Ask any relationship therapist or couple who are in a lasting, healthy relationship. and they’ll tell you communication is the most important part of making things work. So it’s no surprise that good communication also leads to better sex. Still, fear of ruffling your significant other’s feathers can cause you to clam up when it comes to talking honestly about sex, but sweeping hard-to-tackle topics under the rug can make finding out the answers (and changing bedroom behavior) even harder.
These must-have conversations are important to maintaining a healthy and fulfilling sexual relationship.—and with our expert-approved strategies for approaching each, you’ll know exactly how to set the stage for intimate talks that will bring you even closer together and keep your sex life thriving.
1. The STI Test History Conversation
“My rule of thumb is that as soon as you know there’s some kind of mutual attraction, have the conversation,” says Laura Berman, Ph.D., a New York Times best-selling sex and relationship expert. It’s important to discuss STI and HIV tests, and the date of your last test. Lead the way by sharing your background first, says Berman. Simply saying, “I’ve been tested since I slept with some one last—what about you?” keeps the conversation light and less threatening. What doesn’t need to be discussed? Your “number,” says Berman. “All it does is create insecurities.” Whether you’ve been one other person or 100 people, a clean bill of health and a history of making safe decisions about your body are most important.
2. The Turn-Ons (and Turn-Offs) Conversation
Discussing what gets you going and what turns you off might be difficult, but it’s necessary. Bring up down-and-dirty dislikes outside of the bedroom, says Berman, who adds that a lot of couples make the mistake of having them in the moment, and that creates a very vulnerable environment. But rather than revealing the undesired behavior outright, frame the situation with a positive, says Andrea Syrtash, author of Cheat on Your Husband (With Your Husband). “Say, ‘I really love having sex with you, and I’d love to try this.’ Offering an alternative that might work better allows you to share a turn-on while also airing a turn-off,” says Syrtash.
3. The Frequency Conversation
When it comes to the frequency at which you get freaky, you don’t need to be in the same sentence but you do have to be on the same page, says Berman. What that means: “If you want it every day and she wants it once a month, that’s going to be a problem.” As with everything else, compromise is key. As unsexy as it sounds, try maintaining a sex schedule. It can give you the chance to grab props, get the shower steamy, or avoid unwanted interruptions. Berman suggests sharing an intimate sexual experience at least twice per week, but warns that there is no “magic number” that guarantees relationship bliss. Partners have to work together to find the frequency that makes them feel most fulfilled.
4. The Fantasy Conversation
Spilling scenarios that rev your engine gives your significant other the opportunity to bring your fantasy to life—ultimately bringing you closer together. But speaking up about sexy desires is easier said than done. If you’re uncomfortable, make an agreement that no judgment will be passed, says Berman. (After all, you can listen without having to jump on board.) Berman suggests creating a “fantasy map.” Both you and your partner will write down your desires and compare notes to create a master list. What if one of you is passionate about trying something the other doesn’t love? Identify where the desire comes from and brainstorm a creative compromise, says Berman. For example, if she wants to have sex in public—and you don’t—suggest laying down a blanket on the back porch where there’s a slight chance of your neighbors sneaking a peak.
5. The Cheating Conversation
What constitutes cheating and infidelity isn’t black and white. But tackling the topic of cheating is easiest—and met with fewer defenses—when it’s not prompted by suspicion. So don’t wait until something goes wrong to define what behavior won’t be tolerated. As a couple, make a list of acts that you consider cheating (do you draw the line at touching, but dancing is okay?). Don’t forget to consider tech: Will you know each other’s phone or email passwords? Will you be friends with your exes on Facebook or Snapchat?
6. The Love Language Conversation
Know what acts make your partner feel loved and appreciated, whether it’s as simple as holding hands or as steamy as sending sexy text messages, and make a point to do those things is tantamount to maintaining a satisfying sexual relationship, says Berman. According to Gary Chapman’s best-selling The 5 Love Languages, people give and receive romantic love in five different ways: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation or compliments, acts of service, and physical touch. Couples with different love languages can still completely satisfy each other as long as they both communicate what makes them feel most loved. Berman suggests writing down three to five sentences that start with “I feel loved when…” and sharing them with each other. You can include everything from “when you hold my hand” or “when you initiate sex” to “when you do the laundry without being asked.” Also take notice of how your partner treats you when they’re being nice, says Berman. Do they compliment you? “We tend to love others in the way we most like to be loved,” says Berman. “But model your actions after theirs and you’ll probably be on target.”
7. The Check-in Conversation
It’s important to remember is that discussions about sex aren’t one and done. “Our wants and needs evolve and what does it for you while dating or during your first year of marriage may not hold true in ten years,” says Syrtash. In fact, the longer a couple is together, the less likely they are to accurately predict their partner’s preferences, she says. That’s why communication is key. Let each other know if your tastes are evolving.