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  • Rachael Lindberg

“I’m nervous to talk to my partner(s) about sex. What would help?”

Rachael Lindberg, LPC, SXI, CCTP

Afterglow Counseling & Coaching, PLLC


As we grow, we are often sent very mixed messages about sex and intimacy. We hear things like, “Sex is natural,” but it is okay only within a marriage. “You’re in your sexual peak, embrace it!” but only with a limited number of partners or in the confines of a committed relationship. These conflicting signals can create difficulties in understanding our beliefs about sex which then complicates how we communicate about sex with our partner(s). Discussing our wants, desires, and boundaries about sex can be nerve-wracking for many people, even for those in long-term committed relationships. Sex has long been a taboo topic, especially if it is about topics that we are taught are “dirty” or shameful such as kinks, fantasies, and desires. When we engage in sex, we are both emotionally and physically “naked,” open to vulnerabilities and anxieties when sharing what we may like or dislike when it comes to sex. The bottom line is that, as consenting adults, everyone deserves to feel emotionally and physically safe, comfortable, and respected during sex and while talking about sex. The communication strategies below are aimed to enhance and strengthen your communication about sex with your partner(s).


a couple has a pillow fight on a bed

  1. Create and nurture a culture of emotional and physical safety and respect


Effective communication can only be established in a relationship where you feel safe and respected, both emotionally and physically. If we do not feel we can share sensitive information with our partner(s), especially about sex, it is unlikely that we can be vulnerable. A strong foundation of friendship, ability to compromise, trust and honesty, respect for boundaries and independence, and healthy interdependence are characteristics of an emotionally safe relationship. A relationship that embraces and nurtures a culture of safety and respect sets the foundation for healthy, productive communication, even when the topic may be sensitive or difficult to discuss. 


  1. Practice using ARC Statements


ARC Statements can be an incredibly important tool for effective communication. They allow the speaker to accept responsibility for their own emotions, promote collaboration, and reduce feelings of blame by mitigating criticizing statements. A structure for communication can be helpful when we are practicing more effective communication skills. The emotions underneath statements such as “You never initiate sex with me” or “You only want to cuddle and kiss when you want to have sex” have some validity but the blaming statements are damaging and not productive. They usually result in defensiveness and counterattacks which leaves everyone feeling invalidated and misunderstood. 


The structure of an ARC Statement is to Acknowledge your role in the concern, Report on the issue, and Collaborate on a solution. For example, “I recognize I waited a long time to bring this up. I felt rejected when I tried to initiate sex with you last weekend. Let’s think of a way for us to be able to initiate or decline sex so we can communicate better.” Another example could be, “I realize I have been withdrawn for the last few weeks. I have been feeling disconnected because of our work schedules. What do you think of scheduling a weekly date night so we can reconnect?” 


  1. Take responsibility for knowing your interests and desires


As much as we think our partner(s) can read our minds or “just know” what we like and dislike, we are ultimately responsible for our own pleasure. This means we have to explore and discover our interests and desires and learn how to communicate this to our partner(s) so they can incorporate those things into your intimate interactions. They can only become more skilled at reading your body language and emotions if the communication is there to accompany it. It is important to explore your desires before sex and then incorporate feedback discussions to prevent any miscommunication. These conversations can be difficult and vulnerable, however, they can strengthen your ability to communicate and provide an opportunity to become more aligned on expectations and hopes for sex and intimacy. If something does not feel pleasurable, prepare yourself to provide gentle feedback to help guide your partner(s) to what would be more enjoyable. Refer to the ARC Statements above to communicate your interests more effectively.


  1. Practice sharing your interests and invite your partner(s) to do the same without shame


It is difficult to share with our partner(s) about what we would like or dislike if we don’t even know what we might enjoy. Spend some time exploring, either together or alone, different positions, toys, areas of touch, etc. to find out what you might be interested in. A Sexual Interest Inventory, such as a Yes, No, Maybe list, can facilitate the conversation of identifying your interests and boundaries. A Sexual Interest Inventory outlines an inclusive list of topics (specific sexual activities, body boundaries, preferred words and terms, relationship models and choices, safer sex behaviors, contraceptive and reproductive choices, etc.) that are important to discuss with romantic and sexual partner(s). I encourage seeking out a sex coach or sex therapist for individual or couples counseling if you struggle with shame or anxiety when discussing sexual topics.


  1. Define and discuss your boundaries


Once you know more about your interests and desires, it is important to define and discuss your boundaries as they relate to sex. Consent is an essential component of sexuality, so a discussion of boundaries will help you identify what you are okay with and what you are not okay with. A Sexual Interest Inventory, such as a Yes, No, Maybe list, or other guided discussion tools can facilitate the conversation. You can also explore and reflect on your past sexual experiences and relationships to figure out what did or did not feel good, emotionally and physically, in the past. Some boundaries to consider include body boundaries, types of touch, sexual activities, reproductive and contraceptive decisions, and safer sex practices. Boundaries and communication go hand-in-hand, so this is an important factor to consider. Boundaries can also be fluid as we discover our likes and dislikes and experience change as we develop, so continue to revisit and talk about boundaries with your partner(s). 


  1. Establish a rhythm of intimacy


Avoidance and anticipatory anxiety with sex can occur when there is not a recurring rhythm for sexual intimacy, which can also lead to difficulties communicating when a change is needed. Rituals or routines for frequency, initiation/declining sex, and participating in non-demand, non-sexual touch throughout the week can reduce the anticipatory anxiety that hinders communication and intimacy. Some examples of a ritual or routine include a fridge magnet that can be turned upside down when interested in sex or lighting a “sex candle,” which allows your partner to gently accept or decline. Sex doesn’t necessarily need to be “scheduled,” i.e. every Tuesday and Saturday at 7 pm, but can occur on a routine where intimacy is expected and welcomed. This can be difficult if there are differences between partners in libido or desire for sex, so I encourage seeking individual or relationship counseling to discuss how to manage this and enhance your intimacy. 


Interested in individual or couples counseling? Submit a Contact Form to schedule a free 15-minute initial phone consultation!


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