How to Talk about Sexual Desires

November 30, 2021

It’s not always easy to open up about sex. But letting a partner in on your wants and fantasies can strengthen your bond.

We are inundated with ideas about what ‘great sex’ looks like. We see countless romantic movies featuring couples who are completely in rhythm with one another, who never need to discuss what they want, never misread each other’s sexual cues, never bump heads or act awkwardly.

They just fall effortlessly into bed in a loving embrace – then cut to the scene where they smile up at the camera, basking in a warm sexual glow. On the other end of the spectrum, we see pornographic videos that depict women as ready to have sex at the drop of a hat (often without any foreplay) and men who take control and know exactly which sexual manoeuvre and position will instantaneously lead to pleasure and orgasms for all involved.

But as anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows all too well, romantic movies and pornographic videos are a far cry from what people typically experience when they engage in sexual activity with another.

In the real world, you don’t automatically know what your partner is thinking or what they want. You need to talk to them to figure out what feels satisfying. You need to check in with your partner about whether you are both ‘in the mood’ at the same time, or what they might need to help them get interested. You need to figure out what kind of sex you feel like having – whether that’s making love, having a ‘quickie’ or trying something new and adventurous.

You need to give in-the-moment feedback so your partner knows what feels good and what doesn’t. And, if you want to effectively navigate and even improve your sexual relationships, you need to talk openly and honestly about your sexual desires and fantasies.

Sex, however, remains a topic that many feel uncomfortable talking about. Not only have many of us grown up receiving direct and indirect messages suggesting that sex isn’t something to discuss with others, we can also feel shame about our desires (what turns us on sexually) and fantasies (sexually arousing thoughts that we might, or might not, want to act upon), and wonder if our partners will be open to hearing about them.

For instance, perhaps you worry that your partner might feel uncomfortable if you were to suggest that you want to role-play as a nurse and a patient. Or that they might be offended that you think it could be sexy to watch pornography together, or to include another person in your sexual experiences.

Maybe you’re concerned that if you didn’t share a desire earlier on in your relationship – that you’d like to use a vibrator during sex, for instance – it might be too late in the game to share that now. Or you might worry that your partner will take it as a sign that they aren’t good enough.

But whether your relationship is relatively new or long-running, talking about sex is a key component of sexual satisfaction. Research reliably shows that those of us who communicate more openly about sex (during sexual activity and between sexual encounters) tend to be more sexually satisfied.

And the potential benefits don’t stop there: sexual satisfaction is itself associated with general relationship satisfaction. When we communicate openly about our sexuality, it’s possible that it will have a positive spillover effect in other areas of our intimate relationships.

As a registered marriage and family therapist who works with clients who have various sexual concerns, I have seen firsthand the value of being vulnerable enough to share sexual desires and fantasies with partners.

Whether it involves identifying and embracing ‘vanilla’ desires (such as wanting more deep kissing during sex or setting aside time to cuddle after making love) or exploring the kinkier side of sexuality (such as suggesting the introduction of bondage or the possibility of including multiple sexual partners), sharing what we want sexually – while perhaps a bit scary – can ultimately be incredibly rewarding for ourselves and our relationships.

Take time to discover your desires

Before you start a conversation with your partner, take the time to thoughtfully consider – and be curious about – your sexual desires and fantasies. Many people fall into patterns of what they think they should want based on social norms and gender roles. For example, many are taught that women should want romantic, intimate sex while men are mostly looking for physical release and sexual pleasure.

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