For some of us, conversations about sex—what we liked, what we didn’t, what turns us on, what absolutely doesn’t—come naturally. But maybe physical intimacy is a taboo topic in your family or culture. Or perhaps you’re totally comfortable with dirty talk when the clothes come off, but the idea of discussing toys or butt stuff with your new partner at the dinner table while fully dressed terrifies you.
“It’s no wonder we’re so uncomfortable talking about sex as a culture. I mean, if you think about most love scenes in movies, the characters never discuss it,” Vanessa Marin, MFT, licensed psychotherapist and author of Sex Talks: The Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life, tells SELF. “They’re just able to have this magical, effortless, incredible sex.”
But don’t let those perfect camera angles fool you: Most healthy relationships require open and honest communication to thrive—in and out of the bedroom—Marin says. And if you struggle in the carnal conversation department, it’s a skill worth honing, “or else you run the risk of waiting until things are really bad to talk about sex, and it just reinforces this whole misconception that it has to be an uncomfortable topic,” she adds.
So how exactly can you bring up your sexual fantasies without awkwardly hiding under the covers? Here’s Marin’s best advice:
Acknowledge your anxiety.
For many people, sex is an important part of a satisfying relationship, so discussing it with your partner should ideally be no different than talking about stuff like your feelings, life plans, and dealbreakers.
In practice, however, sharing that you’re craving some role-play or a bit of strap-on fun may feel very different from requesting more date nights, Marin says. One way to, well, ease your uneasiness is to acknowledge the anxious elephant in the room (it’s you). Calling this out from the start can help both you and your partner relax, creating an environment that encourages vulnerability.
For instance, you might begin the conversation with something like, “I know we don’t really do this, and it’s kind of awkward, but I really hope both of us can feel safe talking openly about our sex life.” That way, “you can start to get comfortable with the idea that sex is natural and not this hush-hush subject,” Marin says.
Don’t feel like you need to have a capital-S sex talk.
Okay, you’ve finally worked up the courage to chat candidly about your desires. Now what?
You may have a bunch of hot ideas you’re itching to share with your lover, like exploring anal play or experimenting with phone sex. But rather than dumping every dirty thought into one intense and formal sit-down, Marin says it’s best to start small.
For example, you could try reminiscing about one of your favorite not-so-family-friendly memories together (“Remember when we took our time while going down on each other on Valentine’s Day? I’d love to do that again.”) or even just make a quick comment during pillow talk (“That was amazing. Maybe next time we can try some new positions?”) Marin says that asking for what you want more casually—rather than making it this super serious “we need to talk” moment—may help you both recognize that keeping the lines of sexual communication open can be easy and fun.
Use positive language to create a supportive vibe.
Let’s say the sex was really bad. Or you wish you had orgasmed. It can feel really difficult—mean, even—to offer constructive criticism about your partner’s performance. But that doesn’t mean you should bottle it up. “We have to be sensitive with sex because most of us would like to think we’re good in bed, and it’s natural to feel super vulnerable about the ways we might not be getting it right,” Marin says.
Instead of going straight into problem-solving mode and pointing out what they need to “fix,” a kinder and more effective approach is to focus on what is working for you. So if your partner doesn’t really engage in foreplay and you’d really appreciate it if they would take their time, you might tell them something along the lines of, “It turns me on so much when you go slow and kiss me everywhere,” Marin suggests.
Not only is that framing less likely to bruise their ego and put them on the defensive than asking them to “seriously, stop rushing,” she says, but communicating what you want versus what you don’t also increases your chances of actually getting it—and getting off.
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