Diving In: Having THE Sex Talk
You are ready to have a deeper discussion about sex. Here are some essential tips to help you navigate that conversation.
So you have tested the waters in bringing up sex with a partner and are ready to dive in. Here are some essential basics to help the conversation go well.
Be mindful of time.
Do you have enough time to get into a longer conversation if needed? You don’t want to feel pressured to share quickly or the other person to feel pressured to respond quickly. You also want to make sure that you can be present focused and at ease.
Ensure that the other person is emotionally available.
Let them know you would like to have a deeper conversation and give them the ability to choose a later day/time where they can be receptive. You want to ensure that both you and your partner have the actual time and emotional availability necessary to discuss sex in a way that is helpful rather than harmful to the relationship. When we are grounded, conversations go much, much better.
Find some privacy.
Public discussions about these issues don’t tend to go very well. Honor the sensitive information and the emotional expression that might go along with it by ensuring you have some private space.
Have a “soft start up.”
This comes from the famous work of couples therapy gurus, The Gottmans. Maybe start the conversation with some positive notes about your sex life before discussing something that you would like to improve upon. This can feel less threatening and more collaborative to your partner.
As always, stay with your own feelings.
Use "I" rather than "you" statements. Speak directly rather than abstractly (e.g., When we are only having sex when I initiate, I feel worried that you do not desire me” rather than “Our sex life makes me feel uncertain”). This is tied to:
Refrain from blaming your partner.
Use statements such as “when you do X, I feel Y’ rather than “You always X” or “You make me feel Y.” When we hear "always" or "never," it's natural for our brains to start thinking about all the examples to find the times where we have done this or have not done that. It
usually leads to the other person getting defensive and not really listening anymore as they are more in their own head. Don’t make them and their actions the problem.
If you can’t, take a break and come back to it later. More Gottman brilliance: in a famous Gottman study, they encouraged couples in their lab set-up to discuss a historically difficult topic. The couples were hooked up to heart rate monitors. When either party would get past a certain point of elevation, they would give the couple a break (I think they told them there were some technical difficulties and gave them time to read a magazine). They noticed how much better the couple communicated when they weren’t elevated. This makes total sense but so often we do not practice it. Notice your own elevation and do not communicate when you are past a 7-8/10. You can read more about Gottman research here.
Share the reason you are sharing the info as well as your hopes.
Bringing someone in to the rationale and intentions behind your sharing can help guide the conversation as well as communicate some of your desired outcomes (“I am sharing this with you because I want to be able to openly discuss sensitive things with one another and my hope is that you will be able to receive it as well as to know that I can be someone with whom you share difficult things too). Letting the person know that you are sharing your thoughts and feelings in order to improve your relationship rather than bringing up “complaints against your partner” can be a helpful reminder that you are on their team and not against them. Sometimes this helps reduce defensiveness in your partner.
Have discussions about sex often.
The more you include this as part of your regular discussions about the relationship, the less weight it will carry and the more openness you can have around the topic. You will build comfort around a topic - that hopefully after reading the last 5 blog posts, you know is not an easy topic to talk about - just by exposure. See this as a part of your relationship that you regularly check in about - not just when there is an issue. Taking a more holistic and preventative approach (sex is an essential part our relationship that we check in about to ensure it’s going well) rather than a specific, crisis approach (we only discuss sex when there is a problem) can help ease anxieties and build confidence and positivity around discussing sex.
And a bonus:
After discussing, reward yourselves with connecting - physically and otherwise.
Do the hard work and then come back together for some play! If whenever you talk about sex, you feel disconnected and spend the rest of the weekend apart, neither of you is going to want to have these talks more often but without these talks, this part of your relationship can’t grow. So make it as enjoyable of an experience as possible.
If you can maintain eye contact and have touch throughout the conversation, that’s ideal!
In the next blog, I will break down some of the ways in which how we relate to sex can parallel how we deal with anything difficult and how to identify and work with your automatic reaction to turn it into a more thought-out response.