Let's talk about sex... even if it's not easy
February 23rd, 2012
07:09 AM ET

Let's talk about sex... even if it's not easy

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex weekly on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

As a sexuality counselor, a big part of my work is to facilitate a dialogue between couples who have often waited far too long to discuss a sex issue.

These couples have often allowed sex to become the elephant in the room. Maybe it started off with her faking it every once in awhile, but now it’s been years since she’s had an orgasm with her partner. Or maybe a couple has mismatched libidos, and one partner is humiliated at always being rejected, while the other feels terribly put upon.

Even if we’ve been married for years, the topic of sex still can make us blush. As a result, many people find themselves living in silent desperation - they may be lying next to someone in the same bed, but they feel like they’re a million miles apart.

If only we were more comfortable talking about sex at the outset, we’d be able to nip problems in the bud before they become major issues.

Here’s how to get started:

Go on a sexual fact-seeking mission.

“Assume your partner wants information about your preferences, dislikes, and your experience,” says sex therapist Marty Klein, author of the new book, “Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, and How to Get It.”

“Sharing information should always be a collaborative investigation, not an adversarial one," Klein says. "The goal is not to find out who's wrong, or who's kinky, or who's uptight, but rather to uncover and share information that will enable the two of you to move forward and create more enjoyable experiences together."

Be positive.

Easier said than done. According to marriage therapist John Gottman (who has an entire laboratory in Seattle dedicated to studying interactions between couples), the difference between relationships that succeed and those that fail is the ability to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative interactions. This certainly applies to conversations about sex.

“When talking about your sex life, look for what's good about what your partner does, and make them feel like a superhero when they do anything right, no matter how small and no matter what else they're doing wrong,” says sex educator Emily Nagoski, author of the "Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms."

Turn foreplay into a chance to talk.

Couples need to get in the habit of sharing fantasies and desires, talking about what works and what doesn’t work.

As arousal heightens during foreplay, our inhibitions lower, so it becomes easier to give feedback about how good something feels, or, conversely, how something could feel better.

“If you're giving sexual feedback, first compliment something your partner does well,” says sex educator Amy Levine. “Then, let your partner know that you want to try something new and explain how you want to be touched.”

Or take the talk out of the bedroom altogether.

“It's best to talk about sex related topics when you're not between the sheets,” Levine says. “Instead, have a casual conversation when you're hanging out together. If you're not sure how to start the conversation, you can say you read [blank] in an article, saw something on the news, or read something on the web. Then, share your thoughts and ask what your partner thinks and feels about the topic."

And if face-to-face conversation doesn’t work, try side-by-side.

A former female patient of mine once recounted the harrowing experience of trying to talk to her boyfriend about his lovemaking skills: “It was like a scene out of ‘Taxi Driver.’ He gave me this Robert De Niro 'You talking to me’ look, and then pointed his finger in my face.”

Anthropologists have long observed that women are “face-to-face” communicators, while men do best “side-by side.”

As Dr. Helen Fisher wrote in her remarkable book, “Why We Love,” “This response probably stems from men’s ancestry. For many millennia men faced their enemies; they sat or walked side by side as they hunted game with their friends.”

So it may make sense to have a conversation while taking a walk or a drive, or even while shopping or watching TV.

Or give email a whirl.

If face to face just isn’t in the cards, sex educator and co-author of the new book, “Hot Sex,” Jamye Waxman suggests even going so far as to set up separate email accounts just to have a conversation about sex, and giving yourselves the opportunity to have a patient thoughtful exchange.

“After a few back and forths, then they set a time to talk about these things together. After they've had time to think about it, how they want to say what they want to say, and all of that. So nothing is rushed and there's plenty of time to really think out what it is a person wants to say.”

Finally, know that it’s okay to get some assistance.

We all get into relationship binds and ruts, and it’s okay to feel like you could use a little professional help. Sometimes even just one or two sessions with a professional can help bring issues out into the clear light of day, so you can go back and make the most of your nights.

