let's talk about sex, baby

"Sexual communication emerges from a couple's desire to explore and evaluate their own sex life" (Yum & Alicesteen, 2005, p. 6).

From disclosing my sexual history to debating over new birth control options to discussing sexual desires, I've always been comfortable talking about sex. I can easily talk about it with my husband, my mom, and my friends. I think it's important and I'm not shy : )

In addition to my love of talking about sex, there's actually been a lot of research showing that discussing sex with your partner plays an important role in the development and maintenance of your romantic relationship. In fact, people who openly talk about sex with their partners report being more satisfied with their romantic relationships, their sexual relationships, and even report experiencing more pleasure during sex than those who do not openly discuss sex with their partners (see Byers, 2005; Byers & Demmons, 1999; DeLamater & Friedrich, 2002; Haavio-Mannila & Kontula, 1997; MacNeil & Byers, 1997). Specifically, disclosing your sexual likes and dislikes to your partner is positively associated with relationship length, relationship satisfaction, amount of nonsexual self-disclosure, and monogamy (Byers & Demmons, 1999). From preferences about kissing to desires about fulfilling fantasies, telling your partner your sexual likes and dislikes can bring you closer as a couple, improve your sex life, and increase the overall communication that you have with your mate. Despite all of these benefits, however, Americans continue to have a difficult time discussing sex with their significant others (Marble, 1997).

Although research has not yet fully examined how to best disclose sexual likes and dislikes, researchers like myself have begun to theorize about how to engage in this complicated communication task. Below are some guidelines that I've developed during my graduate work.

1. Be direct, but not too direct! You want to explicitly state what your sexual preferences are so that your partner can understand what you want and don't want. Confusion about what you like or dislike could cause the quality of your sex life to decrease. Tell your partner exactly what your preferences are. But, be careful; you don't want to get too direct too early in your relationship. If you're just starting out, directness can also be perceived as negative. While you still want your partner to understand you, you may want to use more indirect strategies. So, instead of saying, "I really like it when you kiss my breast," you may feel more comfortable saying, "I dunno, I think I might like it if you did what they just did," while winking and pointing at the television.

2. Be appropriately risky. Offer risky sexual likes and dislikes at appropriate times. There are two parts to this. First, don't disclose a risky sexual like, such as your sadomasochist preference, on the first date. Wait until your relationship has progressed a bit before telling your partner about something that risky. Second, make sure that your disclosure fits the conversation at hand. You don't want to profess your love of oral sex when the conversation is about baseball. Use your common sense here. Follow the progression of your relationship and the flow of the conversation before disclosing a risky sexual like or dislike.

3. Be clear. Before you communicate your likes and dislikes, focus on what you want and how you want to say it. Using words like "this," "that," "there," or "stuff" are more ambiguous than stating actual sexual behaviors, body parts, or techniques. Try to use clear, descriptive words. This can help your partner understand you and can therefore improve your sex life and your relationship.

4. Be sensitive. Make sure that you are always being considerate of your partner's feelings, wants, and needs. Try to be more person-centered. You can do this by learning your partner's sexual preferences and attitudes about certain behaviors before disclosing your own. Once you know what your partner prefers, you will have a better picture about which disclosures to handle with more care over others. You may need to hedge your disclosure by first acknowledging your partner's feelings about the behavior. This will show your partner that you care about them and their preferences, which is always a good thing.

So, don't be shy. Talk to your partner about your sexual likes and dislikes. You'll be thanking me tomorrow.

  • Byers, E. S. (2005). Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long-term relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 113-118.
  • Byers, E. S., & Demmons, S. (1999). Sexual satisfaction and self-disclosure within dating relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 36, 180-189.
  • DeLamater, J., & Friedrich, W. N. (2002). Human sexual development. The Journal of Sex Research, 39, 10-15.
  • Haavio-Mannila, E., & Kontula, O. (1997). Correlates of increased sexual satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 399-419.
  • MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (1997). The relationship between sexual problems, communication, and sexual satisfaction. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 6, 277-289.
  • Marble, M. (1997, March 31). Americans find it easier to have sex than to talk about it. Women's Health Weekly, 13-14.
  • Yum, Y.-o, & Alicesteen, R. (2005). The effect of sex and sex talk during pregnancy on relationship satisfaction. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association, New York, NY, 1-30.

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