There is no secret formula to enhancing communication. However, understanding one’s own sexual needs and those of your partner(s), and feeling comfortable enough to share and convey these needs is an important skill. It is natural to feel nervous starting a discussion, especially for the first time.

The following are suggestions that can help:

  1. Give yourself permission to enjoy sexual pleasure.
  2. Give yourself permission to ask questions and make specific requests.
  3. Develop your own communication system with your sexual partners (words that are comfortable, signals, etc.).
  4. Take the initiative through verbal and nonverbal communication:
  5. Verbally, use I-statements which are direct i.e., “I like it when _______ because it makes me feel ____________.”
  6. Nonverbally, an individual can show sexual partners what is desired by moving the partner’s hand in an area that is pleasurable or by making positive sounds of encouragement. If you are wanting to explore what you like, some people find masturbating on their own a way to discover their sexual turn-ons. Masturbating is a common sexual practice and like all sexual activities, your decision to masturbate or not, is a personal one based on your own values, beliefs, and comfort level.
  7. Learn through experience, be patient, and realize that sexual communication is an ongoing learning process.
  8. Consider being spontaneous and creative if that works for you to keep the excitement in sexual pleasure.
  9. Realize that sexual communication pertains to more than just the physical aspects of sexuality; communication starts the moment you interact with your sexual partners.
  10. Give yourself permission to express your sexual desires.
  11. Talk about how you are feeling—before, during, and after physically pleasing each other.
  12. Try to be open, honest, and comfortable enough with your sexual partners to ask or do anything regarding your sexual pleasure as long as you both consent.
  13. Be willing to compromise if you and your sexual partners are not at the same level of sexual energy.
  14. Enjoy your sexuality!

Adapted from Teaching Sexual Partners to Talk by Warren L. McNab

Talking with your Sexual Partner(s)

You can take charge of your own sexual health by starting a conversation about safer sex. It is important not to make assumptions about whether or not your sexual partner(s) have an STI or expect that they will take care of birth control.Conversations will make sure you have the right information and all sexual partner(s) are actively and enthusiastically consenting to sex by making informed decisions about risk comfort and which safer sex practices you would like to use.

Talking about sex can feel embarrassing, and is a challenge for a lot of people. If we don’t have a clear idea of what pleasure we enjoy, talking about it can seem awkward. Masturbation and sexual exploration can be a great way to figure out what pleasure and stimulation feel good for you, as everyone is different. When you know what you like, you’ll feel more empowered to make the best decisions for you.

Talking about sex, especially before you have sex is important because you get to express what you like or don’t like, and what you feel safe doing or not doing. There are many different ways to engage in conversations about sex, and one way isn’t more ‘right’ than the other. Whatever feels comfortable for you and your sexual partner(s) is what’s right.

  • Uncertainty on how to initiate the conversation
  • There may be concern about what the other person(s) will think.
  • There is fear of shaming.
  • The belief that talking about safer sex will ruin the mood and/or make sex less likely to happen.
  • Maybe you just met the person, or you may not know the person well. And maybe it feels too early (to have a conversation) or you are having casual sex and you don’t think you’ll see them again.
  • You or your sexual partner(s) may not think you are at risk for pregnancy or an STIs because assumptions about sexual and reproductive health status have been made.
  • There may be a lack of knowledge on how to use barrier methods such as condoms, dams, or gloves.
  • Alcohol or drugs may be involved.
  • Fear of physical or emotional abuse due to partner violence.
  • Learn about safer sex, it always feels more comfortable to talk about something you know.
  • Practice talking about safer sex in regular conversation ahead of time, or even with a friend. Explore their thoughts and ideas around safer sex, and explore what your thoughts and ideas are.
  • Have you talked about difficult things before? If so, think about how the conversation went. What worked and what didn’t work? What did the conversation feel like? What helped make it feel better? What didn’t?
  • There may be times when you do not know the other person very well. It can be helpful to have safer sex supplies on hand (with safer sex or harm reduction supplies) ready for any situation. This way you are prepared  – just in case.
  • Express your needs from a personal perspective (rather than a hypothetical perspective). This will help put your sexual partner(s) at ease.
  • Be clear, honest and open about your desires, your likes, and dislikes
  • Pay attention to your partner’s responses, and take everyone’s feelings into consideration.
  • There’s no time like the present and it is never too late to talk about safer sex.
  • Pick a private moment when you have time to talk.
  • Choose a time when you and your sexual partner(s) are feeling positive
  • Avoid times when you or your sexual partner(s) are tired, having a bad day or are feeling rushed.
  • If you have already had sex, it’s still not too late to talk about safer sex for the future.

Keep in mind your sexual partners may not know they have an STIs as they may not have symptoms. Most STIs do not have any symptoms.

  • Share your feelings about safer sex in a clear, honest, and positive manner.
  • Use “I” statements to talk about how YOU feel and what YOU want
  • Listen and repeat back what you think the other person feels or wants. This will help them to feel heard, and able to clarify any misunderstandings right away.
  • Any conversation about sex can be triggering, if the person gets upset or doesn’t agree, explore what is going on for them. There is no need to force an agreement, you are in this together, and conversations about sex can be ongoing.
  • Validate their feelings and ask if they are willing to talk about how they are feeling.
  • If they don’t feel the same as you about safer sex, you could try sharing some information you’ve learned about safer sex, STIs and transmission, and pregnancy risk (if applicable). And you can talk to them about how important safer sex practices are to you.
  • Tell them that safer sex can still be sexy, pleasurable, and fun.
  • Give them time and space to think and process about your conversation.
  • Some people need time to process things. If the conversation is important to you, talking about it another time is okay, but don’t forget about your needs and revisit the topic as much as you need to.
  • It can be hard to talk about safer sex with someone you don’t know well, but even if you are having sex with someone you have just met it is still okay to talk about safer sex options and share your STIs statuses.
  • Once you get used to talking about sexual and reproductive health, it will get easier, and you may notice you’ll find it sexy if someone else brings it up first.
  • Be prepared by having safer sex tools (like condoms, dams, gloves, etc.)
  • handy. You could bring these items out and say something like “I’m ready, are you?”
  • Here are a few questions to ask new sexual partners to begin assessing your risk for STIs:
    • Have you ever had sexual activity with someone before?
    • Have you ever had unprotected sexual activity with someone before?
    • Have you ever had an STI?
    • When did you last have an STI test?
    • Do you have any symptoms of STIs?
    • Have you ever shared drug paraphernalia?

It may also be valuable to discuss values, boundaries, expectations, and knowledge of STIs with your sexual partners before having engaging in sexual activity.

Physical Safety and Emotional Safety

Often when we think of safer sex and prevention of STIs, we tend to focus on physical factors. However, emotional factors and safety are also a part of safer sex. If you have questions about this, or need more information please contact Sex Sense. 

Have a question about sexual health?