Communicating with your partner isn’t always easy. Even partners who consider themselves close can find that the daily to-do’s, miscommunications, and just plain exhaustion can get in the way of healthy communication. These everyday factors can really muddy the waters when you want to talk with your partner about sex.
However, being able to talk about sex with your partner is deeply important for the health of your relationship and sexual satisfaction.
Research has shown that couples with strong sexual communication report improved sex, higher satisfaction with their sex lives, and improvement in the overall relationship.
To dive into the topic, we had a chat with Cheryl Fagan, a sex educator and therapist, and Founder of On Top—a beautifully designed platform for sex conversations that are relaxed and fun, yet grounded in evidence. With an academic background in psychology and a master’s in sexual and reproductive health, Fagan started On Top after coming up short on resources as a young adult wanting to make healthy choices when it came to her sexuality. With a voice that’s relatable and engaging, Fagan focuses on a holistic approach to sexual wellness—one that encompasses mind, body, heart, and soul—and is passionate about normalizing conversations around sex and helping people to find healing in this area.
So how do you start the conversation with your partner? Scroll on for our chat with Fagan and her tips on how to make your sexual conversations helpful, productive, and actually easy. Let’s jump in!
Why are you passionate about holistic sexuality?
While sex is everywhere, it’s hard to find meaningful, fact-based, relatable information out there. In the West, we’re taught that sex is merely physical and performance-based but it’s so much more than that. Holistic sexuality involves our entire being; mind, body, heart, and soul. It is influenced by biological, psychological, social, religious, spiritual, and cultural factors. Holistic sexuality acknowledges all these factors, not merely just the physical act of sex.
I believe that education empowers people to make healthy choices that align with their values and also enable them to have truly liberating, pleasurable, nourishing sex.
What are the benefits of talking openly about sex?
Quite simply, better sex. What do I mean by better sex? Sex that is pleasurable, satisfying, nourishing, and memorable. Think about the best sex you’ve ever had or maybe imagine the sexual experience you’d like to have—how can you get there? Most likely through some conversations with a partner/s. Some common advice that is often given in regards to communicating within a relationship is the phrase “your partner is not a mind reader.” The same applies to sex! The other person won’t know without you directly telling them what you like, reeealllly like, or feel “mehh” about.
I’ve heard that good communication = good sex. Can you dive into that a bit?
Good communication means you can voice your preferences and desires.
Because healthy and meaningful conversation about sex is taboo in Western culture, many people find it easier to actually have sex then to talk about sex!
If you feel comfortable and safe bringing the hard convos to the table in your relationship, there are amazing benefits that come from honest, sometimes, challenging conversations. They help us know our partners better, enrich our connection, and deepen intimacy. So, if you have a good intimate connection, this can translate to a physical connection.
Why is it so hard for some couples?
Sex is so personal. How we feel about talking about sex can tell us a lot about ourselves. In some way, most people will have some sort of shame around sex that needs to be healed. Whether it’s from a trauma, or silence about sex in your upbringing, or conditioning from cultural messages based on gender—we all have things to work through. If a partner brings up their sex life and seems unsatisfied, this can feel like a blow to one’s self-esteem. Especially since our culture teaches us that sex is performance-based—it’s another thing to be good at, rather than simply to be enjoyed.
What benefits are there to talking about sex early in the relationship rather than later?
Talking about sex early on creates a culture in the relationship that is open and honest. Sex is complex for individuals and definitely for couples—it takes time to understand yourself and your partner. The earlier you have these conversations, the better it can set you up for when deeper or heavier issues arise.
There isn’t a “normal” number of conversations you should be having, but it’s about getting into the habit of honest conversations so that you’re able to address issues if/when they do come up.
…but it’s never too late to start right?
Of course not! Decide what you want to say or the goal of the conversation, be non-judgmental, honest, kind and I’m sure you’ll be grateful you opened the conversation as awkward as it may seem in the moment.
How can you keep the conversation positive, while still being direct and clear?
As a couple, I’m sure you want the best outcome for each other, so go into the conversation with the mindset that this is will help both of you. It’s not about “winning” an argument, but being curious and open to where your partner is at and how’d you like to grow together. As I mentioned before, be kind and stay positive by not assuming or criticizing the other.
Different comments or questions can steer the conversation in many directions. Something as simple as “you never initiate sex; you don’t want me!” will have a different response to “what do you need to be in the mood for sex? I would like for you to show me you’re in the mood for sex.”
I would also say take it slow, this can bring up embarrassment or shame, and you want to make sure both of you feel safe to explore, reflect, and share.
What are some ways to approach the topic of sex?
If you’re having trouble knowing where to start I would recommend my Closeness Card Deck that has 50 questions on sexual intimacy. It can take the awkwardness out of asking the question—blame it on the card! I’ve heard many say that there are questions that they never even thought to ask themselves or their partner. They can also be a useful tool if you feel like your partner is uninterested in having a sexual conversation (which I would say takes some exploring on their end), but they can find a card that interests them. You could read a book or article together and then discuss it, or even listen to a podcast together. For a fun light conversation, I recommend sending sexy texts!
Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:
- How was sex talked about in your family?
- What turns you on?
- How do you know when I’m in the mood?
- What’s your favorite part about sex?
What are some tips for finding the right time to talk about sex?
When do you think you normally have good conversations that inspire growth? Maybe it’s the monthly check-in or date night? Have the conversation when you know both of you are able to have enough time to really reflect and share. I also recommend making a plan for the conversation, nothing too serious, but just mention what you would like to discuss so they have a heads up.
If people want to learn more, what resources do you offer/recommend?
You can find my website at cherylfagan.org. My Closeness Card Deck for couples is a great tool for conversation and intimate connection and I offer e-courses on sexual pain and for engaged/newlywed couples. I am currently developing an e-course on sexual healing (from shame). There is more to come soon, including sex-ed sessions—keep an eye out!