Sunday, June 27, 2010

How to Talk about Sex with Your Partner

"How do you talk about sex to a partner who shuts down conversation?" A reader asked. I'm republishing this 2008 post because Yvonne Fulbright's information is vitally important for couples who need help breaking through the communications barrier.

I often hear from people having sexual problems with their partner. They may want more, less, or a different kind of quality of sex. Although sexual difficulties won't magically go away by talking about them, effective communication is a big first step.

I asked certified sex educator Yvonne K. Fulbright for communications strategies she recommends to her clients who are having difficulty resolving sexual problems. “Unless you make your wishes known, your partner is not going to change or even attempt to fill your needs,” she says. “Humans can’t read minds, so you have to try to communicate your desires in order to get what you want out of a relationship.” Here are her suggestions for bridging the communications gap:

1. Let your partner know how you feel, e.g., "I am really hurt and confused that you haven't wanted to make love for years." It's important not to attack your lover and to use "I statements" such as, “I miss having sex with you.” You cannot be faulted for how you feel, and expressing yourself this way is likely to get a more positive reaction than something like, "What's wrong with you? You never want to have sex."

2. Don't make assumptions, which close off an open discussion and can cause your partner to clam up. Avoid questions that only invite a yes/no response. For example, say, "I was hoping we could talk about why we're not having sex anymore," instead of, "Are you not interested in sex because I no longer attract you?"

3. Pick a time when you can focus on just the two of you. Don't have the conversation when you're doing another task. Plan a time when you can create a private space to talk, and make it a communal experience, e.g., over a cup of tea. The more natural you can make the conversation, the less threatening it will be.

4. Do not accuse or blame your partner for the problem. Instead, communicate that you want to work on your problems as a team effort.

5. Pay attention to your own and your partner’s body language. A great deal of what you're saying isn't coming from your mouth, but from your stance, how you’re holding your arms, and your facial expressions. Do you appear defensive? Uncomfortable? Does your partner? Attention to body language will help you to gauge how the conversation is going.

6. Ask for suggestions on how to make things better, rather than telling your partner how it should be done. People are much more likely to act on what they see being possible vs. what someone dictates to them, especially in an intimate relationship. You, too, should also give suggestions, but they should come across as just that - suggestions.

--Certified sex educator Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD, MSEd is the author of several books, including Sultry Sex Talk to Seduce Any Lover, Better Sex Guide to Extraordinary Lovemaking, and The Hot Guide to Safer Sex. Visit her websites at and


  1. Colin in AustraliaJanuary 12, 2008

    Reminds me of the old recipe for baked rabbit ...."First, catch your rabbit"

  2. Hell, these are good suggestions for how to talk about anything with someone else. I remember a number of these suggestions from my teens when I was in therapy. I've had them ingrained in my head enough now that speaking in "I Statements" about my feelings comes naturally to me. (I'm still working on the body language thing.)

    (My only issue with I Statements though is that it sets you up for "You only talk about yourself. It's always 'I, I, I... me, me, me'.")

  3. paula, age 55January 17, 2008

    I agree, great guidelines for talking through any number of problems.

    I learned some of these in a transactional analysis therapy group in the 70's. In my bodywork therapy practice I've learned to ask questions to get people talking about their stuff. Maybe that's the thing to do if you or someone else thinks you're talking too much about yourself, get the other person to talk about themselves, then there's reciprocity.

    It helps if you're not pissed as hell at your partner when you talk to them! What to do with the anger that necessarily often accompanies sexual problems? I don't have any answers, though I find that a good hard workout is great for letting off steam, also writing in a private journal where you can say anything you want to because no one else will see it.

  4. > It helps if you're not pissed as hell at your partner when you talk to them! What to do with the anger that necessarily often accompanies sexual problems?

    Good point about anger, Paula. Yes, it's important to have the discussion when you're not angry. Working out to blow off steam first is a great idea, and so is writing in your journal. If you make a date to talk, you can do what you need beforehand to get centered and calm, and organize what points you want to make and what questions you want to ask.

    Make sure your "talk date" happens in a neutral, quiet place -- maybe at the kitchen table, or on a secluded bench in your favorite park. Not in bed, and definitely not during or immediately after sex!

  5. "Maybe that's the thing to do if you or someone else thinks you're talking too much about yourself, get the other person to talk about themselves, then there's reciprocity."

    Easier said than done when you date introverts or people who aren't good about talking about themselves and/or their feelings. (I'm a geek, I date geeks, and you come across this in the geek community on a regular basis.)

  6. Paul BarbourFebruary 23, 2011

    Sounds like some great tips on how to address sexual problems between couples while at the same time not being critical or judgemental of ones partner and also keeping a positive solutions based approach to sexual issues.


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