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The Delicate Art of Talking About Sex With a Partner

By Penelope Neckowitz, PhD
October 9, 2023

Isn’t it interesting that oftentimes, it is easier and less vulnerable to have sex than to talk about it. Sex often is a topic that many feel uncomfortable and intimidated talking about.
However, being able to talk to a partner about sex is key to sexual satisfaction, which, in turn, is key to relationship satisfaction. We live in a culture where expressing sexual needs is often considered taboo. We may feel that we should just know when it comes to sex, and just get it right.

What a distortion that is!

As humans, we are sexual beings, wired for pleasure

The challenge is that we are not mind readers and everyone has their own unique pathways to pleasure. In my blog on the 5 Erotic Blueprints™, we learned that how we are wired plays a huge role in our turn-ons and challenges. Understanding how we are wired, our superpowers and shadows, helps us to develop a vocabulary to deepen our pleasure and communicate that to a partner (who has their own wiring and desires).

Communication about our desires and sexual preferences is key to satisfaction and deepening the experience, both in new and long-term relationships.

Communicating with a partner is so important in order to know what is arousing to them and what their accelerators and brakes are. It is also essential if we are to feel like our own desires and needs are being honored. However, many of us growing up in this culture have not been encouraged to share our desires and fantasies with another, and often people struggle with shame and fear of rejection.

Talking about sex with a partner can be challenging

Communication with a partner about any topic can be difficult, but talking about sex often comes with specific challenges, like:

  • Cultural taboos
  • Fear of judgment or rejection
  • Inadequate sex education
  • Past negative experiences
  • Performance anxiety
  • Poor communication skills
  • Vulnerability
  • Past trauma or abuse
  • Cultural norms and stereotypes
  • Mismatched expectations
  • Lack of confidence

So, what are some tools to do this with greater ease?

Discover your own desires

  • Take responsibility for your own pleasure and your own orgasm. Your lover can’t read your mind—say what you like and what you want.
  • Do the work on body image issues which may be getting in the way of your own pleasure.
  • Develop a self pleasure practice to explore types of touch, erotic zones on your body, and fantasies that increase your arousal and pleasure, that allow you to connect to your body without shame and with love and acceptance.
  • Become familiar with your own Erotic Blueprint—your superpowers and your shadows.
  • Understand what words turn you on and what words are turn-offs for you.

Strive to not judge your sexuality and recognize that all desires and fantasies are welcome and part of your unique Erotic Blueprint.

Start small with a partner

  • Start with the things that work for you and are pleasing.
  • Use “I” statements rather than “you.” Start with easier conversations with a sexual partner as a way to build greater trust.
  • Find ways to be positive and to express your desires without being critical, blaming, or shaming of your partner.
  • Learn to read your partner as you share a fantasy or desire. Judge your partner’s comfort level, go slow and start with small, more tame desires to see how your partner responds. Also, while your fantasies may heighten your arousal, not all fantasies need to be shared with a partner.

A note about sexual fantasies

In 2018, Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist and author of the book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, surveyed the sexual fantasies of 4000 people. He found that 97% of all sexual fantasies had common themes, such as novelty, voyeurism, non-monogamous sex, multi-partnered sex, and gender fluidity. What often keeps people from sharing fantasies is shame or a fear of rejection, even though his research suggests that fantasies are more “normal” than people realize. Lehmiller suggests that sharing fantasies may be important in long term relationships when partners feel that they have fallen into a pattern, and even the sharing of the fantasy can be arousing, if done in a loving and playful manner. Talking about fantasies can actually turn the heat up during sex!

Make sure you are having a back-and-forth conversation

  • Often it is easier to have the conversation outside the bedroom as a way to talk about what works and what could make your sex even juicier and more powerful and erotic—strive to cultivate an openness to future conversations and exploration.
  • It is often helpful in long-term relationships to set up a regular time to talk about sex. These talks can also be times to pick a sexual topic to explore together. Some of these topics can include: how often you each want to have sex, how you each like or expect sex to be initiated, oral sex, anal sex, what you each consider foreplay to be, how you feel about BDSM and sensation /psychological Kink, masturbation, sexting, virtual sex, sex toys and accessories, role-play, location for lovemaking, time of day, sexual positions, differences in libido. Filling out checklists individually and sharing them is often helpful. Take turns talking about fantasies, needs and desires so that both partners feel like they have an opportunity to feel heard.
  • Make sure to use active listening skills to create a safe and non-judgemental environment where both partners feel comfortable to express themselves without fear of criticism.

Learn to recognize your yes’s and your no’s

  • Discover the power of understanding and confidently communicating your sexual desires and preferences without shame, which contribute to your “yes” or “no” when it comes to sexual preferences.
  • Honor your boundaries and the importance of saying “no.” Saying "no" can be difficult, especially in intimate contexts. Learn how to assert your boundaries confidently and create a safe space where your partner can do the same.
  • If there are some things that you know are a definite no, it is important to establish that before you are in the heat of the moment.
  • A good practice is that a “yes” can always become a “no” during sex, and it is probably safer to have a “no” remain a “no” until after sex when it can be discussed without the pressure of the heat of the moment.
  • Remember, it is important to be honest and open about your boundaries when it comes to sex. Respect yourself enough to verbalize your boundaries, ask for what you need, and in turn, respect your partner and their boundaries and needs as well.
  • Ask questions of a sexual partner so that you both understand the agreement you are making around consent and to make sure you are on the same page about what you are agreeing to.

Remember: sex is one of the more intimate activities that we as humans engage in. Listen, be curious and try to understand what your partner is feeling and wanting. Leave the door open for further exploration and discussion. Most of us want to please our partners and be pleased by our partners in turn. It takes curiosity, exploration, and acceptance to continue to discover about ourselves and our partners. Open dialogue is key to maintaining trust, intimacy and mutual satisfaction.

Talk is key

The research shows that couples who talk more about sex have more satisfying sexual relationships. Remaining open is often important in long term relationships as well as when “new relationship energy” dies down. A healthy sexual relationship requires ongoing communication of sexual desires and fantasies. Sexuality is not static. What is a turn-on one day may shift at another time and honoring that in yourself and then sharing it with your partner is critical to building relationship resilience as well as sexual openness and resilience within yourself. Allow your sexual desires and preferences to evolve with time as you evolve and deepen into yourself. Embracing your desires without shame and the acceptance of this both about yourself and your partner is key to deepening your relationship. Practicing radical self love and acceptance of yourself opens the door for you to not only love yourself but to accept and not judge your partner.

In summary, open sexual communication is vital for women to feel confident and empowered in their sexual lives, to feel comfortable in their own bodies and to feel comfortable with consent and boundaries. This helps to build trust and intimacy, which in turn promotes mutual pleasure and satisfaction. As challenging as it may seem at times, open communication about sex and pleasure fosters an environment of respect, empathy and understanding.

Learning to openly communicate these things without judgment is critical to honoring ourselves sexually and nurturing our birthright to live with pleasure. Let’s empower ourselves and others to embrace sexual communication as a crucial aspect of living a satisfying and empowered life.

Penelope Neckowitz, PhD is a licensed psychologist and therapist, a certified Erotic Blueprint Coach™, an Embodied Female Pleasure™ facilitator, and a long time pleasure researcher and pleasure activist. She is committed to helping women connect to their erotic life force energy and live more freely with less shame and greater freedom of expression. You can learn more on her website and you can learn more about the Erotic Blueprints by emailing

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