How To Approach Conversations About Sex With Your Partner
“With two young kids, we are getting more sleep and more sex than ever before!” — the unicorn parent.
Okay, okay, that was a mean joke to make. We feel your pain, we do. And if you are that unicorn parent, congratulations, you should buy a lottery ticket.
For everyone else — if you feel that after having kids, your sex life is not what it used to be, you are not alone. The journey of parenthood comes with big changes: new responsibilities, new routines, new hormones, body, emotions… the list goes on. Amidst all the change that you are experiencing and working through as a couple, it can be easy to keep pressing snooze on proactively adjusting to the changes in your sex life.
As many online articles already point out, a key to reigniting intimacy and sexual joy is to talk about sex with your partner. Research published by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that effective sexual communication between partners leads to a better and more satisfying relationship.
Sounds easy, right? Just talk about it.
But for many couples, talking about what you’d like more / less of sexually, or discussing the ways your sex life has changed and what to do about it isn’t that easy.
It can feel awkward, or feel like you risk opening a can of worms. You may not know how to start that conversation, or perhaps you feel that you’ve already talked a lot and, somehow, talking isn’t translating into “action”.
So rather than just telling you to have open sexual communication with your partner, let’s take a deeper dive into how to have these conversations.
1. Start With a “Beginner’s Mind”
If you are not used to it, starting a conversation about sex can feel like walking on an unfamiliar path (oh, kind of like parenting!). On top of this, regrettably, most of us grew up with and live in a society that has attached shame and judgment to sexuality and sexual expression. This makes it difficult to know what open, constructive, healthy communication about sex can look like.
In reality, it is completely normal that in the beginning, it may feel clumsy or uncomfortably vulnerable. Chances are, your partner has similar feelings.
This is where taking on a beginner’s mind can help. We invite you to view these changes and conversations as an experience where you are both learning and growing together.
After all, sex is sometimes a team sport and you are gaining an important life skill together 🙂
And like in sports, talking about sex takes practice.
The more you do it, the more natural it can feel. Together, you can break the barrier of discomfort one word at a time.
2. Choose Your Setting with Intention
Think about your favorite food. Try to feel its smell, the richness of the flavors on your tongue, and its texture in your mouth. It’s nice, tasty and makes you feel happy. Where do you imagine you are?
In a nice cozy restaurant? In the comfort of your house? Or are you sitting outside on a hard freezing bench, battling with a cold wind that has already turned your food into a tasteless dish?
The point is: The setting matters — whether it’s to enhance the experience of having your favorite food or to inspire intimate discussion for you and your partner.
So think back to a recent discussion you had with your partner where you shared openly with each other, problem solved together, and came away feeling close and strong as a couple. Where and when did this conversation take place?
Wherever you were, the setting helped both of you stay present with each other.
So we invite you to choose a time and place that you and your partner are already used to having other types of quality conversations.
It might be the back porch, where you and your partner catch your breath while the little ones are napping (or having screen time — no judgement here). Or, it might be on the couch over a glass of wine when the kids are in bed.
It could also be on a walk, where not having to maintain constant eye contact plus keeping your body moving helps soften the raw vulnerability that comes with certain topics.
And as tempting as it may be, try not to have these conversations in bed, especially before or just after sex. Dirty talk, yes. Talking about what felt good just now, yes. Leave communication about the other stuff to a different setting as it may be confounded with expectations or become too emotionally charged.
3. Give Each Other Permission to Be Open
Expressing your innermost thoughts and feelings can open you up to the possibility of feeling hurt or potentially hurting your partner’s feelings. Fear of feeling rejected or not accepted and disappointing your partner are all common.
That said, here’s a secret that we, at Gilly, have learned: When people feel safe, they want to talk openly about sex. As part of our research into couples & intimacy, as well as in Erin’s past work in sexual wellness, we’ve had the honour of speaking to hundreds of people about their sex life. This experience has shown us that once a safe and understanding space is created, people are often very open and eager to talk about what was going on for them sexually.
And at the heart of their questions, concerns, and sometimes frustrations around their sex life, is a strong desire to connect intimately and share pleasure in their relationship.
To create that safe and understanding space and support each other to open up, we invite you to give each other permission to be open.
In practice, this means lots of active listening:
- nodding and reflecting back what they have said
- asking questions to check that you have heard them fully (e.g., “So I heard was ___. Is that what you meant?”)
