12/01/2015 05:47 EST | Updated 12/01/2016 05:12 EST

How To Talk About Sex With Your Partner

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Couple talking in living room

It is generally accepted that we have to talk about sexuality in some way to our children so that they can develop into sexually healthy individuals. But what about our partners?

Whether it's a one-time thing or a long-term committed relationship, there are three prerequisites to any sexual activity: consent, safety and pleasure. There is no way around it: communication is key. For some people, this feels entirely natural; for others, they'd rather visit the dentist.

"The talk" with a new partner

You are very turned on to each other. You've managed to discuss mutual protection and have negotiated safer sex and/or contraception if pregnancy is an issue. You've agreed that you're going to have sex -- whatever that term means to the both of you. You have covered two of the prerequisites. Now, are you going to present a menu of what pleases you before the clothes come off; or are you going to close your eyes and hope for the best?

You have three opportunities to get it right, by which I mean making this encounter an enjoyable -- and perhaps meaningful -- experience for both of you.

Before. You may have some issues that you need to discuss -- a disability, pain, prior trauma, some things you adore or perhaps some "no-gos". Are there parts of your body you prefer that they not touch or explore? Are there some sure fire ways to get you going that you want to share?

During. If you're not a talker ("that feels so good") insert moan of pleasure here. If it doesn't feel good, try saying, "I really liked what you were doing before. Can you do that again?" If it hurts, "ow" will do.

After. "I really liked it when you..." "So you like to... I do, too, but it would feel even better if..."

Longer-term relationships

Communication about your sexual life may be more fraught because of your emotional history together. Despite your ability to be frank in other aspects of your life, there may still be some awkwardness dealing with a disparity in the desire for sexual activity; or the desire to try something new.

When one partner enjoys sexual activity with more frequency that the other, this is as negotiable as who does the dishes. Suppose you want to be sexual every day but your partner prefers twice a week. It may sound silly, but one compromise is to settle on every other day. Another solution might be limiting some sessions to mutually enjoyable activities.

Sexual activities themselves are negotiable. If you've always wanted to try something new together, for example, anal massage, here are a few approaches. Just put your finger there and ask "Is this OK? Does it feel good?" "Can I do it some more with lube?" Or you can send an erotic text about it, leave a note under the pillow, find an instructional video -- or porn -- if you both enjoy that. Perhaps your partner wants to hear you say things that seem out of character. If it feels OK and oddly exciting, why not try? Just like talking with kids about sex, you may want to practice first in front of the mirror.

There may be times when the lovemaking is unsatisfactory or just unwanted. Is it unwanted because of relationship issues, because you're too damn tired; or because it's been getting less interesting/exciting over time?

This is the real test of your ability to communicate without blaming or shaming. Each partner has to look deeply inside themselves. What are their individual underlying issues (new baby, less money, sick parents, aging...)? What are the issues for the couple? If it is too daunting to work this through and maintain civility and a caring attitude, it may be the time to consider outside help. Perhaps you need to talk with a professional about your relationship before even discussing sex therapy.

Everyone has the right to a satisfying sexual life no matter what that means to them. Finding a way to get it means you have to open wide -- and talk.


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