I have met so many people in my sex counselling practice who feel tentative talking about sex openly and explicitly with their partners. Often times there are fears of being judged, feeling weird about asking for wants and needs, concerns that talking about sex will make partners feel inadequate or “bad at sex.” This can be a really big impediment to experiencing exciting, playful, enjoyable, pleasurable sex! How can we get to know each others wants, desires, and preferences (or sweet spots) without being able to talk about it?
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to have a live, verbal, explicit, conversation about sex to build-up your confidence talking about sex. And you don’t necessarily need couples therapy or a relationship therapist to do it!
Personally, I think verbal communication is overrated. It can be very effective! Absolutely! But there are many folks who use sign language. You’re reading my blogpost right now. Many of us listen to music or use visual symbols from street signs to abstract paintings. These are all obviously completely legitimate ways of getting our messages across. Why should talking about sex be any different?
As long as everyone understands what each other means and feels safe, comfortable, and confident-enough, you’re good to go!
Here are 3 ways to communicate about sex that can either be a great place to start, where you end-up, or to supplement those longer more explicit conversations:
- The Gottman 10-point rating scale.
The Gottman’s are relationship therapy experts and a married dream-team. John Gottman has been studying relationships for over 2 decades and Julia Schwartz Gottman is a clinical therapist. Together, they study and work with couples to create “good enough” relationships. Part of a good enough relationship involves good enough sex and what they were finding was that many people in couples therapy were really struggling to initiate sex. That’s where the 1-10 scale comes in. 1 = no interest in sex what so ever and 10 = 100% down for the sex. It goes something like this…
One partner asks, “on a scale of 1 to 10, how interested in sex are you right now?”
The other partner might say, “Umm… I’m about a 4.”
Then the first partner can ask, “okay… is there anything I can do to get you to a 6?”
The other partner could respond with, “Ya know, I have a bunch of chores that are stressing me out. If you folded the laundry and washed the dishes I would have way more space to consider sex.”
One thing you might want to establish with your partners ahead of time is what each number means. For me, a 6 would mean, “If I had sex right now I would enjoy it but I am not going to bring the energy for it.” And that might be okay for a partner who is at a 10. Whereas a 2 might mean, “I really don’t want to have a sex and it would take a lot to get me there.”
- Using emoji’s
With permission from a previous workshop attendee, it is with great enthusiasm I share this next one with you. I once met someone who used the different colours of the heart emoji’s to communicate with their partner about their moods/needs as it related to their disabilities. Each partner felt a lot of shame about asking for help or admitting to certain insecurities and so they devised a way to gently start the conversation.
For example, a blue heart might mean feeling depressed while a red heart might have meant down for sex! Maybe you want to assign certain emoji’s to mean certain types of sex you’re interested in on any given day. Anything goes as long as everyone understands what each symbol stands for.
- Turn to our kinky friends for great advice!
Kinky folks can easily be found in situations where verbal communication is not possible or direct communication could take people’s heads out of the fantasy of it all. Gags may be involved, fantasy lingo, no-talking rules— there is all sorts of delicious fun that could happen! So kinky folks have come up with a lot different ways to uniquely communicate with partners. I have frequently suggested these in my sex counselling practice!
You may have heard of the green light (keep going, I like this), yellow light (I’m uncertain and/or I like this but proceed with caution), red light (stop). The concept of safe words has made it into popular media quite a bit: a word or phrase to immediately end a scene or sexual play that becomes overwhelming. Safe words came about because sometimes in scene people want to say, “no, stop!” as part of the fantasy but they actually want things to keep going.
Safe words can also be a great way to start practicing saying “no” when saying the actual word “no” is difficult (a common occurrence for women and femme folks with histories of sexual violence, or who have just like, you know, grown-up in this fiercely traumatizing patriarchal culture that devalues femme’s needs and prioritizes men).
Coming up with specific phrases that feel right and easy to use for you can work really well, too. Maybe if there are concerns of deflating your partner’s delicate confidence (and I say that with full compassion) instead of, “I don’t like that” you decide together that, “I’d like to try something else” would be easier to say, easier to hear, and lead to the same end result you’re both looking for: everyone having their needs acknowledged and attended to!
Didn’t see your favourite way of talking about sex in this blog? Add your techniques in the comments below!