If you feel like you could use some professional help, go to www.aasect.org (the website for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) and use their therapist locator to find a professional in your area.

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Filed under: Relationships • Sex

soundoff (801 Responses)
  1. tom

    Entire article could be summed up like this – talk some where, in bed, out of bed, walking, side by side,round a campfire, in the car or email...just talk, just do it! talk about sex! it wont bite...or maybe it will and and you'll like it!

    February 23, 2012 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Bubba

    My wife and I talk about it like this: "Wear that little pink nightie tonight, ok?"

    February 23, 2012 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lila

      witn my husband goes like this: "Baby, what do you want me to wear tonight?" or he goes: "I think I need a massage". DONE.

      February 23, 2012 at 14:35 | Report abuse |
  3. J Sandusky

    "What do you mean,I 'can't use the back door' "? LOL

    February 23, 2012 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. HRPufnstuf

    with my wife, the answer is always Excuse #2. It's 2 early. It's 2 late. I'm 2 hot. I'm too cold. I'm 2 dirty. You're 2 dirty. I'm 2 clean. And on and on and on. I gave up years ago.

    February 23, 2012 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maelius

      That blows (well not in the good way). Sounds like she has no desire anymore. Probably time for some counseling in that area to find out the core issues.

      February 23, 2012 at 13:15 | Report abuse |
    • Seriously

      ...$50 and 30-minutes later you'll be happier...she'll be happier...and your marriage will be just fine.

      now go google

      February 23, 2012 at 13:32 | Report abuse |
  5. All By Myself......

    So what do you do when your wife is NOT interested in foreplay, is not interested in what you want, will not tell you what she wants,and will not talk about it. Doesn't move a muscle during sex (well, the last time 2 years ago, at least...) , crack even a smile. But says she's interested. If only I could tell how....but she's not saying.

    February 23, 2012 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sexless Marriage Sux

      How did we end up with the same wife?

      February 23, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse |
    • Click_here

      I was living with the same issue then, after reading my wife's journals, found out she has never had any interest in men physically and was coming to the realization that she was a lesbian. Seeking a good laywer now.

      February 23, 2012 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
    • The bearded lady

      Just where was that smile "cracked"? Make her smile in the right place and your problems will be solved.

      February 23, 2012 at 17:17 | Report abuse |
    • Dr. B

      Some people have had traumatic experiences in their past which cause difficulties with intimacy and physical affection. You might want to suggest therapy for your wife, because it sounds like she has something causing major problems. Childhood abuse, for example, or being raped can make people freeze up in physical situations the way you describe. She may be suffering a great deal. If you love her, get help for her. It will help both of you in the long run.

      February 27, 2012 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
  6. SCDad

    According to one of my social studies students, 7th grade:

    "You Shorty. Hows about I help you unload some of that junk in yo trunk?"

    February 23, 2012 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. That's the way it is

    With most, it's not how to start talking about sex, it's how to stop.

    February 23, 2012 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Wrong way

    That is so crazy because for me the roles are changed. I love to have sex and talking about it. But my husband is the opposite, he uses the "2 excuses" too. One time I got mad and sad that any man would kill have a wife who was excited by sex and wanted it all the time. He admitted that he too find our situation weird but that is the way he is. I just don't understand. I try different things but I just feel like I can't ever do enough

    February 23, 2012 at 18:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Satoshi

      The problem with bmieocng better is that you could be so dazzling that you can no longer have any contact with reality and to live in a world of your own. The risk of a crazy diamond is to not be able to accomplish simple things and to forget about feelings. I have seen brilliant people that have forgotten to smile, to eat, they had no practical skill.The only thing they knew was to study. Shine, but do not forget that you still live on Earth! Everybody has a special shine because we are unique.

      March 4, 2012 at 06:35 | Report abuse |
    • Wyatt

      Now do a graph for the number of innnceot civilians killed by the US in their war of aggression in Iraq. And add a graph for the iraq civilians killed and tortured under saddam. Since we care, and, you know, to be fair.

