Telling your partner that a move they think is super sexy just isn’t working for you isn’t the easiest conversation to have. Physical intimacy usually means emotional intimacy, too, and while you definitely don’t want to hurt their feelings, you’d also really like it if they’d stop doing that one thing with their tongue. Or maybe you’d like to try something new between the sheets, but aren’t sure how to suggest it without coming across as overly pushy.
Here are the most common communication problems that arise in the bedroom, and how experts say you can bring them up with your partner in a positive way that will leave everyone feeling good—really good.
“My partner isn’t interested in oral sex.”
- It can be tough to suggest giving or receiving oral sex when your partner is less than enthusiastic about it. “The best way to address this is for each partner to talk openly about what they want physically,” says Steve McGough, an associate professor of clinical sexology and director of research and development at Women and Couples Wellness. “If one partner wants something the other isn’t comfortable or good at doing, it’s helpful to talk about possible alternatives.”
The fix: Instead of putting pressure on your partner, suggest other options with similar stimulation. “Using oil and good hand technique or getting a masturbation sleeve [a flexible tube for the penis that can enhance pleasure] can often be just as enjoyable as oral sex for men,” McGough advises. “Women who want to receive oral sex but whose partners either don’t want to give it or aren’t good at it should explore using oils and hand massage.” (Read this for more exciting ways to freshen up your foreplay routine.)
“I’m not achieving orgasm with my partner.”
- Although this can happen to anyone of any gender, McGough says that more women than men tend to struggle with experiencing orgasms with their sexual partners. “In some cases, women aren’t comfortable talking with their partner about it. And in other cases, they try to bring it up, but their partner doesn’t understand or, even worse, isn’t interested,” McGough says. On top of all this, is the cultural belief that women should achieve orgasm via penetration alone, but in reality, only a tiny fraction of women are able to do so. (Here, seven women share the sex positions that finally helped them orgasm.)
The fix: If you’ve never achieved orgasm while flying solo, McGough suggests exploring that avenue first, either manually or with a vibrator. It’s a lot easier to explain to your partner what you need during an intimate moment if you’ve already done your homework. “Instead of beginning the conversation by saying you aren’t satisfied, say that you want to explore ways to increase pleasure in the bedroom,” McGough advises. “Start by asking your partner what they would like you to do more of in bed or what their fantasies are. Once they’ve expressed what they want, hopefully they’ll reciprocate and ask you. If they don’t, you can follow up with: ‘One thing that would make me go absolutely crazy is if you…'” fill in the blank. And if you’re still having trouble getting your point across, suggest watching porn together in which the woman’s sexual experience, pleasure, and perspective are front and center.
“I’m not sure how to let my partner know I’m in the mood.”
- Sometimes it feels like you’re being incredibly obvious that you’re in the mood for sex and all your partner does is give you a blank stare. And it can be even more frustrating when the roles are reversed. “A woman may come home totally exhausted and stressed out, but her partner is really in the mood. Later on, she’s in the mood and uses subtle cues to let her partner know, but he doesn’t catch on,” McGough says. “Although they might attribute this to getting older, it’s really just a misunderstanding and in fact, they may both be in the mood at the same time and not even realize it.” (Here are the six biggest problems sex therapists hear—solved.)
The fix: The fastest way to break through an unintentional slump is to straightforwardly tell your partner when you’re feeling aroused and in the mood for a sexy afternoon. And even if your partner isn’t feeling it right in that moment, schedule intimacy time for later. “Another option is to plan regular date nights where you have time allocated for being intimate,” McGough suggests. “But make sure you don’t pick a time when you’ll be tired or have other immediate obligations.”
“Telling my partner what I like makes me feel awkward.”
- It’s tempting to avoid what may feel like an embarrassing conversation and just hope your partner will read your mind, but a lack of communication only leads to dissatisfaction down the road. “If your partner doesn’t communicate with you, there’s no reason you should know what they want, and vice versa,” acknowledges Nicole Prause, PhD, founder of the sexual biotechnology company Liberos.
The fix: “Request a behavior that is as specific as possible and communicate your experience gently, but accurately,” says Prause. One conversation script she suggests for requesting change in the moment is: I like it when you [blank], but when you [blank], I feel [blank]. Prause gives this example: “You could use this script to say: I like feeling your fingers inside of me, but when you move them so fast, I feel nervous like I might get hurt.” Although it can be difficult to say exactly what you want or need in the moment, having a script at the ready is a great way to get your point across constructively and positively without making you or your partner feel bad.
“I’m more sexually daring than my partner.”
- If you’re the type of person who has a sex position bucket list, but your partner likes to stick with old reliable moves, a romp in the bedroom can take a sudden turn into hostility and hurt feelings. “The daring partner may feel like their needs aren’t being met, while the less-daring partner may feel as if they aren’t good enough,” says David Bennett, counselor, relationship expert, and co-author of Be Popular Now. Because there are opposing desires and comfort levels at play, it’s important to talk about and set boundaries before things heat up. “This is where mutual empathy and understanding come in,” Bennett notes. (See what happened when one woman brought a couples vibrator into her relationship.)
The fix: Cover your bases before the clothes come off. “For example, agree that the daring partner can push the envelope, but has to check in to make sure their less-daring partner is comfortable,” suggests Bennett. Even something as simple as whispering, “Is this okay?” in your partner’s ear when you’re trying something new will put them more at ease and help you both practice good consent. “And if you’re the one who wants to pull the brakes, a simple, ‘Let’s go back to what we were doing—that was hot,’ can help the ‘no’ go over in a way that is affirming rather than critical,” Bennett adds.