower, etc. Just stuff to help you focus on nice feelings associated with that area of your body. If they were sensitive and painful during pregnancy and breastfeeding, your brain has quite sensibly learned “no, leave them alone!” and you have to un-learn that which might take a bit of time and patience.

      Maybe also see if you can treat yourself to a nice extra pretty bra or two, ones you feel attractive in. If possible, go to a proper independent boutique – they can be sure your bras fit properly and if they do mastectomy bras, as many small shops do, they are no strangers to women having very conflicted feelings about their own boobs, so they should be able to be very supportive.

      As far as the erection issues – I’d try to bring it up sometime when sex isn’t happening or about to happen, and possibly frame it as a health thing rather than a performance thing?

    • anon today

      Solidarity on the erection issues. I always have to tiptoe around the issue because I feel like there’s a manly ego thing. I discovered a few months after now-FI and I got together that in the past he had gone to a doctor, because his anxiety medication was causing issues staying hard or finishing. He still has the prescription, but the whole topic has become extremely taboo because he feels like he’s too young to be dealing with this. I know he doesn’t like to take it, which sometimes causes frustration, and have no idea how to have a conversation about it. I go with the “no big deal, let’s do something else” strategy, but I feel like maybe there is something else I should do to be more helpful?

      I’d also appreciate advice.

    • anononon

      So timely for you to bring up your thoughts on boobs. I’m super into my boobs being incorporated into sex – if boobs aren’t involved, I can’t fully get off. I’m also 9 months pregnant right now and I’ve been spending the last 3 trimesters wondering what breastfeeding* is going to do to my sex life in the near future and how my relationships to my boobs is going to change once I see a baby attached to them. Whew. I guess there’s no knowing exactly how this will all go down for me until the baby actually comes and we make these transitions in real life. But all that to say – lots of solidarity to you as you work through complicated feelings with your breasts. Keep us posted if you eventually find ways to reconnect with your breasts, whether sexually or just in the sense of feeling like they’re part of your own body again.

      *So I have no idea how breastfeeding will actually go in real life, whether it will work out for me physically/psychologically/emotionally, whether I’ll end up pumping or using formula or thinking it’s the greatest experience ever, etc etc. But I figured I’d at least give it a shot, so for at least a few weeks I’m committed to going through the experience of turning my boobs from a sexy part of my body to a baby-feeding-organ. That alone has been scary enough for me!

  • ssha

    I find that talking about sex involves a lot of emotional labor for me, as 1)I’m the one who brings it up because I’m the one with Feelings about it. 2) I’m also bad at talking about it because I have zero practice until recently- we are new to the sex thing. Hence: I’m reticent and shy about it/I feel bad for having so many emotions/I start to get emotional because of both these things and my partner ends up really confused and I end up frustrated.
    These are good tips, and I want to use them, but I feel tired already knowing I would have to initiate the conversation and then muddle through it. But we need to get better at talking about it somehow.

    • quiet000001

      Is writing easier for you? The list idea could be a good place to start since it gives you a framework to talk about things one but at a time, which I find makes things less overwhelming.

      You could also do that to offload some of the emotional labor – just agree to a weekly (or whatever) meeting to talk about the next item on the list or other sex-related things that have come up?

      • Anon101

        When my husband and I were first a couple we were so awkward we couldn’t even write! One of our first sex conversations we drew funny sexy pictures/doodles in bed back and forth as an opening. Learning to communicate can be a long road, but it’s worth attempting!

  • A. Nonny Mouse

    I’m not sure if I have helpful advice, but I can offer solidarity!

    My husband has had this issue for as long as I’ve known him, and we started dating when he was 21. He won’t talk to his doctor about it, but I’ve talked to mine. She basically said it happens a lot more than most people realize because there’s such stigma around it. An erection is kind of when the stars align – blood flow is right, etc, but that doesn’t happen easily for a lot of people. She suggested he start taking ED pills and wean himself off of them when his confidence was higher, but not to let me know when/if he is taking them. He refused that suggestion point blank.

    He’s figured out a few things that can help him when he loses his erection during sex, but basically it had to come from him. Took me YEARS to figure that out.

