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Sexual Communication with a Partner

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Communicating with a partner is an essential component of sexual activity and intimacy. Being open and honest with each other can lead to greater sexual comfort and satisfaction. Being able to communicate effectively with partners about sex is difficult for many people. There can be a discomfort level that arises when a person tries to discuss their desires but is unsure how to express them. The points that follow offer information regarding sexual communication techniques.

Be Clear

Clear and concise communication with a partner before sexual activity is important for several reasons, even though it can often be difficult. Communication is an ongoing process that includes learning about and understanding the other’s boundaries, needs, preferences, and desires. Communicating clearly before sex can allow for easier conversations later in the sexual relationship.

The first step to effective sexual communication is a clear consent process. For more information regarding the consent process, view the Safer Sex page.

Although simple communication regarding consent is important, the process of clear communication regarding sexual activity is much more than saying “yes” or “no.” It is a matter of helping each other understand in detail the desires, needs, and wants of the other person. For example, one could communicate whether foreplay is an important component of sexual activities or if there is a desire for sex toys, and if so, which ones. You also may decide to share your sexual fantasies if both of you are comfortable doing so.

Sexual communication does not always have to be verbal. Body language is also an important aspect of communication, and can be portrayed with one’s eyes, hands, mouth, facial expression, and body. You can use your words to convey your sexual desires such as stating, “touch here,” touch there,” “harder,” “softer,” “more,” “less,” “faster,” and “slower.” All these words can be used to describe quickly and efficiently what you want, but this can also result in miscommunication, such as if the word “faster” is misinterpreted to mean “harder.” This is where it is extremely important to communicate clearly, so you and your partner can enjoy a positive experience when engaging in sexual activity. Along with communicating when sexual activities need to be adjusted or changed, it is also important to affirm when they are going well. Words such as, “right there,” “that feels good,” or “keep doing that” are useful.

As stated previously, communication can also be nonverbal during sexual activity. For example, you can move your partner’s hand exactly where you want them to touch, push your body into or near theirs, or adjust your pace, tone, and strength of movement and touch. Combining nonverbal and verbal communication can enhance desire and pleasure.

Be Positive

The golden rule not only applies in greater society, but also the bedroom. In other words, “the golden rule applies in the sheets as much as on the streets.”1 These sayings stress the importance of patience, kindness, support, compassion and helpfulness when learning about sexuality between partners. A vital part of sexual communication is to remember to be positive and patient and avoid focusing too much on criticism or frustration. Talking about sexual activity can be extremely uncomfortable for many individuals, but as stated above, the communication is important to ensure both people have the information needed to engage in consensual sexual activity. This portion of the Golden Rule is especially important when accommodations for disability are necessary. It is imperative to remain patient, supportive, and helpful, in part because sexual activity may not always be spontaneous and may require extra time for positioning, as well as finding the "key spots" that may help partners reach orgasm.

Work on being positive rather than being negative when talking to your partner, as the goal is to have open and honest communication at a time when each person may feel vulnerable. By being helpful and productive instead of focusing too much on something that you may not have enjoyed, talk to them, and explain why you did not like something. For instance, a woman with a disability may find that the pressure was too hard or too soft, that a certain position was painful, or that there was no pleasure. Communicating about such things in a kind, non-critical manner shows that you understand where the other person is coming from. It is essential that people consider their partner’s needs and wants while respecting boundaries.

Listen and Ask Questions

Listening can be difficult as many of us tend to start thinking of our response while the other person is still talking, instead of actually “listening” to the person and what they are saying. To genuinely listen to your partner, you must focus on what they are saying and really hear them. For example, if your partner were to say, “when you are using your fingers during foreplay, I need you to press harder on my clitoris,” they are saying “here is how you can make me happy.” It can also be helpful to ask follow-up questions to find out exactly what your partner is trying to say. Some examples are “So what I hear you saying is…” “It seems like this made you feel like…” “So next time to avoid that feeling we can try…”

Possible Topics of Discussion

  • Consent for sexual activity
  • Contraceptives
  • Lubrication to help reduce vaginal or other dryness
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Boundaries-what you are willing to do, what is a hard no, what things you are open to but are not wanting to do yet
  • The use of sex toys
  • Positions for sexual activity
  • Erogenous zones, or areas of the body that excite sexual feelings when touched
  • Lights on or off
  • Sexual fantasies, or something sexual that you would like to happen but may or may not be possible
  • Turn-ons and turn-offs-what are different things that get you excited for sexual activity and what are things that do not excite you, such as the way someone touches you and certain smells or tastes
  • Adult pornography-sexual subject matter found in books, pictures, videos, and magazines to create arousal and give sexual pleasure to those who use it
  • Bondage-sexual activity where one individual is under control of another individual. This involves things such as being tied up, handcuffed, blindfolded. (REMINDER: Bondage needs consent.). View our page on Safer Sex.
  • Making a sexual bucket list - items that you would like to experience sexually that may or may not be a fantasy, for example, sex with more than one person (a three-some), receiving or giving oral sex, using a sex toy, or having sex somewhere other than the bedroom
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Resources

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Booth, H. (2019, May 20). Start low, and go slow: How to talk to your partner about sex. Accessed December 13, 2021.

Carmen, T. (2019, May 14). Communication, humor, and experimentation: 10 tips for disabled sex. December 13, 2021.

Disability Horizons. (2019, February 15). 8 accessible sex toys and aids for anyone with a disability. Accessed December 13, 2021.

Goddard, A.J. (2020, September 23). 5 ways your self-esteem impacts your sexuality. Accessed December 13, 2021.

Kaufman, M., Silverberg, C., & Odette, F. (2003). The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness.

Markway, B. (2016, June 25). Three enticing ways to improve communication and intimacy. Accessed December 13, 2021.

Options. (2020, August 06). Intimacy and relationships. Accessed December 13, 2021.

SCOPE. (n.d.). Talking about intimacy, sex and relationship. Accessed December 13, 2021.

Sportsheets. (2020). Best sex toys & sexual positioning devices for people with disabilities. Accessed December 13, 2021.

Sportsheets. (2020). Sex talk 101: How to communicate better with your partner before, during, and after sex. Accessed December 13, 2021.

The Mix. (2019, June 28). How to talk to your partner about sex. Accessed December 13, 2021.

Thomas, S. (2018, April 17). 8 BDSM sex tips to try if you're a total beginner. Accessed December 13, 2021.