- putting aside the temptation to defend or explain yourself and instead, focus on first hearing your partner
In doing this, you can co-create a space that allows for honest, intimate discussion and teamwork.
A great start to practicing giving each other permission to be open is to share how you feel about talking about sex.
Yes, before talking about sex, talk about talking about sex.
What are you nervous about? What are you excited about?
As you listen to each other, try to remember that there is nothing to fix about these feelings. Hearing and accepting that this is where your partner is (and where you are) is precisely giving each other permission to be open.
4. Uncover Your Hidden Beliefs Around Sex
Here are some questions for you and your partner as food for thought:
- Are orgasms a must during sex?
- What does good sex look like?
- Can sex not include intercourse?
Whatever your answers are, now ask yourself — why did you answer this way? Or more precisely, what may have influenced you in your answers?
It is common to enter relationships with ideas about what sex is or what sex should, or should not look like, without being aware of these preconceived notions and beliefs.
Often, they are shaped by the sex education we received (or did not receive), popular culture, family, religion, the entertainment industry, and past experiences.
For example, a common narrative is that sex = sexual intercourse. Everything else is foreplay. But is that really so? If you and your partner are open to revisiting this belief, you may discover a variety of sexual experiences beyond sexual intercourse.
For couples with kids, this can sometimes take the pressure off of “having sex” and instead focus on what feels good in that moment, based on the energy that you and your partner have in that moment. You may be too tired for intercourse (and therefore say “no” to sex) — but what about mutual masturbation? Perhaps that’s the way to go this evening to connect and be intimate!
By being aware of the beliefs you hold, you then have the power to adjust them to serve you and your relationship. Being open to examining your beliefs can also create space for you to be able to hear your partner’s needs and desires.
Give it a try — take a step back and observe your sexual beliefs and be open to the possibility that they can evolve.
5. Ease Into the Conversation With Prompts
All right, you have the Beginner’s mindset and are trying to be mindful of sexual beliefs that no longer serve you. You have a time and place in mind to create a setting that can help you relax and open up. Now, the actual talking!
If at this point, you feel good about what you want to discuss, go for it! If you feel hesitant or nervous, remember that it is all trial and error. There is no perfect way to go about it, and you partner will find your own path together, one step at a time. Even if this sometimes looks like two steps back, one step forward — it is all a journey.
If you’re unsure about how to start the conversation, we invite you to use prompts.
And lucky you, we’ve prepared three for you 🙂
Prompt #1: What’s our “why”?
A potentially easy topic can be to co-create your “why” from the outset. Share with each other your intentions behind having conversations about Sex. Your goal may be to feel closer and more connected with your partner. It may be to focus on things you can both do to make your sex life more fulfilling. It is possible, and normal, that you and your partner’s intentions might be different. If this happens, remember that the point isn’t to have the same goals. The point is to hear and understand each other through these conversations, so that you can come together and nurture your intimacy and your shared erotic space.
Prompt #2: Hey, check out this article / book / documentary
Another great way to get the juicy discussion flowing is to use external prompts. It can be an article (like this one!), or a book. External prompts are helpful because instead of having to say, “I’d like to talk about our sex life and how it’s changed.” — you can say, “Did you know that it’s actually really common for couples’ sex life to change after having kids? This article has some interesting suggestions to help couples talk about it.”
Prompt #3: I recently learned about sexual beliefs and I realized that one of mine is…
Remember the hidden beliefs around sex that we invited you to explore earlier? If it feels appropriate for you, it can be something that you share with your partner. This prompt has the potential to inspire insights from both of you around how intimacy has evolved for you as individuals and as a couple.
We said it before and we’ll say it again for emphasis: Remember that there is no perfect formula — it’s totally okay to ease into it.
Start with a topic that you know to be relatively easy, and work your way onto topics that are more emotionally charged.
Together, you are strengthening the muscle of open sexual communication.
Still, even though we’ve laid out the steps, there is still the mental load that comes with putting it into action, amiright?
This is why we’re creating the Gilly app.
We comb through the science and work with sexperts, to make intimacy and desire easy for you and your partner to navigate, explore and expand together.
This is why we have created bite-sized, interactive exercises to help you nurture your relationship. We call them treats, because we know that for parents, making time for you and your relationship is a treat.
And spoiler alert — some of our treats are designed precisely to help you start & deepen conversations about sex & intimacy.
Sign up for early access and get a taste when the Gilly app launches!