If you were raised to believe that talking about sex is awkward, dirty, or inappropriate, then it can be really nerve-wracking to do! Even people who are well-practiced in talking about sex can still feel a little bit awkward talking frankly about it.
Despite the baggage, talking about your sex life can be liberating—and it’s also essential if you want to have really great sex. Talking about our sexual desires and boundaries can help us get our sexual needs met, feel closer to our partners, improve our sexual health, and get clear on what we are and aren’t down for.
You might know that you want to be able to talk about these things, but have no idea where to start. Initiating that conversation can be challenging! That’s why we’re sharing three ways to start the bigger conversations, plus five ways to affirm your desires and boundaries in the moment. Start talking.
How to Start the Conversation
Many of us were taught that we should only talk about sex while we’re having sex or when we’re right about to have sex. The reality is that those conversations go much more smoothly when we have them outside of the bedroom, ideally before sex has happened. But if sex has already happened, you can still use these strategies!
No matter how long you’ve been having sex with your current partners, keeping an open line of communication is a good idea. These tips will help you get started.
1. Do a yes/no/maybe survey together
Yes/no/maybe surveys might sound like a middle school activity that you did to kill time, but they’re actually helpful tools that can get you and your partners on the same page about what you’re into.
Fully digital options, like We Should Try It, allow you and one partner to complete the survey separately—and when you get the results, you’ll only find out about the things you’ve matched on. Other worksheet-style options, like this one from Autostraddle, are more narrative and can be done together.
Planning to do one of these activities together can open up the conversation and bring a bit more levity into it. You may even have to look some things up together! Use your survey results to jumpstart a bigger conversation about the things that you like and don’t like—and then keep that conversation going.
2. Plan time for a sex talk date
Taking sexual conversations out of the bedroom can help you feel a little bit less vulnerable. Work with your partners to find a day and time that works well for you to have a deeper conversation about sex—you want everyone to feel like they have plenty of time to have the conversation and feel some feelings afterward (or maybe even have sex).
Then, decide on something cozy or lightly active to do. You might go for a walk around your favorite park together, have a cup of tea on the couch, or make and eat a meal together. Use that activity time to begin your conversation. The extra activity can help you know what to do with your hands if you start to feel awkward, and gives you something to do with any extra energy.
You might not cover everything in that conversation, so consider setting a recurring date (every third Saturday at 4 pm, for example) to keep checking in. Practice makes better!
3. Play a game
Talking about sex can be fun and playful! Using a game to guide your conversation can give you simple questions to ask and answer and can make things feel a little more fun. Options like the Sex Talk Game are designed to be done by couples and in a specific order, which can give some extra structure to your conversation, too.
How to Affirm a Sexual Boundary in the Moment
Setting sexual boundaries before sex ever happens is really key to great sex. But if you’ve already been having sex with someone for a while (or maybe you’re about to have sex like, right now), having some strategies to affirm your boundaries in-the-moment is incredibly helpful.
If you’re finding yourself struggling to advocate for yourself during sex, here are some phrases to help you get started.
1. “It’s important to me that…”
If you’re a pro at using “I statements” in moments of conflict, this option is going to come pretty easily to you. Your sexual why helps affirm its importance and improves clarity.
So you might say, “It’s important to me that we use barrier methods consistently because we’re both having sex with other people and I want to reduce our STI transmission risk as much as possible. I notice that we keep running low—let’s take a minute to set up a recurring delivery.”
In that example, you’ve established why using barrier methods consistently is important to you and you follow it up with a solution. That can help you and your partners get on the same page and stay on the same page as much as possible. Talking about sex and relationships, birth control, what feels good, if sex toys are involved all are fair game when describing what you want.
2. “I’m not feeling _______ right now. Could we ______ instead?”
Sometimes, we’re just not feeling the things we usually are. That’s totally okay! It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done something before; you’re always allowed to not want to do it.
Setting a boundary this way might look like, “I’m not feeling oral sex right now. Could we masturbate together instead?” or “I’m not feeling sex right now. Could we go for a walk instead?”
Notice that neither option requires you to share why you don’t want to do whatever. If you want to share why you’re not feeling something, that’s fine! But you don’t have to, because simply not wanting to do something is enough of a reason.
3. “That part of my body is feeling ____ right now. Could you touch ____ instead?”
If you’re having sex and find that suddenly, some part of your body is feeling a little off, you get to slow things down, pause, or stop entirely. If you want to stop that particular action, but keep going in general, this boundary framework is a great way to propose something new. You can also modify this to be more specific instead of just saying “that part of my body.”
Here’s what that might look like: “My clitoris is feeling overstimulated right now. Could you touch my nipples instead?”
Remember, just like you always have the right to say that you don’t want a certain part of your body touched, your partner also has the right to say “no” to the new thing you’ve proposed. So, if you’ve said “My anus is feeling tense right now. Could you give me head instead?” your partner might not be down to give you head in that moment.
That’s okay! If that’s the case, you might find another activity that you both want to do. Or, if not, you can take a break and revisit whenever you’re both ready.
4. “[Insert safe word here!]”
You might think of safe words as something that only people who are into kinky sex or BDSM use, but the reality is that safe words and safe gestures are great tools for everyone, regardless of the type of sex you’re having.
Coming up with your safe word or gesture in advance is essential because you and your partners need to be clear on what they are before sex happens. You want your safe word to be noticeably out of place—something like “oranges!” or “cotton candy!” or something that has nothing to do with summery food items.
It can also be helpful to set one word that means “stop immediately” and another that means “slow down/ease up.” But you don’t have to do that, and you can use your safeword as an opportunity to quickly stop, regroup, and tend to your needs.
5. “I love how much more relaxed I feel when we use _______. Do you have some with you?”
This one is another cousin of those “I statements.” This framework is a great way to nudge someone toward affirming your boundary.
You might say something like, “I love how much more relaxed I feel when we use condoms during oral. Do you have some with you?”
Being relaxed helps you be more physically and mentally in-the-moment during sex, and it can even help orgasms happen more easily! So, if there’s something sex-related that helps alleviate your stress, bring it up in the bedroom. Barrier methods and lube are two common options here, but you also might think of something like background music (especially if you have roommates or other people in your house).
Setting and affirming your boundaries (both sexual and otherwise) is a lifelong practice, but it gets easier with time! The next time you find yourself struggling to maintain your boundaries, try out one of the options on this list and see how it goes. We’re cheering for you!