      March 6, 2012 at 01:07 | Report abuse |
  9. KnowsMore123

    just be a virgin forever, whats the big deal

    February 23, 2012 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply

    y would you type personal sexual issues on internet thats as bad as someone staring in your window watching you undress

    February 23, 2012 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GeorgeLeroyTirebiter

      ...hmmm... what're you wearing?

      February 24, 2012 at 00:50 | Report abuse |
    • middlechild81

      Um, maybe cuz they think it might help? Don't quite get the association between talking about something and staring in someone's window. Relax, pal.

      March 3, 2012 at 23:13 | Report abuse |
  11. sugartaste81

    Men always talk about the wives not wanting s*ex, (as demonstrated on this forum) but I think most of those cases are due to the women not feeling "romanced" anymore. Try sending her a dozen roses if she's not receptive to s*ex-if it doesn't work, it's psychological. Some women (and men) still harbor guilt when they talk about s*ex due to religion and/or society.

    February 23, 2012 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • middlechild81

      Oh it were only that simple...

      March 3, 2012 at 21:38 | Report abuse |
  12. Willy R

    Whats Sex???? Been so long I've forgotten.

    February 23, 2012 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. GeorgeLeroyTirebiter

    I agree w/ Rick Nelson.
    "ya can't please everyone, so ya, got ta please yourself".
    I'm the best I EVER had.

    February 24, 2012 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Nigel Hein

    hahaa...I agree with you George! our self is the best we ever had..! Honestly this article is really great and suggest such interesting solution.
    I really don't want my wife to have orgasm next year and have a very cold marriage life.
    Well, to all guys out there..I have here something that can help us when sexual problems occur.
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    February 24, 2012 at 01:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Pot

    just biding my time till I can get out. My wife is lame

    February 24, 2012 at 01:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. tamara reina

    Well reader that could true, but for some people like myself have not experience that,yet. Based upon research it has to start before foreplay. Women tend to have work a little hard to feel what a true meanful sex is about now men tends to be there already that's why must men do not like talking and foreplay they want to rush in to get a quick nut.

    February 24, 2012 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • What

      Uhm....maybe they just don't understand what you're saying and lose interest. I have no clue anything you just said, and I have a high level of reading comprehension.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
  17. Experienced Dude

    Okay guys, just get yourself a dude on the side. Best sex ever!

    February 24, 2012 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Observer

    Take this advice from the Messanger of Islam, Muhammad, and enjoy your life : "“One of you should not fulfill his sexual need from his wife like an animal, rather there should be between them foreplay of kissing and words.” (Musnad al-Firdaws Of al-Daylami, 2/55)

    February 26, 2012 at 02:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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      December 21, 2018 at 21:43 | Report abuse |
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    February 27, 2012 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Amy

    My husband and I hadn't had sex in 45 years and that one time was on our wedding night. As far as talking about it well my husband said that sex was uninportant, a total waste of his time, messy and disgusting and he would never do it again. He went right back to work the day after the wedding and I was informed that he was moving all his things down to the basement. Then on his first day off he went to the doctor and got himself fixed so that no matter what happened there would be no kids. My life is terrible, lonely, depressing, unwanted, unloved I keep hoping some day it will be over. I only stay with this horrible selfish man because of the money and benefits.

    February 28, 2012 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wowed by the responses

      Amy – get out of there, get yourself a job. Nothing is worth that. He's gay already!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 18:14 | Report abuse |
    • middlechild81

      For similar reasons many women stay in relationships that are physically, mentally and/or emotionally abusive. If money and "benefits" (I'd love to know what THEY are) are what you're after, then you're getting all you asked for and nothing more. But aren't you worth more than that?

