A Sex Therapist Explains How To Communicate Better In The Bedroom [NSFW]

Ask an Expert: All About Better Communication in the Bedroom

Talking about sex isn't easy for most people, even with a partner you love. You probably feel uncomfortable openly discussing problems in the bedroom, which is why Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, is here to help.

Image adapted from LuckyImages (Shutterstock)

Vanessa is a licensed psychotherapist based in San Francisco, specialising in all things sex. Her aim is to take the intimidation out of sex therapy and help both individuals and couples talk openly about their issues and lead more fulfilling sex lives. Here, she covers a selection of questions from Lifehacker readers.

The most difficult part for my fiancee and I is scheduling. I work M-F, 7-3:30; she's a ICU nurse working nights. That leaves under two hours overlap on days she works, and evenings/nights when she's off. It's so difficult to get in that perfect timeslot -- what is a better way to initiate without feeling like you're trying to fill a quota?

Man, that's a rough schedule to have to work with! Initiation is a very personal thing. Have the two of you had a discussion about initiation? Try asking her "in what ways do you like me to initiate sex?" And answer that question yourself too. I know it might sound a little funny to think about in that way, but it's always an interesting conversation to have.

Also, there are going to be times when it is going to fill like quota-filling sex, and that's OK too. If you acknowledge it up front, I think it can make it feel a lot better. Say something like: "It's hard to have just these two hours to ourselves, but I don't want to stop feeling connected to you."

So many couples struggle with insane schedules, but I think the most important thing to remember is that you're on each other's team. You're both battling the bad scheduling together, and trying to work together to create room for a sex life that feels satisfying for you both. The more you can approach your issues from that perspective, the better it will feel to work towards a solution.

Any tips for communicating effectively about a lack of desire to have sex? My partner's interest in sex has dropped off drastically over the past several years, leaving me feeling frustrated and unwanted. We communicate relatively openly about it, and she tells me she doesn't know why, she doesn't find me unattractive, she just isn't interested in sex very often. When we talk about it, I think she feels like I want her to 'do more sex' when what I really want is her to 'feel differently about sex,' and to be open to exploring and finding the things that *do* work for her again.

I think the most important thing you want to convey is that you miss that sense of connection with her. It's easy for the lower desire partner to feel like all the higher desire partner wants is more sex, but sex is about so much more than just having an orgasm. Talk to her about the emotional connection that you feel with her when the two of you are being intimate, and what it's like to not feel that connection.

I would also ask her to be open to more physical connection -- holding each other, laying in bed naked, kissing, giving each other massages. These things are all good reminders of the importance of touch, and of the fact that sex doesn't have to be all-or-nothing.

Sex drives are incredibly complex, but a drastic drop-off should be investigated. Has she started taking any new medication? Did she have an injury or illness? Any sort of major stress or big life event?

Why does my boyfriend ejaculate less than half the time we have sex? He is 28. Is this psychological or physiological? I can't help but take it personally. Also, why does he masturbate instead of having sex with me and then get mad that I masturbate? He told me last week he was "sort of asexual". I don't understand why my boyfriend never has sex with me, but pleasures himself and then tells me he is asexual, only to be emasculated upon seeing my need to engage in the very activity he says he has no interest in. Also this makes no sense, as were used to have very good sex every week.

The distinction between orgasm and ejaculation is an important one. There are lots of men who don't orgasm every single time during sex. Or it may be that he's not ejaculating very much because he has recently masturbated. Have you ever asked him about this question?

It sounds like the two of you are in need of a tough conversation about where your relationship is headed. It's perfectly normal to masturbate when you're in a relationship, and he shouldn't feel emasculated by you pleasuring yourself. If he's telling you he's asexual, and isn't interested in having sex with you, these may be signs that he's thinking the relationship is over.

My wife has a condition where often times she experiences random pain "downstairs". The randomness of this condition means that the "window of opportunity" to do anything sexual together is always changing. In the past, I used to try to initiate whenever I was in the mood. After talking with her about it, my advances unintentionally put pressure on her to perform even if she was in pain because she did not want to make me feel rejected. I have explained to her that I understood and would not feel rejected if she turned me down but she can't help feeling bad for "rejecting me" and we have come to the conclusion that it's probably better if she initiated when she felt healthy. The problem is that through the entirety of our relationship (even before she was affected by this condition) she was always the passive/submissive one when it came to being intimate. She is not comfortable taking charge and getting things started. So now the frequency of our sexual activities has dropped substantially not because of the condition itself but because when she is pain-free she is shy to initiate in the moment. I only find out later when she tells me that she missed the opportunity again.

