Even if you’re generally an open, loving couple, the topic of sex can be challenging since it requires intense vulnerability from both partners. As licensed marriage and family therapist Jamie Schenk DeWitt explains, with sex, you must be naked — both literally and figuratively. “That’s a scary feeling when it comes to something as personal and specific as your own sexual needs and desires,” she continues. “You can end up feeling rejected for asking for what you want or feel further isolation and rejection for talking about your intimate needs not being met.”
However, she warns not talking about your sexual needs with your partner can only create a self-perpetuating cycle of rejection and unhappiness. It may take courage to bring up these difficult discussions, but after you get through the initial awkwardness, it could be a game-changing experience for your intimacy. Here, what professionals recommend all duos explore in the bedroom.
The one about past trauma.
If you ask sex expert and author Tracey Cox about the most vital chat to have, it’s the one about your past traumas, particularly sexual ones. After all, we can all agree that any type of trauma leaves a scar of sorts, regardless of its emotional or physical. Cox explains that past and present traumas have a significant impact on our relationship dynamics. “We indeed tend to take bad things that have happened to us out on the ones who love us the most,” she adds.
You or your partner may have experienced a stressful upbringing, where sex had a negative connotation, and it’s something you struggle to find exciting and adventurous today. Or, you could have been abused in the past, creating another hurdle to overcome. Regardless of the situation, creating a safe space makes it easier to talk about these experiences.
“Sexual trauma affects people for life, and if your partner doesn’t know what’s happened to you, they’ll be both confused and possibly offended at your response to some things,” Cox continues. “Wait until you feel you can 100 percent trust your partner, then sit down and tell them there are things about your past that you’d like to share with them. Be specific about how this may have affected your sexual preferences.”
The one about frequency.
You would have sex every other day if your partner were in the mood. But for your number-one human, a romp once a week is satisfactory. Two people rarely have matching libidos, making the topic of frequency a biggie, according to psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. Though you may not get all of the action you desire and your partner have to pony up for more, most can find common ground.
“If it turns out there is quite a difference between how often each person wants sex, meeting in the middle may be the fairest and emotionally healthy solution so that neither partner feels deprived or pressured,” Dr. Thomas shares. “Compromising like this allows room for both partners to feel heard, represented, and respected about this significant part of their relationship.”
The one about turn-ons and turn-offs.
We all have our kinks and the types of moves that leave us feeling less than pumped to get it on. Many people struggle to be specific about what they enjoy in the bedroom and what they don’t since it’s a sensitive topic and sometimes difficult to explain. However, like many things in life, desires change over time, and what got you in the mood five years ago before children likely isn’t what seals the deal today. “The truth is you don’t really know what each other truly desires and is into until you ask and probe,” DeWitt says. “When having this conversation, I always recommend for couples to carve out time the way you might do for a date night to make it special, fun and not rushed. I also recommend that both partners take a few minutes ahead of time to really think about their answers, write them down and come prepared to share. This exercise itself might result in an intimate encounter that neither one of you expected.”
The one about consent.
Yes, even in a committed, loving relationship, you should talk about your consent styles. Ensuring you and your partner are completely in sync on sexual activity creates trust and safety and shouldn’t be something that’s forgotten once you’re married, according to Marla Renee Stewart, MA, a sex expert for Lovers sexual wellness brand. You can start by asking this question: Are you a person who needs consistent consent or a person who needs consensual non-consent?
“Sometimes, these are conditional and depend on certain factors, so you must talk to your partner so you can be on the same page and do what each other needs to do,” she continues. “Consistent consent is where you need to constantly ask your lover about where you touch them or vice versa. Consensual non-consent is where you have permitted your lover to do what they want and that you have the voice to say ‘no’ if there's something that you don't enjoy that they're doing.”
The one about initiation.
Everyone enjoys being lusted after, but not everyone thinks to initiate sex. If one person is the only one initiating, Dr. Thomas says it can become a point of resentment. Not to mention, potentially be a blow to the other person’s confidence. “The initiating person can start to get reluctant or may even stop initiating sex if he or she gets rejected enough times,” she warns. “To prevent or deal with these kinds of issues, it is in the couple's best interest to have a loving and candid conversation about each partner's thoughts and feelings about this and come up with a mutually acceptable plan.”
The one about scheduling.
Sure, spontaneous sex can be fun and exciting, but as DeWitt says, it isn’t always feasible when couples have busy work schedules and families. Instead, it can be beneficial for your relationship to have a sex date. “Scheduling time for intimacy can make your partner feel like a priority and increase the likelihood of sex happening,” she shares. “Some couples can have an aversion to planning sex, but with everyone’s busy lives, even during the pandemic, it can be a game-changer.”