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How do I talk about sex in a relationship?

Does the thought of talking about sex with your partner bring you outside of your comfort zone? How comfortable are you talking about sex with your partner? And why can’t we talk about sex?

For many couples, talking sex is not on the agenda, and lessons on how to talk about sex in a relationship are vastly needed. Sex can be a no go topic for all sorts of reasons. So why can’t we talk about sex?

  • “My parents were not comfortable talking sex”
  • “My partner ought to know what I want without my having to say it”
  • Sex is too intimate to talk about.”

Let’s look at Mark and Amy. They have been married for four years and have never discussed their sex life. Mark is quiet and gentle. Amy is uncomfortable talking about sex.

One day, as they are preparing their evening meal together, Mark puts his arms around Amy and says –

“Why can’t we have sex more often? It’s really frustrating me.”

Amy is at first so taken aback that she decides to ignore the comment.

“Did you hear the baby crying? I’ll just go and check.”

She leaves the room and pretends that she has not heard. How could Mark expect her to talk about their sex life just like that, in the kitchen, while they are preparing a meal? He has never spoken so openly before. Maybe he is just trying to provoke her.

When she returns, Amy continues as before and hopes that Mark will drop the matter. But Mark insists,

“Why can’t we talk about sex, Amy? I know that it makes you uncomfortable, but we need to be able to discuss it.”

“What on earth has got into you?” Amy says, “You never used to talk about sex. Now you seem to think of nothing else. No matter how often we have it, it’s never enough for you.”

“That’s because you only agree to make love when I really pester you. You never seem to want it yourself. When you just sigh and give in, it takes away all the pleasure for me. I feel like I’m using you.”

“But you know how tired I am since the baby came. There is always so much to be done. I honestly don’t know how you can even find the time to think about sex.”

“I never stop thinking about sex these days, because whenever we do make love, I immediately start worrying about when you will agree to do it again.”

“But that means that I constantly feel under pressure from you,” says Amy. “We never seem to be able to relax together these days. I feel that if I let my guard down even for a minute, you will interpret this as a hopeful sign and want sex immediately. Then you only end up being disappointed and angry.”

When talking about sex – learn to listen! Learn how to talk about sex in a relationship!

Mark and Amy decide to make their sex life the subject for a listening exercise. Amy speaks first while Mark listens. When she has finished, Mark must recount what he has heard Amy say. He is not allowed to add in any comments of his own. He is simply to say, “What I have heard you say is… “

When Mark starts to speak, he has to resist the temptation to interject his own thoughts and feelings. He has heard Amy say all this before. He just wants her to understand his situation.

But as he sticks to the rules, Mark hears himself talk about how Amy really feels. – her tiredness, her lack of interest in sex and, to his surprise, her admission that it has been a long time since she enjoyed having sex. For the first time, he finds himself looking at the situation from her perspective.

When he has finished, he asks Amy if this is an accurate summary of her thoughts. She clarifies one or two points.

Next, it is Mark’s turn to speak.

As she listens, Amy is quite amazed to hear just how much Mark misses the closeness and intimacy of making love. She has almost forgotten that once she too enjoyed the sexual side of their relationship. Amy finds herself recalling the fun and warmth they used to share in the early days of their marriage.

Mark and Amy now ask each other what they would like to see happening. For Mark, it is quite simple. He would like them to reinstate regular lovemaking into their relationship, starting today. But for Amy, things are not so simple. “I need to feel like making love before we start. I have to be in the right mood,” she says.

Creating a Comfort Zone

First, Amy suggests that she would like to feel less tired. Then she would like to have a romantic evening with Mark.

“Remember the fun we used to have when we were dating?” Mark recalls those happy days, but now that they have a baby and a cash flow problem, can they recreate the same excitement?

That is their challenge. Amy suggests they make Saturday night their date night. They can only afford to pay a babysitter and go out for a meal once a month. On the other date nights, they decide to eat a take-away meal and perhaps watch a romantic movie together. They agree to take turns to organize date nights.

To help Amy feel less tired, Mark offers to do more of the household chores. But first, he wants Amy to promise not to insist on redoing his work because it is not up to her exacting standards.

As they talk about this, Amy realizes that she is something of a perfectionist. She also likes to be in control, whether it is in managing the baby or their home. She is going to have to let go of some of this control so that Mark can help out.

Just remember that using toys and talking about them is important if one partner would like to speak about them.  

Talking Sex – Check-up

They agree to repeat the listening exercise in three weeks. By then, things have improved greatly for them both. For Mark, having to work on the sexual side of their relationship was a real eye-opener. He has become much more aware of Amy’s needs and feelings around sex. He realizes that once Amy felt more comfortable to share her feelings with him, she became more comfortable talking about sex. Now he is happier not only because their sex life has been restored, but also because he feels that he and Amy are more of a team. He enjoys playing a greater role in looking after the baby. He has even become quite skilled at ironing!

Amy too is happier. Her biggest challenge was to feel comfortable enough to talk to Mark about their sex life. Her next challenge was to be able to delegate some of the responsibility at home to Mark and allow him to do things in his way. Her way had always seemed the definitive way before. As for date nights, they are a valuable and vital part of the week.

“No matter how tough it is when things go wrong during the week, we can look forward to being together, just the two of us, at the weekend. That makes all the difference,” says Amy.

With thanks to Barbara Duff

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