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Sexual Communication 101: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex & Why it Matters

March 13, 202313 min read

Communication is key for great sex. 

“Sexual communication is critical to the development and maintenance of healthy sexual function.” ~ Masters & Johnson

Studies have shown that sexual communication positively impacts:

  • Desire.

  • Arousal.

  • Lubrication.

  • Orgasm.

  • Erectile function.

  • And overall sexual function.

It can even reduce pain.

Studies have also shown that a lack of communication contributes to sexual difficulties and dissatisfaction.

It’s like there’s a loop where communication improves function and satisfaction … and improvements in function and satisfaction positively affect further communication.

I'm sure you don't need studies to know that communication is important!

Even though it’s important, talking about sex openly and honestly and sharing what you like and don’t like is hard. In a review of 30 years of studies on sexual communication, it was found that it just doesn’t happen much.

But it needs to happen.

So, let’s dive into sexual communication and look at how you can more easily talk to your partner(s) about sex.

What is sexual communication and what can it include?

Sexual communication has been defined as:

“The combination of sexual self-disclosure, the quality of the sexual communication, and the frequency of the communication.” ~ Metts & Cupach

So, it’s basically high-quality, regular, mutual sharing about yourself sexually, which increases satisfaction and intimacy.

Sexual self-disclosure is about communicating all the parts of you that make up what I call your pleasure profile - - your wants, desires, likes, preferences, needs, values, vision, fantasies, identity, experiences, etc.

And it can include:

  • Verbal communication.

  • Non-verbal communication.

  • Communication through physical touch.

  • Consent conversations.

  • Listening.

  • Standing for what’s true to you.

  • Sharing information about health and risk factors.

  • Flirting.

  • Dirty talk.

  • Resolving conflict.

  • Setting goals.

  • Things that are working well.

  • Things that are not working.

  • Continuous exploration of your uniqueness.

  • Working through mismatches and challenges that arise.

And so much more.

Why is sexual communication so hard?

Sexual communication is hard because we often feel ashamed, vulnerable, embarrassed, awkward and scared and we want to avoid those feelings.

Why do we feel that way?

Well, I could go on a few long rants about some of this but I won’t. I’ll give you the short version. 😉

One reason is that because of societal expectations and influences, we’re taught not to talk about it (actually, we’re not taught how to communicate effectively in general, but especially when it comes to sex).

Many people have childhood experiences of “the talk” that are full of false information (we do almost anything to avoid saying “sex” or call anatomy what it really is). The message is often communicated through resistance and embarrassment as well as a message of “only do it this way in this context.” And the result is shame.

Influences from religion and the world in general reinforce the shame and tell us that who we are and what we want is wrong in some fundamental way. This silences, suppresses and stifles all the beautiful things that make us unique until it’s all locked up and secret inside our own heads.

Shitty, incomplete and one-sided sexuality education perpetuates the problem and often continues the message of “only do it this way, in this context.” Anyone who falls outside of that supposed norm is left feeling alone, wrong, broken and like there must be something abnormal about them.

Messages from the media and porn can compound the issue and contribute to body shame, false expectations, faking pleasure or orgasms and feeling like we don’t measure up in terms of our sexual anatomy.

Good communication requires honesty, authenticity and vulnerability. But shame hides and silences. It results in the opposite of communication

My own story is an example of this. I didn’t say anything for a long time about who I was or what I wanted because of shame. I held it all inside and buried it.

And I’m not alone in this. It’s so common and maybe you can relate, too?

Something that’s  important to know …

So, all of these factors contribute to not communicating about sex because it feels hard, awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable and scary (because of fear of judgment or rejection).

But the truth is that in most cases, there's NOTHING wrong with you.

You're totally normal even though so much out there in the world tells you you're not.

But what's normal, anyway?

The idea of "normal" implies that there's a comparison to some standard of what's considered good, acceptable or right.

In our world, there are so many messages from so many sources that tell us that this imaginary, perfect standard exists.

Wondering if we're normal is a desire to be the same as the imaginary standard ... to belong and to know we're okay.

But the messages also tell us that we don't measure up to the standard, or that we're wrong in some way and they create confusion, fear and shame. 

  • About our bodies.

  • About our genitals, specifically.

  • About what we want, like or don't like.

