It can be a lot easier to have sex than to talk about having sex. While many of us might have a pretty good sense of what we’re going to do in bed from experience (and, if we’re being honest, from media visuals), most of us don’t have a ton of experience having sit-down conversations about those intimate details.
The thing is, that lack of sexual communication know-how can pose a myriad of issues for your actual sex life — especially for people in long-term relationships, where it’s easy to fall into a sexual routine that you just default to over time.What happens when there’s something specific you want in bed that hasn’t been in play before or in a while? If you’re not used to having conversations about sex regularly, making that ask can feel uncomfortable or frankly impossible to broach without pissing off your partner.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many studies of long-term relationships have found couples who disclose their sexual preferences with ease and talk openly about sex tend to have more satisfying sex (including literally more arousal and better erectile function) and more satisfying relationships. That’s because, contrary to what porn and movies might tell us, great sex doesn’t just happen. Your partner isn’t a mind reader, and neither are you. To know how to turn each other’s gears just right, you’ll need to give each other the user manual.
So, if you’re a little rusty in this department, here’s a play-by-play of how to initiate these conversations and make them go well.
1. Choose the Right Moment
When it comes to asking for something in bed, it’s important to consider the right moment to bring it up. Some smaller asks — such as to switch positions, change an angle, or grab this or that — can likely be done in the moment while having sex. Those requests can be phrased as a question (“What if you keep your thong on? I like what I’m seeing”), a statement of desire (“I want you on top”), or even a command if that’s a dynamic you have agreed on with your partner (“Get on your hands and knees”).
But if what you’re wanting to ask for is a more significant adjustment or something that’s far out of your usual repertoire as a couple, that’s probably not something to spring on someone mid-act. For example, if you want more oral in the mix, your partner to take more initiative during sexual encounters, or ito introduce a new kink or dynamic you haven’t tried before, those are things to bring up outside the bedroom. You want your partner to have time to think about your idea in a pressure-free setting, so they have time to get excited about it — or to say no freely without feeling like they’re killing the mood.
2. Make the Conversation Intimate
Talking about sex doesn’t have to be awkward. To the contrary, having an open conversation about what you each desire in bed can be a huge turn-on. Who doesn’t want to know a new way to make their partner’s toes curl? Whether you’re in a serious relationship of many years or just getting into it with a new sexual partner, asking each other about your latest bedroom desires can not only be an excellent way to get your sexual needs met — it can also even stir up some fresh heat between you. A win on all counts.
So, set the right mood for your conversation. Make it an intimate, connective, or even sexy moment for the two of you. Maybe you tell them you want to make some time this weekend to talk about some fun new ideas for your sex life. Or while the two of you are vibing over dinner, you ask a spicy question with a coy grin to get the conversation going: “Okay, here’s a question for you: What’s been your favorite thing we’ve done in bed in the last few months?” From there, segue into a conversation about desires you’ve yet to explore together.
3. Frame Your Ask Positively
Your tone and framing matter a lot here: You don’t want your asks to come off as criticisms of your current sex life or your partner’s performance. “You never initiate sex” will likely feel like an attack. “It’s so fucking sexy when you come onto me” is a compliment, an invitation, and frankly a bit of a turn-on. Be clear about what you’re asking (“I love it when we XYZ — would you be down to do more of that?”) while also highlighting why you want it and what you think it’s going to add to your shared sex life. You want your partner to feel just as excited about this as you are, or to at least be excited about the prospect of doing something that’s going to blow your mind.
4. Ask About What Your Partner Wants in Bed, Too
Make this a two-way conversation. Is there something your partner has been craving in the bedroom as well? Tend to their desires generously. If your partner feels connected to you and like they’re having knockout sex with you, they’re likely to want to give you the same experience. (Check your intentions here though—don’t do things for them as a way to pressure or manipulate them into doing things for you. You should feel excited about making your partner feel good just because you, well, love making them feel good.)
5. Respect Boundaries
The truth is, your partner might not be game for everything you ask for sexually. Don’t be pushy or demanding, and never try to use pressure or guilt to get people to do things. Pay attention to their body language and the larger context. Honor and celebrate your partner’s “no” if that’s their answer, and talk about other ways you can both make sure each of your sexual needs are being met. If you’re running into what feels like a core or fundamental mismatch of desires, don’t be afraid to seek out a session or two with a sex therapist who can help you get creative or figure out next steps.
6. Watch for Signs of Trouble.
If your partner seems generally resentful, annoyed, or put off by the very idea of trying to invigorate your sex life, it’s time to press pause on the whole ask-for-what-I-want-in-bed thing and figure out if there’s something else going on here. Sex is something couples do solely for pleasure and connection (with trying to conceive being the only exception, of course), and if your partner has no interest in nurturing this part of your relationship, there may be a need for a deeper conversation.
How does your partner feel about sex in general? Is the sex that you’re currently having even satisfying for your partner? How’s the rest of your relationship doing? How’s the division of labor in your household? Are there ongoing fights that need to be resolved? Is your partner dealing with a lot of stress in their life right now and needs your support in other ways? Remember: Sex doesn’t happen in a silo. All of these other aspect of our lives can affect a person’s interest in sex — and certainly their interest in, say, giving their partner more blowjobs.
7. Affirm the Hell out of your Partner When They Nail It.
When your partner delivers in bed on something you’ve expressed desire for, make sure they know you’re damn happy about it! Give them some vocal affirmation in the moment, tell them afterwards how good it felt for you, and shower them with gratitude and praise about how great they are in bed. Positive affirmation confirms that what they’re doing is making you feel good, and it can be great motivation to do it again in the future.
8. Tap Into the Plethora of Tools Available
If approaching this conversation still feels daunting, get your hands on one of the many fun resources that exist out there for helping couples explore their sex lives together. There are all kinds of sex workbooks, sex card games, sex apps for couples, sex retreats and workshops for couples, sex podcasts, and of course sex therapy and coaching sessions, all of which can equip you and your partner with fun exercises and prompts to help you really excavate and unearth your desires together.
If nothing else, aim for genuine connection — and reciprocity — with your partner as you go into these conversations, and you can’t go wrong.