Whether you’ve always had trouble talking about sex with your partner, or it’s something that you can only open up a certain amount about, there are ways to talk to your partner about sex and get more intimacy back into your relationship, says Cate Campbell, author of the Relate Guide to Sex and Intimacy
1. Make an ‘I want- I will’ book
If you’re a couple that finds it impossible to talk about sex, or to talk about feelings full stop, then this may be the best option for you. Get an exercise book and on one page write requests to your partner, while the opposite page is dedicated to responses of the requests. The most important thing is that the response must begin with the words ‘I will’ to show positivity in the response.
Get an exercise book and on one page write requests to your partner, while the opposite page is dedicated to responses of the requests.
For example, the response could simply be ‘I will think about that’ or ‘I will discuss that with you tonight’ which shows a sense of communication rather than rejection that can hurt your partner’s feelings. It is important that you both fully engage with the process so that you both voice your feelings equally. By placing the book somewhere that is easy for you both to look at and checking it daily, you can ensure that you are both voicing how you think your relationship is going. It is an easy way to bring up concerns and make sure these are talked through rather than ignored.
2. Be appreciative of your partner
Try to think of something that your partner has done that you liked, and make sure you tell them. These can be the smallest things, for example, ‘I love when you make me dinner’ or ‘I appreciated you supporting me over the pocket money issue’. By showing your partner that you appreciate things they have done for you can help bring you closer and spark intimacy.
3. Try to start statements using the word ‘I’ rather than ‘you’
By starting a sentence with ‘you’, it can make what you’re about to say sound instantly blaming. If there is something you wish to discuss which you are unhappy about, try not to be too reproachful. For example, if you say ‘I always feel a bit upset when you don’t call or text me back’ rather than ‘you don’t call or text me back’, you are more likely to prevent an argument from starting because you are using a less provoking manner.
Reminiscing can be a great way to restore your sense of sexual connection. It can be great to remind one another of some of your early meetings and what attracted you to each other in the first place. This can be fun to do with your children so that they are included in the positive stories of how your relationship began. When it’s just the two of you alone together, you can reminisce about your early sexual memories and take delight in these. You could even see if there is anything you could, or would want to, realistically reincorporate into your current lovemaking.
It can be great to remind one another of some of your early meetings and what attracted you to each other in the first place.
5. Talk about how to say no to sex
Many people find the most difficult form of communication is saying no to sex. This is often not handled well due to embarrassment on both sides. If you have a conversation about how to both deal with the other saying no to sex before it occurs, then you prevent tension. For example, if you offer or accept refusal with a hug and small explanation rather than a metaphorical push, this stops this from becoming a awkward situation in the future.
6. Understand silence together
Think about how you deal with silence in your relationship. Do you see it as a bad thing, an ‘awkward silence’ or is it something you consider natural and shows you’re comfortable together? We often draw conclusions from silences and react to them without checking out what they really mean. Make sure you both feel the same about silences and when they occur, perhaps ask your partner what they think they mean. It can be useful in revealing what ways you agree and differ in your understanding of silences and whether this surprises either of you. Silences can affect your mood and understanding without you even realizing and it is easy for misunderstandings to occur when one of you is more comfortable with silence than the other. By talking this through, you can gain valuable information to help you communicate better.
We often draw conclusions from silences and react to them without checking out what they really mean.
7. Pick the right time to talk
If there’s something you want to discuss, pick the right moment for it. If necessary, plan the conversation for a time when you will both be unhurried and know what to expect rather than blurting it out and catching your partner off guard.
8. Be direct
Headline statements are much more useful and effective than sideways approaches, which can be misunderstood. Think about what you want to say and just say it. For example, saying ‘I would like us to go to my sister’s party on Saturday’ rather than ‘What were you thinking of doing on Saturday?’ lets your partner know what you really want rather than making it a long guessing game.
9. End on time
When discussing an issue with your partner, do not allow the conversation to drag on. The optimum time for a conversation is just under 20 minutes, so finish well within half an hour as by allowing the discussion to continue for hours can result in frustration and lead nothing to get resolved. If need be, schedule another conversation if the issue remains unresolved in the allotted time.
