The thing that everyone wants to know the answer to, is how to have great sex. Not just as a one off or occasionally, but consistently. Just type into your search bar ‘How to have a good sex life’ and Google tells me that it has “About 2,680,000,000 results”. That means that there are a lot of people searching for the answer.
As psychosexual therapists we are often helping people explore this on an individual basis in the therapy room, and across the board the point that we came back to time and time again when working with couples is that the key to good sex is… communication.
So what does good communication give – understanding.
And what does understanding give – clarity.
When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.
Without understanding, the thing that we most often jump to is assumption, and often as we are human and self-critical and vulnerable assumption can lead us to think the worst and often the worst about ourselves. That the reason that something is happening is because we weren’t good enough, or didn’t do something right, and when we adopt that position we are either defensive or attacking, not open. And when it comes to sex, this can create a problematic dynamic, particularly if we find ourselves going around in circles.
Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn once said “Everything great in life and business is born out of great communication. Sex is no different.” She’s right of course, but the point is that we assume that it should be. When it comes to sex we just expect it to be perfect without speaking a word, so often it feels like our partners should just be telepathic and know exactly what to do to us, and when, and what we will enjoy.
But all bodies and people are different, we all have preferences, likes and dislikes in the rest of our lives and these are celebrated, life would be so boring if we were all the same; but it feels like when it comes to sex we want to know. I believe that a lot of this is because of the pressure we feel to get it right when it comes to sex, the margin for error feels small and the consequences big if we don’t get it right.
Sex for so many is intrinsically linked to shame and embarrassment among other feelings, and this is amplified when things don’t go to plan. The reality is that sex doesn’t go to plan all the time, it’s just that when it doesn’t we don’t talk about it.
So how do we take this advice home and apply it to our own sex lives? For all of this talk about good communication about sex, how and where are we meant to apply it?
Start conversations about sex outside of the bedroom.
Firstly, it may be useful if you start conversations about sex, outside of the bedroom. After you have just had sex is not the best time, as what you are indicating to your partner is that in some way what just happened needs addressing immediately and this is not helpful. Your sex life should be a constant work in progress.
It might seem like during sex is the best time to talk about sex, but really it’s the opposite. Firstly, major conversations should be made with a clear head, and we all know that can be a bit difficult to achieve once your hormones are rushing. This is, of course, not to say that you shouldn’t tell your partner what you like and don’t like during sex, or stop them if they do something you don’t like, just that a larger conversation about your sex life should be had in a non-sexual setting.
Secondly, sex, whether with a long term partner or a one night stand, does still involve some intimacy and vulnerability, so it can be a pretty deflating to pick that moment to let your partner know you actually really dislike that thing they’ve been doing with their tongue for 6 months. Phrasing, of course, goes a very long way. Saying ‘Don’t do it like that’ is much more negative (and much less helpful) than saying ‘Do it like this.’
While I’m all for being open and honest about what happens between the sheets, having a discussion about your sex life is best left to the times when you’re not actually between those aforementioned sheets. This is not to say that you shouldn’t communicate what you like and don’t in the moment, but more that, if you want to have a bigger conversation about your sex life, it’s usually best to choose a non-sexual time to do so.
Make sure you’re speaking the same love language.
You’ve probably heard of The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. While some might be turned off by the way it talks about relationships exclusively in the context of a heterosexual, Christian marriage (not that there’s anything wrong with those) it makes some good points about the way we like to give and receive affection.
The 5 types of affection are defined as: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service and Gifts. Basically, while at our happiest and most secure, we are able to accept and enjoy any of them, but as we get more stressed out, tired, or irritable, there is one we prefer to receive.
However, this isn’t just a case of your partner knowing which kind of affection you prefer, but also realizing that we are all more likely to give our favorite style of affection to our partner. You might think your quick kiss or cuddle is soothing your partner, when they really need to hear a sincere ‘I love you.’
Therefore, we all need to take a step back sometimes and consciously decide to express our love and affection to our partner in a way that might not be our natural go to, but is the most effective way to communicate it to our partner.
Talk about times when you have had really enjoyable good sex together.
