Physical intimacy: How communication can save your sex life

Discover how communication can boost physical intimacy and how to talk about sex with your partner.

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One of the cornerstones of a fulfilling relationship is physical intimacy. Yet many couples find it difficult to discuss their sexual needs and desires with each other. This lack of communication can lead to dissatisfaction, misunderstandings, and ultimately, a drift in the relationship that goes beyond just the sexual aspect.

In this article, we’ll explore why talking about sex is essential, offer tips on opening that dialogue with your partner, and answer some frequently asked questions related to physical intimacy.

Check out our guide on why communication is essential for intimacy, and use it as a tool to boost intimacy in your relationship!

Why talking about sex is essential

Engaging in open sex talk can illuminate not only your bedroom but your relationships as a whole. Although it may feel uncomfortable in the moment, discussing sex openly is essential for building a healthy (sexual) relationship.

Here are three reasons why talking about sex is a must in relationships:

1. It increases sexual satisfaction

Open conversations about sex can profoundly impact the quality of one’s intimate life. A 2009 study found that both men and women who spoke more about their preferences with their partners experienced greater sexual satisfaction. 1

In addition, a meta-analysis from 2019 supports this notion, revealing a strong association between sexual communication and improved overall sexual function, including factors like desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasm. 2

Especially for women, open communication about sex seems even more important. The study showed that conversations about sex significantly enhance women’s sexual desire and their ability to reach orgasm. 2 So that seems like a good enough reason to start talking!

Discover how to talk about your sexual fantasies and desires in your relationship!

2. It leads to greater relationship satisfaction

Open dialogues about sexual topics don’t just add excitement in the bedroom; they can substantially improve your overall relationship. A study revealed that couples who communicate openly about sexual matters are generally happier not only with their intimate lives but also with their relationships as a whole.3

Open discussions about sexual preferences and desires accomplish several important things beyond the physical act itself. They create an environment of trust and vulnerability. When you share your sexual preferences, you’re also sharing intimate parts of yourself that aren’t often exposed. This emotional vulnerability can create a stronger emotional bond between you and your partner, contributing to greater overall relationship satisfaction.

Do you need some tips on how to reignite passion in your relationship? Here are some tips that will help you enhance intimacy in your relationship!

At the heart of any intimate encounter is the essential principle of consent. And consent isn’t just about saying ‘yes’ or ’no’; it’s about understanding exactly what you’re agreeing to. For consent to be genuine, both partners must have a clear grasp of what’s expected in terms of sexual activities. 4 Open communication plays a pivotal role in this.

When individuals discuss their boundaries, desires, and expectations openly, it eliminates guesswork and assumptions. It ensures that every intimate act is based on mutual understanding and agreement, thereby making every encounter respectful and consensual.

In essence, talking about sex not only enhances the experience but safeguards the rights and comfort of both partners.

Discover what consent looks like in relationships!

How to talk about sex with your partner

Talking about sex can feel intimidating, especially if you’re not used to it. Yet, these conversations are crucial for deepening your intimacy and ensuring that both partners are sexually satisfied. It might take some courage, but fortunately, there are some simple steps and strategies that can make the conversation a whole lot easier.

Here are four tips that can help you open up to your partner and discuss sex more comfortably:

1. Choose the right time and place

The timing and setting of the conversation are more crucial than you might think. Choose a location that feels comfortable, private, and free from distractions. It could be your bedroom after a relaxed dinner, your living room couch when no one else is around, or even a secluded spot during a nature walk.

Not only the setting but also the timing is pivotal. Make sure that both of you are in the right mental state to discuss sexual topics. Ask your partner if now is a good time to talk about sex. Make certain that neither of you is feeling rushed, stressed, or distracted by other concerns.

2. Use “I” statements

Putting across your feelings using “I” statements can significantly change the dynamic of the conversation. Saying phrases like “I feel…” or “I would like…” creates a space that encourages understanding and open-mindedness.

Numerous studies support the effectiveness of using this form of communication. It makes your statements come across more as personal reflections and desires rather than as confrontational demands or criticisms. 5 Furthermore, steering clear of blame or negativity, especially when discussing sensitive topics like sexual performance, promotes a healthy dialogue, ensuring both partners feel respected and valued. 6

3. Be open with each other

Being honest and transparent with your partner about your needs is essential for fostering a positive sex life. This can be a challenging task, especially if you’re not used to talking about sex.

Begin by taking small but meaningful steps. Encourage your partner to do the same, as this will help you both understand each other’s preferences better. A study found that individuals are far more willing to open up about their sexual preferences when they feel their partner is equally open and transparent. 7

So, be courageous and take the plunge — it will bring you both closer and open up a whole new world of pleasure!

4. Be empathetic

Empathy is more than just understanding; it’s feeling alongside another. Conversations about intimacy tap into deeply personal areas of our lives, colored by our unique history, emotions, and perceptions of intimacy.

Listen attentively to what your partner is saying and validate their feelings without rushing to judgments or solutions. In these discussions, empathy serves as a foundational element that can make your conversation a safe space for both of you. This enables an open dialogue where each individual can express themselves without any judgment or criticism.

For more helpful advice, check out our complete guide on how to talk about sex with your partner!

Communication is key when it comes to a healthy and meaningful relationship. Learn how to improve communication in your relationship with our helpful communication guide for couples!