  • About the fantasies we have that turn us on.

  • About our identities, orientations and expressions.

Shame causes us to feel wrong inside ourselves and to hide who we are. That's the purpose of it - - to keep things hidden or silent.

The thing is? The standard is bullshit.

It's made up as part of the systems that oppress, shame, silence, marginalize, stigmatize and then promote all the things you need to purchase or do that supposedly make you more acceptable.

What's true is that there is no one right or wrong way to be when it comes to things like your genitals, desires, fantasies, orientation, identity, expression, abilities, etc.

Everything about you and every other human is unique. Your uniqueness is exactly right as it is. There is nothing wrong with you or anything about you sexually.

In fact, there’s a spectrum ... more like a circle, because even a spectrum is still based on a binary ... of awesome uniqueness for basically everything.

And it’s all normal … if we even want to use that word.

More than that, it’s all perfect, good, acceptable, worthy, right, amazing, okay, magical and every other awesome thing.

My vision for the world is that you know this about yourself.

Not to mention the fact that Justin Lehmiller’s studies show that a high percentage of people have similar fantasies and curiosities (e.g. same sex fantasies, non-monogamy in various forms, new things, BDSM), so they're common.

DISCLAIMERS: 1) If you’re experiencing pain, please see a medical practitioner and 2) I’m not referring here to anything that’s illegal, non-consensual, exploitative, or a risk to safety. Please seek support if you're in an unsafe situation.

The importance of honesty ...

So, even though sexual communication feels hard and despite the fact that there are so many factors that affect it, it’s essential for healthy sex.

And the foundation of it is honesty.

Honesty is one of Doug Braun-Harvey’s principles of sexual health that I talked about in a past post.

It’s actually kind of a deep idea, more than what might come to mind at first when you hear the word. It’s more than just not telling a lie, for example.

It’s about having enough self-awareness to be able to be honest with yourself about who you are sexually, what you like and don’t like, your values, what you really want, what you need, what has affected you in the past, and so much more … so you can be true to yourself and not fake it or go along with something just to please someone else.

And it involves communication of these things to others in a way that’s open, vulnerable and truthful.

It’s about creating a space of safety for yourself and others and not exploiting your own trust with yourself or a partners’ trust.

Kind of a big deal, right?

So, what can happen with honesty when shame comes into the picture and how can that affect sex?

Well, shame hides and puts on an image. It people-pleases. So, it’s not honest … or is only partially honest with what feels safe to be honest about.

There may be self-honesty but the truth of what you truly desire is kept silent and secret inside your own head. This is what I used to do.

Sometimes, though, you may not want to face what you really want and so, you bury it and keep it as far away as you can from even yourself.

And you most definitely hide it from others out of fear that they would reject or judge you if they knew, or that they’d confirm your fear that you really are shameful.

When this is the case, you’re not honest about who you are sexually, what you like and don’t like, your values, what you really want, what you need, what has affected you in the past and so many other things.

So, you’re not true to yourself.

And you and any partners aren’t experiencing the fullness of what it could be, so there isn’t honesty in the expression.

I can totally relate to this because in the past, I kept my kinky desires to myself. For example, I didn’t share about my latex fantasy, my desire to dominate (especially dressed in shiny, wet, black leather) or my thoughts about the feel and sensation of candle wax. I also kept my sexual orientation hidden and because of shame in general, I also put on a mask or an image and tried to be someone I thought others would accept or like or approve of, and not reject or judge.

So, there was definitely a lack of honesty with myself and others, even though I didn’t necessarily recognize it at the time.

And there was a lack of authenticity. Honesty and authenticity are closely connected. They each impact the other and sort of play off each other. If you’re not honest, you’re not fully authentic and vice versa. You can see that in the bit of my story that I just shared.

What’s effective or quality sexual communication?

It’s clear that sexual communication is essential. But, how do you have effective or “quality sexual communication” as the definition at the beginning refers to it?

It starts with openness about your values, perspectives, likes, dislikes, preferences, turn ons, turn offs, kinks, etc.

Rather than typical communication techniques (e.g. “I” language, paraphrasing, etc.), Peggy Kleinplatz found:

“Participants emphasized complete and total sharing of themselves, both verbally and non-verbally, with their partners before, during and after sexual encounters.”

