6 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Talking about intimacy is essential to a satisfying sex life for you and your partner.
Couples should prioritise talking about intimacy in and out of the bedroom.
Be sure to talk regularly about safety, consent, turn-ons and turn-offs, and ways to show affection with each other.
Sex is one of the most intimate experiences you can share with another person. But talking about sex? For some couples, that’s taking intimacy to a whole new level.
Don’t let that put you off. There are plenty of reasons to make intimacy a regular topic of conversation with your partner – and not just when you’re in the bedroom.
So go on. Be uncomfortable enough to raise the subject. Here are some tips for when and how to have conversations about intimacy with your significant other.
To put it simply: your relationship will thank you.
Sexual satisfaction is strongly linked to open communication. Even if you’ve been together for a while (or if your communication skills are rusty), having intimacy conversations can be a path to improving your sex life – and your whole relationship.
Other reasons to talk about intimacy:
So you know how to make your partner feel good. (You won’t know if you don’t ask.)
For your partner’s wellbeing – and yours. A few topics you should definitely cover are consent, protective measures and what makes both of you feel safe. (More on these below.)
If you can talk about intimacy, you can talk about anything. On the other hand, leaving things unsaid may cause tension and uncertainty in your relationship.
There really isn’t a bad time to talk about intimacy with your partner. But there are a few tips to keep in mind.
If your relationship is just getting started: get in the habit of talking now. It will make it easier to be open with each other when things are more settled.
If you’ve been together for a while, start making a habit of it now. If your intimate life has been an area of dissatisfaction, or if you’ve struggled to talk about it, treat this as a fresh start for both of you. Give each other permission to set aside the past and focus instead on what you want your future to look like together.
Communication is a vital part of sex – before, during and after. It’s important to ensure consent (never just assume), even in a long-term relationship. Communicating what each of you likes during sex can make the experience more meaningful. And talking about it afterward can strengthen your connection.
Don’t limit intimacy conversations to the bedroom. It’s also a good idea to talk with your partner when you’re in your clearest headspace (which isn’t always just before or after you’ve done the deed). If either of you have any frustrations or concerns, it may be best to talk through them when you’re a bit removed from the situation.
In short, some conversations about intimacy may be easier to have outside the bedroom, clothes on.
It’s usually best not to have intimate conversations in a crowded public space – say, when you’re riding the bus together. If you’re feeling a lot of stress at the moment, you may want to wait until you’re more relaxed.
You can also set a time to talk together, so your partner isn’t blindsided by the conversation. That will give both of you a chance to think about what you want to say.
Bottom line: you should talk about intimacy often. This is not a one-time discussion to check off your list. It needs to be an ongoing conversation, in part because people’s needs and desires change over time. Plus, continued, open dialogue is a great way to keep your connection strong.
Ease into the conversation. Remember your first task is to strengthen the connection between the two of you.
This is a marathon not a sprint. Trying to cover every aspect of your sex lives in one go could leave both of you with an intimacy hangover. Instead, pick a subject and save the others for later conversations. As sex therapist Laurie Watson writes, ‘It’s best to sort out complex feelings about relational issues a little at a time’.
Share what you like about each other. What excites you about your partner? What do they do that turns you on or makes you feel good?
Talk about what you can do to make your sex life more fulfilling going forward. Focusing on what hasn’t worked up till now may leave your partner feeling defensive and vulnerable.
Don’t shy away from talking about what’s important to you, what turns you on or off, or why you may not always be in the mood. Don’t leave it to your partner to guess, or chances are they’ll take it as personal rejection.
It’s not good for the conversation or your relationship. (And it’s a real buzzkill when it comes to intimacy.)
Focus on how you feel. Avoid language that could come across as accusatory or critical of your partner.
Instead of saying: Why don’t you initiate more often?
Try saying: I love it when you start things with me. It makes me feel wanted.
Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask questions from a place of empathy and curiosity instead of defensiveness. For example: Can you tell me more about how that makes you feel? Listen to understand rather than listening to respond.
You may have different sex drives, different things that turn you on or off, and so on. The goal is not to achieve perfect alignment. It’s to understand each other better and find ways to compromise so you can have a closer, more intimate connection.
The goal of talking shouldn’t only be to have more or better sex. Work on strengthening your whole connection, in and out of the bedroom.
There’s no shortage of things to discuss, but some topics you may want to cover include:
Desired frequency of sex. One of you may have a higher libido than the other – this can change over time. If one of you wants to have sex more (or less) often, be honest and reassuring. Ask the other person how they feel and what you can do to make them more comfortable.
Ways to show affection. What encourages intimacy for you may be different than what does it for your partner. Some people are more responsive to touch, words or actions, depending on their personality. It’s important to know what your partner needs from you to feel connected.
Turn-ons and turn-offs. Be curious about what your partner likes. Ask what makes them feel good.
Fantasies. This can be tough for some couples to bring up, but it’s common for people to have certain sexual fantasies. There’s an upside to talking about them: social psychologist Justin Lehmilller found that couples who do have more satisfying sex lives, even if they never act on their fantasies.
Safety, consent and boundaries. This is essential to every relationship – no matter how well you think you know your partner or how long you’ve been together. It’s vital that you talk openly about using protection, what you’re each comfortable with, and how to respect each other’s boundaries.
Important: Consent is not something you check at the door when you start a relationship. It should never be assumed, even with a long-term partner. No one is entitled to intimacy on demand. If your partner crosses a boundary you’ve communicated to them, they are violating your consent.
Not sure how to start? Here are some questions you can use to get the conversation rolling:
What makes you feel aroused?
What felt good the last time we had sex?
What puts you in the mood?
Are there certain times of day you’re more turned on than others?
What’s your favourite way to get things started?
Conversations about intimacy can be awkward at first, especially if you’re out of practice. But clear, open communication with your partner is key to a strong connection, in and out of the bedroom.