10. Have date night
Date nights are a great way for couples to focus on their relationship away from the pressures of work and family. However, the important thing about date night is not to have unrealistic expectations. They should be treated as relaxing nights off. There are ways you can ensure that your date night is all you want it to be. For example:
- Make sure you plan the night carefully. Do not leave booking reservations to the last minute and make sure you know which of you is in charge of this. A good way to do organise this is to agree to taking turns on planning date night so that neither of you make the assumption that the other person has arranged it. The person organising should be in charge of every aspect including arranging a babysitter well in advance. This will help the night to run smoothly.
- Leave yourselves enough time– make sure you tell one another in advance what time you expect the evening to end, for example if you know you have an early start the next day, make sure your partner is aware so that neither of you end up feeling disappointed when the evening ends.
- Stick to date conversation– if something is bothering you, try to discuss it before the evening out, so that any problems are dealt with and you are not tempted to spoil the night by talking about them. Date night is strictly for fun and enjoyment purposes, so make sure the conversation reflects this. Do not discuss work, children, or the new extension you’ve been thinking about. Find something interesting and different to talk about to keep things exciting.
Date night is strictly for fun and enjoyment purposes, so make sure the conversation reflects this.
- Finish the evening with a kiss– do not assume that the evening will end with sex, as the chances are it will spoil the whole night if it doesn’t. If this is expected, one of you could be left disappointed if the other is too tired or has drunk too much. Instead, agree that the night will end with a kiss and a cuddle in bed. If this develops into more then great, just don’t expect it to. This way, you are less likely to be disappointed if sex does not happen but are still able to end the night on a positive note, achieving a sense of intimacy with your partner before bed.
11. Avoid distractions
When you do have sex, make sure it is treated as special to you both. Turn off your phone and keep any pets out of the room. Nothing is more distracted than a dog jumping up on the bed or a cat whining for attention. By preventing these distractions from taking place, you can focus solely on your lovemaking.
12. Have a sex draw
When you are about to have sex, there is nothing worse than suddenly having to get up and look for contraceptives or sex toys. This can be a real mood killer. A good idea is to assemble all the things you may need during sex in a handy place that is easy to access at a crucial moment. A draw by the bed is a convenient option, but you can pick anywhere that works for you.
assemble all the things you may need during sex in a handy place that is easy to access at a crucial moment.
13. Cuddle after sex
The time immediately after sex can be as important and special as the lovemaking itself. After sex, make sure you have a cuddle rather than falling to sleep or rushing off to do other things. Even just a few minutes of cuddles and kisses is reassuring and puts a positive seal on your lovemaking. It reinforces that you both value the special time you have just had together.
The time immediately after sex can be as important and special as the lovemaking itself.
14. Understand differences
The conventions we learn growing up affect the way we think and behave, as well as our attitudes and beliefs. They seem so natural to us that we often don’t stop to think why we behave the way we do and don’t appreciate that our partner may have learnt completely different conventions. Because sex can be treated as a delicate – and even secretive – subject in many families, it is an area where misinterpretation and misunderstandings in relationships is particularly likely.
Be sensitive to your partner’s feelings towards intimacy and sex because although you may have been brought up in a family where it is perfectly normal to show affection towards others, your partner may be less comfortable with this concept. Remember, neither of you are right or wrong in this situation, you are simply different in your beliefs and that’s totally fine. You just have to be able to understand each other’s upbringings so that you do not misinterpret each other, and this way you are more likely to avoid arguments and hurt feelings. If a situation like this occurs, make sure you talk to your partner before making assumptions about what their behaviour means. For example, you may be comfortable cuddling in public whereas this could make your partner feel awkward, but do not jump to the assumption that something is wrong, find out how they feel.
15. Don’t assume gender roles
Many people assume that they should feel or behave in a certain way towards sex simply because of their gender. This means partners can often take on roles in relation to sex which they are dissatisfied with. It is helpful to talk to your partner about how expectations affect sexual expression to see how your attitudes about your gender could be affecting you. Think about questions such as ‘What are the roles you feel you should be fulfilling in order to be a ‘proper’ man/woman?’, ‘what is the sexual behaviour you feel is appropriate for your gender?’ and ‘How do these roles differ from what you actually want to be doing?’. In fact, if you talk things like this through with your partner, you could end up having a sex life that you both want to have rather than worrying about what you think you ought to have. This can make your relationship stronger when you accept that you do not have to live up to gendered roles. Don’t allow your gender scripts to affect your potential to enjoy being sexual together.
