03/18/2016 02:54 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2017

How to Talk About Sex


A big part of my job as a sex therapist is to teach couples how to talk about sex. The couples I typically see either fight with each other about sex, criticize each other about sex, or avoid talking about sex. Each of these methods has a similar outcome--the couples are unhappy with their sex life. Couples need to learn how to negotiate to get their needs and desires met with one another in a positive and respectful way.

To better understand how to talk about sex, couples can learn about the five negotiation styles-competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising, and collaborating. The competing style involves winning at all costs. A person who takes a "my way or the highway" approach is using this style. The problem with using this style in sex is that only one person may end up happy at the expense of the other. Over time, this will lead to either lower sexual desire or resentment in the person who constantly feels like they are losing.

The avoiding style of negotiation can also be difficult, because no one brings up the problem. Couples in this situation either stay unhappy with their sex life for long periods of time or find ways to resolve the problem on their own for good or bad. An affair is one example of how a person may try to resolve the issue on their own, but this "resolution" obviously comes with some very challenging consequences.

The other three negotiation styles accommodating, compromising, and collaborative can be more helpful styles to use when negotiating for a more positive sex life depending on the situation.

For example, an accommodating style of negotiation is when one partner will give a win to the other person. In the movie Star Wars, R2D2 is playing a game with Chewbacca. Chewbacca gets angry when R2D2 makes a winning move. After further discussion with Han Solo, C3PO advises R2D2 to, "Let the wookie win."

Sometimes in sex, it can also be helpful to "let the wookie win" especially if you don't care much about the outcome. For example, one partner may say, "It would be nice if we could make out for a bit before getting into sex." If making out sounds like a fun start or it doesn't bother you, go along with it. "Sounds good! Whatever makes you happy!" In another example, one person may prefer to be on top during sex. If you really don't care whether you are on top or bottom (or in some other unique position), then go with it.

The compromising style of negotiation can also be a very effective way to address sexual needs especially if you are not on the same page with your partner. The compromising style involves a half-win and a half-lose. Each person gets a little and gives a little. One example of how this works is if one partner is interested in sex while the other partner is not. "I am not feeling it tonight, babe, but what do you say we start tomorrow with a romp in the sheets. I'll be well rested and ready to go!" In this situation, both have to give a little to make things work. In another example, one partner wants to have sex every day while the other partner wants to have sex once weekly. The compromise may involve two sex days and one wild card day or three sex days with the higher desire partner masturbating more on off days. Either way, the couple will need to come up with a middle ground that they each can live with.

The final negotiation style that is my personal favorite is the collaborative approach. In the collaborative approach, the couple is working on finding win/win solutions. "How can we both be happy at the end of this sexual encounter?" For example, one partner may be interested in sex while the other is not. If you are taking a collaborative approach you may say, "I am not ready for sex now, but I could be with a little work. How about we . . ." insert what thing might help you to get in the mood. Both partners win because they both get a happy ending.

In an ideal world, couples would always use the collaborative negotiation style and have many, many happy endings. The reality is that nobody has a perfect sex life. Rather than putting a lot of pressure on your relationship, it is better to learn when and how to use the different negotiation tactics so that you can still be mostly happy. Hopefully, you can learn to negotiate your needs and desires in a fun, respectful way.