      March 3, 2012 at 23:19 | Report abuse |
    • reeses peaces

      i agree you need to get out of the house, if not a job activities that you enjoy and maybe support groups where you can meet other people because you can have a loving life, if not with your husband with friends. maybe volunteer somewhere? your life is worth something and you can have happiness!!! i know you can! if you have to stay with him for the benefits, fine, but you can find fufillment outside the home. i know you can! 🙂

      March 23, 2012 at 11:32 | Report abuse |
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      December 18, 2018 at 00:58 | Report abuse |
  21. Dirty

    Wow Amy that is so terrible. Does he expect you to cheat !!!

    February 29, 2012 at 02:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Nate

    I was not sexually fulfilled and lonely, which caused a lot of other problems in my marriage. So after 18 years, and a lot of couseling, I divorced my wife. Through the internet, I found a lovely woman that had similar experiences, a spouse that never wanted to have sex. She felt lonely like i did. We were meant for each other. We both are willing to give and receive, because we UNDERSTAND what it is like to be rejected. We talk about sex, we joke about sex and are both very playful both in and out of bed. When we are out together, even in the grocery store, she will, without drawing attention to us, playfully brush her breasts against me, which brings a smile to my face. She is darling. My advise to people trapped in an unloving marriage? Get divorced and find someone with a like libido. It's expensive, but worth it!!!

    February 29, 2012 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Yatin

    Thanks for flagging this Eric! We did revciee your app. One thing I noticed is that if a user misses a required field in the embedded app, the page does not scroll back up to the top automatically, so you don't automatically see that a field is highlighted for response. Right now I am getting confirmation page on Firefox after completing app. If anyone else is having issues, please let me know! Thanks, Jon

    March 4, 2012 at 05:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tiki Mon

    Okay, some couples in some relationships will never ever have good sex. Poor partner choice, personal hangups, past abuse, plenty of reasons. If you're in such a relationship I'm very sorry, and talking won't help you. This article is not about you, so please keep the defeatist comments to yourself.

    For the rest of us, sex could probably get better if we work with our partner. Many people have been taught that sex is dirty or immoral. They may have a hard time even allowing themselves to enjoy sex, much less ask for what they like. So most people just sort of do what they THINK is right, with little or no feedback. Even a little bit of sharing between partners can break down barriers and open doors, provided they can find some place of trust to do it.

    It can be hard to get a repressed partner to open up, I've been there. Everyone jokes about "Catholic Guilt", but Sexual Guilt is far more widespread. Talking it out with a trusted partner who cares can help someone jettison a lot of sex-related baggage and enjoy themselves.

    March 9, 2012 at 17:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Amy

    I'll try to answer the above responses !
    Some one said he was gay ! If he was gay at least he would be interested in a relationship and sex. I've payed for a detective to follow him on many occasions but nothing was ever turned up. He goes no where, and even some of our neighbors never see his junky old car leave and there never visits from strange people.
    And as far as cheating goes I don't think he would know the difference. I come and go when ever I want. Him missing me is a joke.

    March 13, 2012 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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      December 29, 2018 at 09:01 | Report abuse |
  26. reeses peaces

    this man is emotionally abusive, plain and simple. i feel it will take some work but you can form new bonds with other people or strengthen bonds with other people already in your life? like family or friends or acquaintances you may want to get to know better? you have suffered long enough. group therapy or support groups of some sort may be a good place to start...i think emotional abuse if far more common than physical abuse. there needs to be a dialogue about it in this country...I wish i could take amy out for coffee. sometimes it does wonders to just get out of the house and bond with other people and see there's a whole other world outside of the abusive relationship....with some effort it may gradually diminish in importance and one day you may be able to leave...

    March 23, 2012 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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  28. d

    I gave up w/ my fridgid wife.
    at 55 years old, I couldn't bear waking up in 10 years and saying, I haven't enjoyed the last 20.
    Dalai Lama sid we're put here to enjoy live...well, sex is certainly a big part of it, IMHO

    March 26, 2012 at 07:39 | Report abuse | Reply
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