by Annie Gurton, Imago Couples Counsellor from Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

There is a saying in couples therapy that if sex is right, then everything is right, but if sex is wrong then nothing else can be right. Yet communication about sexual issues is one of the hardest challenges faced by many couples.   It’s possible for a couple to love each other very much and be open about everything else, yet still have a dull unsatisfying love life.

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Often it starts with growing up. We rarely openly discuss sexual issues with our parents so we do not learn how to communicate about sex and our needs. It doesn’t occur to us to develop sexual communication skills even though they are very important in our relationships. From our childhoods we have only learnt to be uncomfortable and embarrassed with the subject. The idea of discussing our sexual needs can fill us with embarrassment, and there can be a fear of rejection or humiliation. Many couples often engage in the sexual act blindly believing that they know what their spouse wants based on pornographic viewing, or reading. This can result in an unpleasant and awkward sexual act which each partner pretends is satisfying, while their real needs and desires go unrecognised and unmet.

It is difficult to know how to begin, but the best start is to understand that your partner is not a mind-reader and needs to be told, explicitly, what you like and what you don’t like.   Choose your time, often starting the conversation post-coitally when there is a feeling of connection, and opening the door to raising ideas next time at the fore-play stage.

Couples really do need to ask questions such as, “What would you like me to do?” “Are you comfortable?” “Does this feel pleasurable?” “What can I do to make it better for you?” “Is there anything in particular that you enjoy more, or something you do not enjoy at all?” If you are uncomfortable asking such questions then perhaps you can ask your spouse to signal to you, for example by squeezing your arm or tapping three times to suggest if he wants anything in particular.

Its important not to presume or pretend to know what he likes and wants for he will quickly figure out that you actually do not know what pleasures him.    Younger men may not know what exactly they want during the early days of their sex life and even less how to communicate it, however, they soon figure out what they really want and what they absolutely do not enjoy. The same goes for women, who may participate in these activities mechanically thinking they ‘should’ be enjoying what their spouse is doing. Men think that they are expected to know what to do and women expect them to know it all. However, the truth is that neither of them knows it all and communication is the only master key to explore it all.


If you wish to revitalise your sexual relationship too, communication is critical. It is not the amount or quality of sexual relations that makes or breaks marriage, but rather the degree of ‘fit’ between partners’ sexual needs and priorities. Such mutuality comes only with communication.

Try to define for yourself and your spouse what your complaints and pleasures are. Many people are uncomfortable and shy about making specific requests, but we emphasise that open talk and experimentation are vital. No one can automatically know what pleases another, without adequate feedback. Love is trusting each other enough to ask openly and answer honestly.

Of course, once you know what you want, you need to share your desires with your partner. This can be a scary step for a lot of people. Most couples rarely talk about sex, let alone share openly about their sexual desires, but with open communication, the possibilities of your sex life only multiply.   Planning doesn’t eliminate spontaneity, it just increases the possibility of having meaningful encounters.

Before you start talking about sex, agree to be as open-minded and nonjudgmental as possible. Approach with a spirit of curiosity. Getting to know what your partner wants is not a critique of your sex life, but rather a map leading to new and even more pleasure and intimacy. These conversations are great while going on a walk, on a dinner date, or to pass the miles on a long road trip. Dare to talk about sex whenever you have a private moment together.

The first step to a more satisfying sexual relationship with your partner is to your willingness to express your needs and listen to his.   You need to think about what works now in your relationship, what you’d like to see change and what you really desire. What kinds of things would please you romantically and sexually? Ask for them.   If couples hold back on speaking out about their wants and needs in a relationship, things stagnate.


– Never start a sentence with, ‘You don’t …” or ‘You never…’ or ‘You always…’

– Preface statements with a gentle opener like, ‘It would be fun to try….’ or ‘I’ve always wondered what it would be like to…’

– No comparisons to former (better) lovers or husbands.

– Be prepared for defensiveness and try not to react negatively

– Start off with a promise to listen and respect each other’s wishes.

– Be prepared, think about what you’ll say if he suggests something you’re not interested in.

– Ask ‘What are your favourite kinds of full body touch?…’ or ‘Do you like featherlight touch?…’ or ‘Do you prefer deep massage?…’ or ‘Are there any parts of your body that you want touched more often?…’ or ‘What kinds of daily affection make you feel most loved?…’

Once you have successfully begun communicating about sexual needs and desires, you can start deepening your conversation into more intimate topics, such as ‘What is something you’ve always wanted to try and never done before?…’ or ‘Would you ever want to be blindfolded or tied up?…’ or ‘Or do the tying?…’

or ‘What is something you did when you were younger but haven’t tried in a long time?…’ or ‘Is there a scene from a movie that really turns you on?…’

Remember that the most erotic zone is our imagination, and sharing fantasies can be intimate and exciting. However there should be clear boundaries between the erotic bedroom talk and reality. Just because you are willing to engage in fantasies such as threesomes, rapes or orgies does not mean, or commit you, to engaging in them in real life. Role playing can be erotic for some couples, with one or both partners dressing up. Girlie magazines and online porn are often exciting but one or both partners feel embarrassed to suggest it.


Lets have more …..

I want to ……

I’d like to ….

I love it when you ….

It gets me excited when ….

I love it when you ….

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to ….

I have a fantasy of ….

and share it with your spouse.

The most important thing is to establish an open, friendly and relaxed conversation about sex. The more you talk about sex as a couple, the more freedom and honesty you’ll find when it comes to asking (and some cases, advocating) for what you want.