Let’s Talk (To Each Other) About Sex!

flickr user_Vivian Chen
Image credit: Vivian Chen

By Megan Wood

Effective communication between partners in a romantic relationship is important for both relationship and sexual satisfaction. However, certain aspects of a relationship – such as sex – can be difficult and scary to talk about with a significant other. A person may worry about experiencing stigma, or their partner’s potentially negative reactions. It can be nerve-wracking to talk about anything sexual; indeed, people tend to tell their romantic partners significantly more about non-sexual aspects of their likes and dislikes than their sexual desires1. Even when individuals do disclose to a partner about their sexual interests, it is much more likely to involve sexual likes than sexual dislikes2.

Even though it is clear that people feel uncomfortable conversing with their partners about sex, talking about sex is extremely important for each partner’s sexual and romantic satisfaction. Research on the matter of sexual (generally focusing on sexual likes and dislikes) and non-sexual disclosure and their correlations to sexual and romantic satisfaction suggests that:

  • Problem-solving and intimacy are linked to higher relationship satisfaction, while hostility during conflict situations is related to lower relationship satisfaction3
  • Mutual self-disclosure results in greater relationship satisfaction4
  • Both sexual and non-sexual self-disclosure lead to greater sexual satisfaction5
  • More sexual self-disclosure is associated with higher sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships6,7
  • Married couples who disclose the sexual aspects of their relationships have significantly greater rates of sexual satisfaction than those who do not disclose 8

This research shows that although talking about sex can be scary, it is also worthwhile! Indeed, the positive impact of communication on relationship and sexual satisfaction is immense. If partners are looking for ways to feel more intimate in their relationship, sharing sexual and non-sexual likes, dislikes, and thoughts can greatly increase relationship and sexual satisfaction. However, if people are uncomfortable talking about aspects of their relationship, it may help to hear that good communication in general is strongly, positively correlated with both relationship and sexual satisfaction. As people often report that having an open dialogue concerning sexual aspects of a relationship is difficult, here are some basic tips to promote a positive first discussion:

  • Use “I feel” statements when discussing your relationship or sexual problems.   For example, “I feel ______ when _____ happens”
  • When speaking to your partner about aspects of your relationship, choose a place to talk that makes you feel most comfortable: your home, a favourite coffee shop, or a walk in the neighbourhood
  • Tell your partner that you want to hear about both the good and bad things that are happening in their lives, and try to be accepting and supportive of your partner’s experiences within and outside of your relationship



1 & 2 – Byers, E. S., & Demmons, S. (1999). Sexual satisfaction and sexual self disclosure within dating relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 36(2), 180 189. DOI: 10.1080/00224499909551983

3 – Woodin, E. M. (2011). A two-dimensional approach to relationship conflict: Meta-analytic findings. Journal of Family Psychology , 25 , 325–335. DOI:10.1037/ a0023791

4 & 5 – MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2009). Role of sexual self-disclosure in the sexual satisfaction of long-term heterosexual couples. The Journal of Sex Research, 46(1), 3-14, DOI:10.1080/0022449082398399

6 – Cupach, W. R., & Comstock, J. (1990). Satisfaction with sexual communication in marriage: Links to sexual satisfaction and dyadic adjustment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships7(2), 179-186

7 -MacNeil, S., & Byers, S. E. (1997). The relationships between sexual problems, communication, and sexual satisfaction. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 6, 277-283.

8 – Purnine, D. M., & Carey, M. P. (1997). Interpersonal communication and sexual adjustment: the roles of understanding and agreement. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology65(6), 1017.


Image credit: Flickr user Vivian Chen