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05 Jun 2020 (Last updated 24 Jan 2024)

Good sex through communication: practical tips

Pleasure Tips 4 min read
a cucumber and a red vibrator by Annika Wolter

A sex therapist shares wisdom on ways to communicate with a partner.

Casey Tanner, a queer-identified, intersectional sex and relationship therapist, walks us through what can feel for many of us like a hard topic when it comes to sex: communication. From what we can gain from it to how we can start practicing it, Casey shares practical insights. Read on!

We often hear that “communication is key” when it comes to our relationships, but these colloquialisms often neglect an area of relationships that contribute greatly to closeness, happiness, and even health: sexuality. And not just sexuality - pleasure; this not only speaks to whether or not a couple has sex, but whether or not a couple has meaningful, erotic sex. When it comes to sexuality, we often look implicitly for cues that we are doing the “right thing”. Does my partner moan? Do they seem present? Do they orgasm? Yet, none of these cues alone dictate whether or not a couple is having good sex. In fact, I’ve met many couples who are multi-orgasmic, and still feel quite disconnected from one another.

Let’s talk about sex.

"The answer to this conundrum is both simple and quite complex - talk about sex. Talk about sex during sex, after sex, and when sex isn’t even on the table; you’ll likely find out different information when you’re lying next to each other after sex than you will over dinner the next day" (Tanner, 2020).

This is because our brains on sex are very different than our brains during mundane activities or conversation. When those yummy neurochemicals fade and we’re left with the day-to-day of our relationship, we may be more aware of the ways needs or desires aren’t being met. We’re also more likely to have access to logical and rational parts of our brains when we’re not in the middle of sex, and thus may communicate our needs differently and more tactfully.

A little goes a long way.

The simple parts are the questions themselves - it doesn’t take much in terms of language. “How was that for you?” can be a powerful question after finishing a sexual experience. “How do you feel like our sex life is going?” is helpful in a day-to-day check-in. You might ask if there’s anything you can do to make sex more enjoyable, or let your partner know something you’d be excited to try in the future. When you zoom out, these questions aren’t so different from what you’d ask after trying a meal recipe together.

Socialized for silence.

But here comes the isn’t like dinner. Not because it isn’t as essential or important, but because we are trained to avoid conversations related to sex. We are shamed for having needs, or depending on our assigned sex at birth, told we are entitled and thus should not have to ask. We rarely get good sex education, and are thus left to our own devices - learning about sex from Google searches, porn, or our peers’ older siblings. These not-so-educational tools teach us that you are either “good” at sex, or you aren’t, rather than explaining that sex is incredibly individualized and actually takes practice. You can have fabulous sex with one partner, only to find out that what worked for them does not work for your new partner. This is why it is so important to ask!

The other complexity at work is fear. We’re often afraid of what we’ll find out if we inquire into what is going well, or not so well. Depending on how we’ve learned to respond to our mistakes in the past (from parents, teachers, leaders, etc.), we may not know how to grant ourselves compassion as we are still learning. We may take requests from our partner personally and become offended, rather than seeing these requests as our partner’s attempt to get closer and take pleasure in our time together.

Where to go from here.

If you find yourself stuck in these complexities, start small with one of these steps:

  • Lead with curiosity - ask, “How was that for you?” after the next time you have sex
  • Speak assertively about your needs - your partner may misinterpret smaller, nonverbal cues
  • Read! Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski, is my go to for people with vulvas
  • Watch! has videos of people with vulvas explaining what they like done to them, and how. Learn from these fantastic examples of sexual communication
  • If you resonate with being afraid or hard on yourself, reach out to a sex therapist who is affirming of your intersecting identities - you can see a sex therapist as an individual or a couple
  • Practice self-compassion. This can be done through mindfulness, yoga, mantras, affirmations, and/or therapy. My personal favorite is, “You’re still learning; you’re still allowed to grow and change.”

    Like most tasks, communicating openly about sexual pleasure is easier said than done, so go easy on yourself if the first few times don’t go smoothly. The good news is that these skills extend into many areas of your life, even outside of sexuality, to bring more awareness, compassion, and connection.


    Casey is a queer-identified, intersectional sex and relationship therapist who combines evidence-based support with tenderness and levity to create spaces in which people feel seen and understood. Specializing in gender and sexual diversity, Casey partners with individuals, relationships and institutions to expand possibilities for connection, pleasure, and social justice. Follow on Instagram @queersextherapy.

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