Tell each other what it was that you liked about those occasions. Was it a feeling, the touch, the act, the location, trying something new? Be explorative in your conversation and don’t be afraid to describe to one another. So often we feel most embarrassed about talking about sex with the person that we are having it with, but the benefits of breaking through that barrier can be so positive.
Think about what you would like to be different and have specific pointers, just saying to your partner that you want sex to be better is unclear and not helpful.Also, make sure it’s positive!If you feel criticized you immediately move to the position of defensive or attacking, and this will not create a good space to explore what the meaning of good sex is and looks like for the two of you. Remember that this is making something that the two of you have together, even better. We should all be investing in and nurturing our relationships and sex lives like we do our careers, friendships, workouts etc but sometimes we just need a reminder that we need to take responsibility for making these changes.
Take things less seriously.
Better communication in your relationship will certainly improve your sex life, but it’s not just a set of skills you learn and use for having The Talk (whatever your talk may be.) Rather, think of it as a set of skills that help you navigate your relationship on a daily basis, with issues big and small. The more comfortable you are talking about anything, any time, the easier those ‘big’ conversations will seem.
If sex in particular is something you and your partner have trouble talking about, try to normalize it. Sex is all around us, on TV shows and in movies, popping up on our newsfeeds, wherever. If you can comment on them to your partner and start dialogues about anything from a celebrity sex tape to polyamory, it won’t be such a drastic change when you want to bring up something specific to your relationship.
Talking about sex with your significant other can feel forced, at best, or even awkward. But no, it’s not just you: there’s a strange stigma surrounding what happens in the boudoir, namely that passion should be spontaneous, as if you’ve communicated your needs telepathically (or ideally, not at all — your partner should “know” what you like, after all).
But as we all know, most people aren’t mind-readers, meaning that couples typically only stumble upon great sex when both participants are open about what they like — and don’t like — in bed. To help you get started, here are five tips to help you get that conversation going.
Comment on Sex Scenes
If you’re a habitual watcher of HBO shows — or even network television, really — you’re likely to come across some pretty steamy on-screen situations. Organically create sex talk by using characters’ trysts as inspiration: Rather than getting all silently hot and bothered by the action you’re watching, use it as a jumping off point to share with your partner why a given scenario gets you aroused and turns you on.
Pick Up a Relationship-Building Book
For some couples, talking about sex can be easier when you create some structure to the conversation. To do some relationship building that goes beyond sex, pick up a book that includes fun, thought-provoking questions on topics ranging from childhood memories to ideologies on relationships to, yes, sexual fantasies. When a neutral party (in this case, a book) is asking the questions, it’s often easier to be more candid with your answers.
Play a Game
For even more structure, play a game together that will cause you to talk about your sex life. While there are a number of games geared toward sexual communication, you can also learn about each other’s desires and wants by playing something silly like “Never Have I Ever” together. The point is to use the game as a gateway to deeper conversation.
Grab a Sex Toy for Two
More adventurous couples can instantly start a dialogue by buying and trying a sex toy together. Having a defined object, instructions and various suggestions for use (typically included with the toy) can create that safe structure for talking about what turns you on. The toy itself will also inherently enhance your pleasure — win-win!
Broaching certain topics, including sex, can be hard for couples, despite how comfortable either of you may be with the actual act. And, ok, ‘in the bedroom’ doesn’t need to be taken literally, and not just because we know you’re an adventurous lot when it comes to where you have sex.
Whether it’s because you have trouble expressing what you want or because you feel like it can ‘ruin the chemistry,’ communication in a relationship is key for long-term happiness. Making changes to your sex life doesn’t have to be big. The main killer of passion and desire is routine. So all it takes is doing one small thing differently every time you have sex to create a change.
Face it, even the most intuitive lover won’t be able to read your mind, despite your best attempts to telepathically transmit your thoughts to them, so it pays to try and work on bringing up these tougher conversations in a way that will make everyone more comfortable and open to sharing. Maybe you want to share your deepest fantasies, or maybe you want to begin using toys together. Take a deep breath and relax, who knows, your partner may be struggling to communicate something to you as well!