    And I also took the nonchalant route. It seemed the best way to keep him from getting even deeper into his own mind and anxiety. I’ll be watching this thread to see if anyone has a workable solution. :)

    • anon today

      Thank you for the solidarity! Did you find that it impacted the frequency of when you had sex? If he’s having problems and getting frustrated I feel like I initiate spontaneous sexy-times less than I otherwise would because I’m worried. Then, when we haven’t had sex in a little while, he feels all sorts of pressure for it to be *best sex ever* and is concerned about any erectile problems ruining it, resulting in him not initiating either. This leads to the occasional sex slump that I don’t know how to break.

      • quiet000001

        Are you happy with sex stuff that doesn’t require an erection? Like, could you try to focus on those activities specifically some times, to establish a pattern of sexual interaction where you both trust that an erection isn’t absolutely necessary to have an enjoyable time? That might help with performance pressure maybe?

        (Also possibly do sexy stuff without an end goal of orgasm. Just make out for a while or something. Again, do enjoyable intimate stuff where an erection is not required for things to work out pleasurably for both parties involved.) (Not that orgasms aren’t fun, but it’s pretty well established in research, I believe, that focusing too much on an end goal of orgasm actually makes the whole thing less enjoyable and leads to issues with achieving orgasm for some people. So getting away from that being the determination of if a sexual interaction was successful or not is reasonably healthy for everyone.)

  • Anon101

    One of the hard communication things for us was that my partner has big elaborate fantasies and we had to learn to break them up into smaller emotional/physical chunks that we were both comfortable with (shout out to Dan Savage for that suggestion). One method that was really successful for us was to incorporate a new item into the context of a game. We’d have a simple card game or such and layer on our own sexy rules. That way we were sure to incorporate some things that were tried and true, some things that were new and exciting, and while we were trying something for the first time it was never the pressure of “this new thing is the only thing we’re doing and sex will be ruined if we get it wrong or someone isn’t into it.”

    • Jess

      Oh, thanks for this suggestion! (Somehow, I hadn’t heard it on the lovecast before)

      I think I’m going to submit this idea to R about some of my stuff which he’s nervous about doing.

  • ruth

    I really love all the advice in this post (especially the tip about using the communication strategies of the BDSM community, even when discussing vanilla sex) Question: has anyone used the new website Omgyes? It’s supposed to be tutorial videos / articles / a kind of sex ed for grown ups, specifically focusing on female pleasure. There’s a one time subscription fee. I’ve seen it advertised on the internet a lot recently, and a couple of celebrities like Emma Watson have endorsed it, but I’m curious if any APW folks have tried it and what your experience has been like? Thanks

    • Jess

      I have not, but I’m really intrigued by it!

  • incognito

    What’s a good way to encourage a timid partner overall?

    My partner and I only recently started having sex and while he will do anything I ask and do it enthusiastically, he doesn’t take initiative (if I want him to take off my shirt even, I have to ask him).

    While I love how willing and respectful he is, I’d like for him to just DO things sometimes without my asking.

    For the record, I don’t have a history of sexual trauma or abuse or any issues of pain with sex, so his timidity isn’t coming from a place of concern for me – it seems to be how he’s wired (nervous and shy).

    How do I open a conversation about this?

    • Jess

      In a similar vein, I’m interested in a few specific more BDSM flavored things, and R is… worried that he’ll hurt me or cross a line and is generally just very concerned about being mean.

      So, we have talks. I outline a thing I would like to have happen, repeating how much I would enjoy that thing. When it happens (even if prompted by my asking) I play up a little bit how much I enjoy it, kind of in a positive reinforcement way.

      This helps a bit.

      Another thing I’ve heard regarding initiating more (which I don’t always do well) is scheduling a day for the less likely person to do the initiating. That could mean that you talk about wanting certain things and saying, “Could you do this on Thursday?” or it could mean just kind of saying, “When I am the one initiating, I feel like I’m the only one interested in sex (or whatever is true for you). Could we set aside a day a week (or whatever interval feels right for you) for you to initiate for a little while?”

    • quiet000001

      Can you establish some rules he can use for guidance? Ex. “Once we are in the bedroom, you don’t have to ask to remove my shirt. If I am uncomfortable with it for some reason that day, I will say so. I really like when you do things like that without prompting.”

      Basically establish things within your relationship where he can safely assume you consent unless you explicitly say otherwise at the time.

  • EF

    I really like APW’s push to have more sex-focused content! Just a late note of support here :-)