“Let’s talk about sex” in a long-term relationship

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image by: Pexels.com

Is there any conversation in a relationship that is harder to have than the one about sex? Sure, in the beginning of the relationship we are still pretty open about it. It’s exciting to share fantasies, explore each other’s bodies and feel up for it pretty much all the time. This is a wonderful stage and we should enjoy it to the fullest, but for most relationships this phase doesn’t last, and it also sets us up with a whole bunch of expectations after that are difficult to deal with.

I was married for 11 years. Issues around intimacy and sex are very familiar to me, and play a role in my current relationship as well. The advantage of a do-over is that you can try to do things differently the second time around, but I know that what I’ve learned with my current partner can also be used in existing relationships where sex has become somewhat of a struggle.

In order for things to change, if you want them to, you first need to get clear on where you are. You can do this for yourself, or do it as a couple. Talking about sex is vulnerable, however, and partners can easily feel pressured. When you have these conversations, ALWAYS make clear that you are in a safe space. Express feelings and needs, never make demands. No one owes you anything when it comes to sex, and you don’t owe anyone anything either.

Ask yourself these following questions:

  • How often would I like to be physically intimate with my partner?
  • How often would my partner like to be physically intimate?
  • What does my partner expect of me?
  • What do I expect of my partner?
  • What’s a ‘normal amount’ of sexual intimacy in a relationship?
  • How long does sex have to last?
  • What role does sex currently play in our relationship? What’s the dynamic?
  • What role would sex ideally play in our relationship?
  • Do I feel like I ‘have to’ or ‘should have’ sex? If so, why?

Answering these questions will make some of your convictions about sex and the role it plays in your relationship clear. It gives you a place to start from, because for your sex life to change, your ideas that stand in the way need to change too.

Some of those ideas I can dispell with right away:

  1. There is no ‘normal’ amount of sex in a marriage or long-term relationship. There are averages, that’s all, and they mean nothing.
  2. Sex doesn’t HAVE TO be anything you don’t want it to be. You get to decide for yourself, completely and without exception, what feels good and safe to you.
  3. Unless your partner has explicitly stated his/her expectations regarding sex, you don’t really know what they think or feel on the matter. Having a conversation about this might surprise you (or not, but even then the conversation in itself is helpful).

So how do you start to have a conversation on this, when it’s that one thing you’re both dancing circles around without ever really diving in?

It helps to know why talking about it makes us so awkward: it’s because we are so vulnerable when it comes to sex. We all want our partners to find us attractive, to love us completely just as we are. And when nakedness is involved, both physical and emotional, we fear being rejected or hurt. Starting a conversation by just saying “This makes me feel nervous because I’m afraid of (getting hurt, hurting you, feeling not good enough…)” is already a good way to create some safe space for both yourself and your partner to share openly.

Vow to each other that this conversation is a goal in itself. It doesn’t have to lead to more sex, or ‘better’ sex, or separate bedrooms. The only thing you’re going after is more understanding. You’re trying to understand the other person’s feelings and needs.

Vow to yourself to hear the other person’s feelings and needs without taking it personally. When your partner says: “I need more physical intimacy” this does not mean “You have to give me more physical intimacy.”
You’re partner is allowed to feel what they feel, to want what they want, without being afraid of how you will take it. If a feeling arises in response, notice it and take responsibility for it. The reverse is of course true as well: if you express a need or desire, your partner has no obligation to meet that need. Needs can differ. Maybe you need to feel close without feeling the pressure of sex. Maybe your partner needs to have sex to feel completely open and intimate. All needs are valid. There is no wrong or right, no normal or weird. It’s just a wonderful, unique part of who your partner is, and who you are.

However, chances are, if you’re in a committed long-term relationship, that you WANT to meet your partner’s needs, and that your partner wants to meet yours.
Once you’ve expressed what you both feel, need, want; you can move on to discussing ways in which you can meet those needs. This could be the same conversation, or a subsequent one.

Talk about which strategies work for both of you, and what you’re willing to commit to. Take your time for this! It’s easy to say: “Sure, I’ll go to bed at 9 with you twice a week,” but if you feel like the evening is your only alone time and you end up feeling resentful to your partner over giving it up, you’re not protecting your own boundaries enough. You have a responsibility to take care of yourself here.

You can make agreements on how much time you spend together focussed on each other. You don’t have to agree on what you do. Women, especially, need to feel safe and relaxed to get turned on. Feeling like you have to perform doesn’t make for a very relaxed atmosphere. Instead, take time to settle into the moment, into your own body, into the connection with your partner, and see where that takes you; without a map or a plan. I’ve talked about the way we approach things in my current relationship in this post.

We should have all learned some of the basic things in school, but until they adapt the curriculum so that students are raised to be good people, rather than just good citizens, we’ll have to do a lot of this work later on in life. Luckily, we have each other to learn and teach together.

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