Intimate Intercourse: The Importance of Communication in Sexual Relationships
I'll let you in on a little secret of mine: I used to be terrible at communicating with my partner. Introverted by nature and a little shy, I didn't know how to ask for what I wanted. I barely knew what it was I even wanted, and I hesitated to admit it for fear that it would make me seem inadequate somehow. I wanted to be perfect for him. I wanted to be perfect, period.
It didn't take long for me to realize something wasn't right, though it took me a bit longer to pinpoint exactly what that something was. The problem wasn't really my lack of expertise - it was that I wasn't allowing myself to trust in my partner or our relationship enough to open up to him about something that, though it felt private to me, was deeply affecting both of us and our time together. Relationships, of course, are built on trust - and the only way to build that trust is through open communication.
And yet, communicating can be a little bit scary. It's unnerving for many of us to lay our cards on the table and allow ourselves to be that vulnerable. I get it. But with time, patience, and a little practice, you can get better at it - and enjoy a stronger, more fulfilling sexual relationship as a result.
Why Communication Matters in Bed
Communication is the secret to success in any type of relationship, but it is especially important in sexual relationships. For one thing, it's been scientifically proven to increase satisfaction on both sides of the equation - numerous studies, including a recent analysis from the researchers at Temple University, have found that openly communicating about sexual needs and health appears to be a strong predictor of feeling fulfilled in a relationship, both in bed and in general.
But the value of verbal intercourse goes beyond making the two of you happier. Important though satisfaction is in any sexual relationship, discussing your wants and needs with one another has other important emotional benefits. It brings you closer, making you feel safer and more secure in your relationship. It helps you both feel more competent and, as a result, more confident. You no longer have to guess what the other person wants and wonder whether or not you're doing it right - and neither of you has to 'fake it' and pretend to enjoy something rather than speaking up for fear that you will be ridiculed or hurt the other person's feelings.
It's also vital, both for the health of your relationship and your own personal well-being, to be able to talk about physical concerns, including disorders, disabilities, or other medical concerns that may affect your sexual function. It's far better to bring such issues up as soon as possible to ensure both your safety and your partner's. Even if neither of you currently has any specific medical or physical issues to consider, simply being able to communicate what feels good and what does not can go a long way towards preventing sex-related injuries and infections.
Being on the same page in terms of play styles and toys is important for emotional and physical health, too. If one of you is into more hardcore sensual play involving spanking and leather whips while the other doesn't like to get more adventurous than trying on a soft satin blindfold once in a while, your solution should not be to 'suck it up' and pretend to enjoy your partner's kinks - nor should you try and force your partner to be into yours. Communication means being open to one anothers' interests and needs and finding solutions to sexual conundrums that will help you both feel more satisfied, in and out of the bedroom.
How to Communicate Effectively
Of course, communication isn't simply a matter of opening your mouth and speaking. In order to make any difference, you have to know how to articulate your feelings clearly and lovingly - and how to listen and respond to your partner's desires with attentiveness and compassion.
Broaching the Subject
The first step in learning how to communicate effectively is figuring out how to start a conversation in the first place. Know that the timing may never be perfect - and trying to wait until it is may keep you procrastinating long past the ideal window of opportunity. That being said, trying to broach a tricky bedroom topic during an incredibly inopportune moment can be just as bad.
- Don't start the conversation in the middle of an already emotionally-charged discussion. In particular, trying to talk about a sensitive subject during a fight is bound to leave a bad taste in both of your mouths, and rarely (if ever) results in an actual resolution.
- Do be open to communicating your needs in the bedroom - while you're in bed. It's true that more serious, in-depth conversations should probably take place elsewhere - if you're thinking of trying BDSM for the first time, for instance, it's important to talk about likes and boundaries well ahead of time. But for more straightforward or spur-of-the-moment requests, while you're together in bed may actually be the best place to bring them up. Talking about sex can be sexy; don't worry about ruining the mood by asking for something different or new!
- Don't use sexy time as an excuse to emotionally manipulate your partner. It's okay to ask for what you want - it's not okay to try and blackmail or coerce them into doing something they very clearly do not want to do.
