Sexual communication: non-awkward ways to talk about your needs and desires

Fountain pen drawing picture of heart in notebook

We can’t all be Casanova, so for many of us sexual communication can be tricky. One of the most frequently asked questions to advice columnists – and sex bloggers like myself – is how people can initiate sex more often in their relationships. Sometimes they want to know how to deal with a mismatched libido, other times it’s simply a question of knowing how to get the conversation started.

Do you go for the simple and direct “Fancy a shag tonight, darling?”, or perhaps something a little more subtle: a hand on the knee, and a murmur of “Do you have any fantasies I can fulfil?”

Well, last week I spotted in the news that a couple had come up with an idea for making sexual communication a little bit easier: a sex button. It seems like a ‘quick fix’, but like most quick fixes, it probably won’t work. Let’s see what it actually is, and whether there are some better options for sexual communication within a couple.

This sex button won’t solve sexual communication problems

The idea behind LoveSync is that both people have a button which is plugged in via USB on their side of the bed, and if they fancy a shag they press their button. If their partner has also pressed their button, theirs will turn green, thus demonstrating that both people are up for it. The aim is to make sexual communication easier. But will it work? I have my doubts.

The inventors think that using the button as a means to initiate sex will increase sexual frequency, as well as help you avoid ‘awkward’ rejection if you ask your partner outright for sex and they say no. But being able to say ‘no’ to sex – and being able to receive a ‘no’ without going into an existential meltdown – is part and parcel of sexual communication. It’s important to be able to do both of these things, and any gadgets that seek to remove this layer of sexual communication could ensure couples run into problems further down the line.

For instance: if you want to withdraw consent partway through sex, if you suddenly realise that you’re not up for it, or something is a little bit painful, or any of the other myriad reasons why you might decide to stop, the button isn’t going to help you there. What’s more, the button being limited to just one room of the house means you’re limiting the time and space you can go about asking for sex: usually in the morning or evening, when you happen to be in bed already.

There are many issues – both practical and ethical – with trying to use technology to circumvent sexual communication. And personally I think that if tech has a place in the bedroom, it’s in helping to facilitate more conversations, not fewer.

So how do you go about doing that? How can you initiate conversations about sex that will enhance your sexual communication skills and help bring you closer together?

How to improve your sexual communication

First thing’s first: if you find sexual communication difficult, you are not alone. A while ago we discussed here how people frequently over- or under-estimate how often their partner is initiating sex. And as I mentioned before, this is one of the most common things I’m asked about. Some people find it awkward to talk about sex, because society’s messages about sex are mixed at best and damaging at worst. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t leap right in and open a discussion about your fantasies.

Use prompts

There are plenty of things that you can use as a jumping off point to start a discussion about your needs and desires. Some people like to use porn or sex blogs as inspiration – sharing favourite scenes or posts with their partner, and asking ‘what do you think of this? Is it something you might like to try?’

If this feels a little too much like jumping in at the deep end, you might prefer to try something more structured – like a game which gives you a few pre-set ideas to explore, then ramps up to bring in different kinks and ideas as the rounds go on.

1001 sex games is a great place to start because… well… there are so many different sex games to choose from! It’s only £14.95, and will give you lots to think about and discuss with your partner: likes, dislikes and everything in between. Or browse the full section of sex games to see what else we’ve got on offer!

Sex games like 1001 games can be a great jumping-off point to explore different kinks and ideas

Ask open questions

Often the most difficult part of starting sexy chat is knowing where to start. You don’t necessarily want to leap in with ‘can we try out X fetish?’ if your partner isn’t in the mood to talk. So pick a time that works for both of you, maybe even add a ‘date night’ to your calendar and arrange to spend an evening sharing a bottle of wine or tipple of your choice, and using some of the following questions as a jumping-off point:

  • What do you enjoy the most about our current sex life? What would you like to do more?
  • Do you have any fantasies that you would like to try in the future? How could we go about fulfilling them?
  • Are there any sex toys you’ve always wanted to try? Pro-tip: my partner and I sometimes spend time browsing sex toy websites together, making a wishlist of things we haven’t yet tried. Have a go at looking through SexToys.co.uk with your partner and making a note of anything that you both think might be fun to play with!
  • When do you tend to want sex more? (morning/afternoon/evening, weekends, certain times of the month/year etc? For instance – many people find themselves much more up for sex in summer than in winter)
  • Are there any sexual things that tend to turn you off? Or absolute ‘no go’ areas that you would prefer not to explore?
  • What are your preferred terms to use during dirty talk? (This one, I confess, I include because I’m a sex writer and I find that words are incredibly personal – some people adore the ‘c’ word while for others it can be an instant turn-off)

Try to keep your questions light and open-ended, and listen carefully to your partner’s answers. Don’t be afraid of asking them to elaborate on how they feel and what they want: if you haven’t done much sexual communication like this before it may take both of you a while to get into the practice of articulating your needs and desires.

Write a ‘sex menu’

A ‘sex menu‘ is a document listing your sexual needs and desires, as well as some of the things you know you don’t want. If face-to-face communication feels tricky or awkward for you, or you just want to do something more comprehensive than the chat detailed above, a sex menu could be the perfect solution.

Each of you take the time, on your own, to write down what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy, including your favourite things as well as some of your ‘hard limits’ (i.e. things you don’t want to do). Try to be as open as possible, but also leave open the possibility that you can edit and add to this document at any time, if you discover something new that presses your buttons.

Sexual communication: the learning is never over!

The most important thing to remember about sexual communication is that it shouldn’t just happen the once. It should be an ongoing process, and one which you aim to get better at over time. If you feel awkward starting off the sexy chat, hopefully these tips have given you a springboard to start talking more openly with your partner. And the idea is that once you get going, these conversations will become easier over time, as you both get more used to articulating your needs and listening to your partner’s too.

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