16. Don’t rely on guesswork
Too often, people expect their partners to guess what they want or need, rather than having an actual conversation about it. Don’t be afraid to tell one another what you want or need out of fear of rejection. Your sexual needs are likely to be different to your partners, so there is no way you can expect them to guess. If this is something you feel uncomfortable to bring up, try asking your partner for a non-sexual favour first and see how comfortable or uncomfortable you feel with the response. If it makes you feel awkward, you could try explaining this to your partner. They may then find it easier to help you out when you are struggling to say what you want. You may find they need a hand to express themselves too.
Your sexual needs are likely to be different to your partners, so there is no way you can expect them to guess.
Do not assume that you know all of your partners sexual needs. Continue to be curious and interested in one another and try to discover if there are things you might want to try as a couple. Letting time pass without stating your wants or needs, trying to be too similar and assuming that anything new wont be of interest to your partner are probably among the main reasons for sexual stagnation and ‘boredom’. Address concerns as they occur rather than ignoring them.
18. Sensual exercises
Try touching each other with no sexual agenda and see how this makes you feel. It is good to see how comfortable you are with closeness and touch when sex is not involved. Sensual touch can be a great alternative to active sex and barely touching at all can set the nerves tingling. You can use fingertips, lips as well as feathers to gently caress each other in an intimate but non-sexual way. When trying out various touching exercises, do not involve private areas, or if you do, do not touch them in a way aimed at arousal. This is an opportunity to explore the areas of your partners body that are usually neglected. You may discover that you love to kiss their neck or rest your head on their chest. Notice how you feel giving and receiving this attention. This can increase your intimacy and closeness with your partner and overall improve your sex life.
Sensual touch can be a great alternative to active sex and barely touching at all can set the nerves tingling.
19. Make time for sex
Although the idea of spontaneous sex is great, it is not something that realistically is bound to happen often. When couples have been together a long time and have priorities that override making time for intimacy, it can be hard to find time for sex. This is something that has to be address realistically – it may be necessary to sit down and plan time for intercourse, or experiment with something that works for you both.
20. Start from scratch
By starting from the beginning, you can break bad habits, learn about your bodies and embrace strategies which enable you to deal with problems as they arise. It can be helpful to agree on a sex ban so that you have a period of time where you can relax and appreciate kisses and cuddles without worrying about what comes next. This can give you a more positive attitude to touch and even to your relationship overall.
It can be helpful to agree on a sex ban so that you have a period of time where you can relax and appreciate kisses and cuddles without worrying about what comes next.
21. Be sensitive
Concerns about how our bodies look, perform and feel can easily make us insecure and self-conscious. This can lead people to avoid having sex because they feel awkward or anxious about their bodies. Even if you have been with your partner a long time, it is important to be sensitive to their insecurities. Of course bodies change overtime and looks are not the most important thing in a relationship, but you must be wary of your partners feeling. Be caring and thoughtful by being conscious of what helps your partner feel less self-conscious when you make love. If it makes them feel better to have the lights off or stay partially clothed, try not to discourage this or tease them about it. Be patient and understanding – this way, they are more likely to relax and forget about body concerns.
Be caring and thoughtful by being conscious of what helps your partner feel less self-conscious when you make love.
22. Non-sexual acts
Appreciate acts of intimacy as much as you appreciate sex. If you catch your partner’s eye, touch ever so softly or enjoy a stolen kiss, remember these are all expressions of sexuality. Although they don’t involve sexual acts, they can contribute to feelings of intimacy, desire and arousal as well as wellbeing and satisfaction.
23. Enjoy a kiss and cuddle
Do not expect acts of intimacy to result in sex. Thinking in this way can leave you feeling disappointed if this does not occur. Enjoy kissing and cuddling for the intimacy they provide themselves rather than assuming they are simply a prelude to sex. This way you can both enjoy these acts without the added pressure of sex.
Enjoy kissing and cuddling for the intimacy they provide themselves rather than assuming they are simply a prelude to sex.
Cate Campbell is the author of The Relate Guide to Sex and Intimacy(published by Vermilion, £8.99) which features all the tips in this story as well as practical exercises, quizzes, etc. that help tackle the issues of sex and intimacy.