- Do take the initiative. Your partner can't read your mind any more than you can read theirs. Don't expect them to instinctively know something is up; it's up to you to speak for yourself.
Finally, if you need a little extra help getting started, consider using an online survey on sexual preferences to break the ice. Answering a survey and comparing your results can be a fun, non-confrontational means of getting to know each other (and yourselves) better while somewhat subtly introducing the idea that talking about what you do and don't like in bed isn't as taboo a topic as it can sometimes seem.
Talking to Your Partner
Once you've got the conversation going, the next step is to keep it going. When you're the one doing the talking, these communication strategies can help keep your conversation (and the health of your relationship) on track:
- Keep calm, and stay positive. Rather than simply criticizing your partner's tastes or technique, frame your requests in a positive light whenever possible. For instance, if they insist on the same old positions every time but you'd like to try using a cock ring or a new couples' vibrator to spice things up, don't chastise them for being boring or traditional. Instead, tell them how you think a new toy could be a refreshing change of pace.
- Don't let shame or fear of vulnerability keep you quiet. Don't be hard on yourself if you're not into using toys for nipple play like your partner is or you have a deep, dark, secret kink you don't think they'll share. You may not always agree on what's hot and what's not, but that's not nearly as important as being able to talk about these differences and find sexy solutions that work for you both. This is doubly true if you've got a serious problem that needs to be addressed; the longer you wait to bring it up, especially if it's a medical concern, the worse it will get. Remember, maintaining your health and well-being should always take precedence over avoiding awkward conversations or trying not to spoil the moment.
- Try not to overwhelm your partner. Speaking up is not the same as speaking over your partner, and communicating does not mean blurting out everything that's on your mind all at once. Try to tackle only one issue at a time, and if you've got a majorly radical request in mind, consider working up to it gradually. If you're into S&M and your partner is shy or reserved, for instance, you probably won't find yourselves jumping into the deep end. Be willing to go slow and take things one step at a time, and be willing to stop if and when your partner asks you to, not just when you feel like it.
Listening to Your Partner
Just like your relationship, your conversations should be a two-way street. Be sure to let your partner know you value their thoughts and feelings as much as you want them to value yours by keeping these three tips in mind:
- Listen actively and respectfully. No matter how big or how small their requests, it's important to let your partner know that you're present in the conversation and willing to not only listen but to actually consider what they are saying, whether that means acting on their request or finding a mutually enjoyable alternative. It's equally crucial to make sure you do not shame them for speaking up, even if you do not understand or agree with their preferences - otherwise, they'll be that much less likely to open up to you again in the future.
- Ask thoughtful questions. The secret to good communication isn't nodding and agreeing; it's making sure you're both on the same page. The best way to do this is to ask your partner questions that help them speak up or clarify what they've already said. When in doubt, get specific, such as asking how exactly they'd like you to use that new feather tickler they requested, or whether they might prefer a vegan leather flogger to a rope one. This also shows them that you're listening - and that you care.
- Be open to suggestions, but clear on your boundaries. Especially if you are the more reserved person in your relationship, sexual experimentation can be a little unnerving at first. Be willing to at least consider trying your partner's requests, even if they seem a bit outlandish. However, know your hard limits - things you absolutely cannot, or will not, try under any circumstances - and express them clearly and openly with your partner - before things get hot and heavy.
Sexual Communication Fosters Stronger Relationships
It isn't always easy to talk about sex, to delve into topics that may make one (or both) of you uncomfortable, and to risk being vulnerable enough to be totally honest with one another. Even if you've had years of practice at it, it can still be a little unnerving at times to admit to certain things or discover unexpected kinks in someone you thought you knew everything about.
But I speak from experience when I say that it's better to speak up than to keep your mouth shut. It took my husband and I some trial and error, and even now we don't always get it right. Sometimes I still bottle things up. Sometimes he doesn't know the right thing to say. But knowing that the bedroom door is always open, and that our bed is a safe space in which we can feel free to express ourselves and be true to our own desires, is a source of great comfort and relief to us both.
It's tempting to procrastinate, to put off talking about important relationship matters and let things simmer until they reach the boiling point rather than face things we fear might drive us apart. But proper communication actually tends to have the opposite effect, and can bring you closer together than ever before.