Complete and total sharing. That's the openness I referred to above.

Peggy Kleinplatz also found that "sensitivity, real listening and paying attention to little things” were important.

Effective communication also involves a willingness to talk about positive and negative things.

And it involves frequently or regularly talking about your sexual relationships.

I outline four keys to effective communication:

  1. Openness to honestly and vulnerably talk about the elements of your uniqueness and what gets in the way for you.

  2. Openness to be present and listen to your partner’s uniqueness and what gets in the way for them.

  3. Openness to explore individually and together and to regularly talk about what’s working and not working.

  4. Awareness of your own communication style and personality and your partner’s style and personality.

A couple of important things to note:

  1. Sexual communication always involves consent.

  2. It’s always based on the six principles of sexual health by Doug Braun-Harvey.

  3. It’s normal for it to take time and grow over time.

  4. It’s normal to work through discrepancies. 

  5. It’s unique to people and based on other factors as well, such as values, spiritual beliefs, culture, history of trauma, etc.

  6. And so many people don’t know what they want or what their sexual values are.

So, how can you get started when it feels so scary and awkward?

It’s normal and common to feel scared about saying what you want sexually.

You might be scared of being judged or rejected like I was or you might be scared of hurting your partner’s feelings.

But fear and shame are the opposite of communication because they create silence. And we can’t create the sex lives we want in silence.

Scheduling a regular, weekly meeting for the purpose of openly talking about your values, perspectives, likes, dislikes, preferences, things that turn you on and off, kinks, what’s working, what’s not working, what you want to try, etc. can be extremely helpful to improve communication and to continue exploring and expressing your uniqueness.

And using fun ways to start conversations can make it feel so much easier and it lets you start where you are and build up to more freely and comfortably talking about sex over time.

A few fun things you can try:

  1. Visit a sex store and explore with your partner. You can do this online or in person. Even buy a sex game that includes questions and dares and play the game together.

  2. Watch something together that stimulates conversation. This can be a show on Netflix that's sexy or it could be ethical porn. It depends on what you're currently comfortable with. But by watching something together, you can more easily talk about sexual topics rather than trying to start conversations out of the blue.

  3. Use technology. I’ll be writing a post soon about lots of tech options that can help you start a conversation about sex. 

What happens if the result isn’t what you want?

I had a positive result when I opened up about what I really wanted sexually.

But there are a couple of ways the conversation could go.

It might go well like it did for me.

  • This could look like you and your partner(s) exploring together.

  • It could look like coming to an agreement that you find alternative ways to express certain things.

  • It could look like openness to continued conversations.

It might not go well.

  • This might look like your partner not being receptive to things at all.

  • It may result in an argument.

  • Or it might result in the end of a relationship.

Just be aware of this and also know that, according to Justin Lehmiller, it’s more likely to have a positive or neutral outcome. Negative outcomes can happen, but they’re much less common.

And grab my three keys to non-boring date nights that create connection and communication in your relationship.


  1. Couples’ Sexual Communication and Dimensions of Sexual Function: A Meta-Analysis, Allen B. Mallory et al, 2019.

  2. The Six Principles of Sexual Health, Doug Braun-Harvey.

  3. The components of optimal sexuality: A portrait of great sex, Peggy J. Kleinplatz, A. Dana Ménard, Marie-Pierre Paquet, Nicolas Paradis, Meghan Campbell, Dino Zuccarino and Lisa Mehak.

  4. Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire & How it Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, Justin Lehmiller, 2020

  5. Let’s Talk About It! A Guide to Consent and Sexcessful Communication UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services

  6. Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Sex Education and its Impact on Communication, Self-Efficacy, and Relationships, Anderson, Katherine; Rossi, Talia; and Roth, Stella, 2021

  7. Do Women Withhold Honest Sexual Communication When They Believe Their Partner’s Manhood is Threatened?Jordan, Jessica; Vandello, Joseph; Heesacker, Martin; Larson-Konar, Dylan, 2022

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Leanne Chesser

Hi! I'm Leanne. I'm a intimacy coach and creator of Connection for Couples and the 5C System. I help couples create connected relationships and build foundations for intimacy, emotionally intelligent communication and sexual authenticity and go from feeling like disconnected roommates to connected, intimate partners again. You can learn more at

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