I understand that it feels like the best solution is to have her always initiate, but I'd try to consider the fact that this puts a lot of pressure on her as well! Now she's completely in charge of all of your sexual interactions. It's also tough to be in a position where you feel like you're not allowed to ask for your own needs.

She's going to feel pressured one way or another, so I think the area to focus on is to help her recognize that she needs to find ways to help herself let go of feeling pressured. It sounds like it may be stirring up a deeper issue for her that is about more than sex.

I would try role-playing this stuff outside of the bedroom. Tell her that you guys are going to do this little experiment to help her feel more comfortable initiating and turning you down. If you set it up as not being "real" (as in, you're not actually initiating and you're not going to have sex right after this), it will relieve a lot of the pressure. Have her initiate sex, and practise saying the words until it feels more comfortable to her. It's fine to be a little goofy or awkward about it at first. Then have you initiate, and have her practice gently saying no, again until it starts to feel more comfortable.

I've been married to my wife for less than a year and the sporadic nature of our sex life is driving me insane. For a while now her sex drive has dropped significantly and we're only having sex about once a month. She never wants to have sex during the week so when another sexless weekend rolls by I can't help but get resentful. I feel like I've tried everything I can. I've made sure over and over that she was satisfied when we do have sex, I try not to press the issue often, and I've offered to have us sit down for therapy (she doesn't want to go). She keeps saying she needs more time and the issue will right itself but I believe that less and less as time goes on. I just don't know what to do anymore. She constantly calls me a perfect husband but all I feel is resentment as I can't call her a perfect wife. I know I'm in a cycle of bitterness but I don't know how to break it before our marriage hits the rocks. What should I do?

I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. Unfortunately, it sounds like you already have hit the rocks. I know this is incredibly difficult, but I would tell her that sex therapy is non-negotiable for you at this point. I would say something like: "I know we've been trying to solve this issue on our own for a long time, and it's getting to the point for me where I feel like our marriage is in jeopardy. I love you so much, and it pains me that it has gotten to this point. I need you to see a therapist with me, otherwise I'm not sure if I can continue this way for much longer."

How important is sex early on in a relationship? If it doesn't go well after 2-3 tries are people inclined to give up and assume the chemistry isn't there? It happened to me recently, the dating stuff was going great but the after date stuff did not, and things fizzled out. Do people sort of have a deadline in their mind -- an "if it's not good early on its not getting any better" sort of thing? I would think it'd be an easier thing to improve upon than, say, fixing a personality trait?

I think it's different for everybody, but I'm a firm believer that sexual chemistry can be improved. It takes time to learn how to have sex with a new person, and figure out how the two of your bodies work together. If there are lots of other great things going for the two of you, and if it feels just a little awkward or uncomfortable, I'd be inclined to give it a few weeks.

On the other hand, I also work with a lot of couples who knew that they were clearly sexually incompatible from the get-go, but they stuck it out in hopes that things would get better. If seems like you two are into very different types of things in the bedroom, or have very different ideas of how frequently you want to have sex, you have to be willing to move on from a relationship. It's hard to give specific timeframes, but I'd say no longer than a few months.

Not sure how I approach asking my girlfriend to swallow after a blowjob. I understand that I have to respect a personal preference but it's a real turn off for me when she spits immediately.

Talk to her about it outside of the bedroom. Say something like "How would you feel about swallowing after a blowjob? It turns me on so much to think of you doing that."


Comments

    Ugh, that last question. Why is he bothered about being turned off when he's just blown his load?

    I had one girlfriend that couldn't wait to spit it out as soon as I blew, making a big deal out of rushing to the bathroom to hock and spit, before rinsing noisily. Next time I did the same a soon as I'd finished going down on her. Boy oh boy, talk about a woman scorned. Thankfully she was a little more tactful next time.

      Hahaha, I'm sorry if I'm not to laugh but that's funny. One thing I don't understand is, why did she let you do that if she wasn't into doing it? Most would just get it somewhere else

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