Wellness

How and when to talk to your partner about better sex

A relationship counsellor gives us specific and actionable advise to use in and out of the sheets.

A relationship counsellor gives us specific and actionable advise to use in and out of the sheets

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Even if you're in an active sexual relationship with someone you really like, you still might not be experiencing your best sex life. According to one Canadian survey, while almost 76 per cent of respondents reported being happy with their relationships in general, more than half said they were "unhappy with their sex lives." This suggests that, for a lot of couples, there's plenty of room for improvement.

According to Janna Comrie, a psychotherapist and frequent CBC Life contributor, poor communication is one of the biggest obstacles to experiencing your best sex life. She explains why talking about sex with one's partner can be so hard, why we should do it anyway, and shared some tips for how to talk about sex in a productive way.

Talking about sex is difficult but important

Sex is an intimate topic surrounded by taboos, shame and moral judgements, and people often worry about how their partner will react if they start expressing their desires — especially if they involve things that aren't part of their habitual repertoire.

"The biggest problem with anyone getting their needs met in a relationship, sexual or not, is that people are so afraid that the other person isn't going to be able to handle it — and their feelings are going to be hurt — that they say nothing," says Comrie.

Of course, if someone is nice enough to go to bed to you, "If you don't have anything nice to say…" seems to apply. ("Three stars. Would not recommend," is not appropriate pillow talk.) But if you coddle your partner's sexual ego so much that you never articulate your needs and desires, according to Comrie, you're doing both you and your partner a disservice.

Keeping silent guarantees you're not going to get what you want, and that you won't find out what they want. Improving your sex life will benefit both of you, and unspoken dissatisfaction, Comrie adds, often "leads to resentment, to partners pulling away, and to feelings of rejection." In the long-term, silence doesn't just hurt your sex life — it erodes the intimacy of your relationship.

Trying to protect your partner's ego from your dissatisfaction likely won't work anyway. "I've never known a person who didn't know their partner was dissatisfied in bed," Comrie says.

In other words, if you're not enjoying sex with your partner, they've probably already picked up on it, and there's a good chance that they haven't spoken up for the same reasons you haven't talked about it (or perhaps they have asked you and you avoided the difficult task of saying you see some room for improvement).

Most of the time, your partner will already know something is going on, and it may be a relief to hear you break the ice. So how do you get started?

How to communicate more effectively about sex

Some things are best communicated during or close to the actual act — though you may not use many words. Making technical adjustments might include guiding your partner's hand, or adjusting angles and speeds. Some people hesitate about giving such precise direction, but it's better to think of this as a way to help your partner please you, rather than an explicit critique.

When you're trying to discourage your partner from doing something you don't love or that's breaking your rhythm in the moment, Comrie's advice is to redirect. "Instead of telling them what not to do, tell them what to do," she suggests. For example, if you don't like the way they nibble your neck, then tell them to kiss you whenever they begin. After a couple of redirections, they'll get the message.

According to Comrie, conversations that address more general dissatisfactions are best had in the cold light of day, rather than in the heat of the moment. Choose a time when you're both feeling good and that's not during or immediately after sex. "If you go to your partner right after sex and say you need to spice it up a bit, it's not going to go very well," Comrie says.

What she does recommend is leading with positives. Emphasize what's working and what you like about your partner. But don't hesitate when it comes to the harder, less complimentary parts. Being as straightforward as you can about your wants and needs is key.

After all, good communication isn't just about airing your own grievances and desires. It's also important to get your partner talking and to listen when they do. "Receive their desires without judgment," to keep the lines of communication open, says Comrie.

"Even if it's not your thing, say you can totally see why it would be a turn-on, but that you're not sure it's for you. Show them acceptance and understanding about their desires, and they'll open up."

Remember to keep things in perspective

Comrie says that good sex talk goes beyond charting a course to climax. Orgasms are to be encouraged, but often people become overly fixated on them as a measure of overall sexual satisfaction. "Sex is a means of connecting with your partner," says Comrie. "And you don't measure the level of connection by the number of orgasms you have. If you do, we have a problem."

Instead, explain to your partner what you enjoyed and how it made you feel. "Let them know what you like, and let it be about other things. Let it be about the connection you have, or that moment you were just giggling together in bed," Comrie says. Whatever you appreciated, the most important thing is to let them know.

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