FAQ about physical intimacy in relationships

1. What to do when your partner stops wanting sex?

It’s not uncommon for one partner’s libido to wane over time. Research shows that sexual desire tends to peak in the beginning of a relationship and then slowly decline with time as partners become more comfortable in the relationship. 8

When one partner stops wanting sex, and the other feels rejected, it can lead to resentment and tension in the relationship. So, it’s essential to have an open and honest conversation about it.

A 2009 study shows that the best way to approach a problem in a relationship is by using direct and positive communication. Positive communication includes being supportive towards your partner, working together to solve the issue, and expressing your feelings in an assertive but non-blaming manner. 9

When you’re discussing the issue with your partner, use I-sentences and avoid making assumptions or judgments. Don’t assume the worst, and remember that your partner’s lower libido could be due to a number of factors, such as stress, anxiety, or even medication.

Check out our in-depth guide on what to do when your partner has lost interest in sex.

2. What to do when you’ve lost interest in sex?

If you find yourself disinterested in sex, it’s important first to acknowledge your feelings and not blame yourself. A decreased libido can be due to several reasons—physical, emotional, or a combination of both.

Several studies show that factors like stress, anxiety and depression, certain medications, and relationship problems can impact sex drive. 10 11 12

The good news is, there are many things you can do to boost your libido:

For more advice on what to do when you’ve lost interest in sex, check out our complete guide here.

3. How can you become more affectionate?

Affection can be expressed in many ways – from a warm hug to telling someone you love them or just spending quality time together. It’s not always about the big gestures; sometimes, the small ones make all the difference.

A recent study shows that individuals that receive love and affection from their partners in their preferred love language experience greater relationship and sexual satisfaction. 17

So, if you want to be more affectionate, try getting to know what makes your partner feel loved. Is it a random compliment in the middle of the day? Or maybe just holding hands while watching a movie? The best way to find out is to simply ask them.

Learn more about how to become more affectionate in your relationship.

4. What to do when you and your partner have mismatched sex drives?

Mismatched sex drives are a common challenge for many couples. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons couples consider therapy. A recent study from 2020 explored the various strategies couples employ when faced with this discrepancy in desire. 18

Communication stood out as a critical strategy. Those who took the time to talk with their partner about the disparity, or engaged in alternative activities together instead of pulling away, generally felt more satisfied in their relationship. 18

Thus, if you and your partner are experiencing mismatched sex drives, having an open and honest discussion about it is a good start.

To delve deeper into this topic, check out our complete guide on how to deal with mismatched sex drives.

5. What is pillow talk?

Pillow talk refers to the intimate and affectionate conversations couples have in the moments after being intimate. This positive exchange not only deepens the bond between partners but also acts as a way to nurture the relationship. 19 These conversations can range from discussing future dreams and aspirations to sharing secrets or simply reflecting on shared experiences.

A study from 2012 underscores the benefits of pillow talk. Results showed that couples who frequently indulge in positive conversations after being intimate tend to feel a stronger sense of trust, are more satisfied with their relationship, and feel closer to their partners. 19

Discover more about the importance of pillow talk in relationships!

  1. MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2009). Role of Sexual Self-Disclosure in the sexual satisfaction of Long-Term Heterosexual Couples. Journal of Sex Research, 46(1), 3–14. ↩︎

  2. Mallory, A. B., Stanton, A. M., & Handy, A. B. (2019). Couples Sexual Communication and Dimensions of Sexual Function: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Sex Research, 56(7), 882–898. ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. Montesi, J. L., Fauber, R. L., Gordon, E. A., & Heimberg, R. G. (2010). The specific importance of communicating about sex to couples’ sexual and overall relationship satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28(5), 591–609. ↩︎

  4. Humphreys, T. P., & Herold, E. (2007). Sexual consent in heterosexual relationships: Development of a new measure. Sex Roles, 57(3–4), 305–315. ↩︎

  5. Simmons, R. A., Gordon, P. C., & Chambless, D. L. (2005). Pronouns in marital interaction: What do you and I say about marital health?. Psychological science, 16(12), 932-936. ↩︎

  6. Miller-Ott, A. E., & Linder, A. (2013). Romantic Partners’ Use of Facework and Humor to Communicate About Sex. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 14(1), 69–78. Miller-Ott, A. E., & Linder, A. (2013). Romantic partners’ use of facework and humor to communicate about sex. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 14(1), 69–78. ↩︎

  7. Byers, E. S., & Demmons, S. (1999). Sexual satisfaction and sexual self‐disclosure within dating relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 36(2), 180–189. ↩︎

  8. Impett, E. A., Muise, A., & Rosen, N. O. (2015). Is It Good to Be Giving in the Bedroom? A Prosocial Perspective on Sexual Health and Well-Being in Romantic Relationships. Current Sexual Health Reports, 7(3), 180–190. ↩︎

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  10. Zemishlany, Z., & Weizman, A. (2008). The impact of mental illness on sexual dysfunction. In KARGER eBooks (pp. 89–106). ↩︎

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  12. Metz, M. E., & Epstein, N. B. (2002). Assessing the role of relationship conflict in sexual dysfunction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28(2), 139–164. ↩︎

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  15. Ruegsegger, G. N., & Booth, F. W. (2017). Health benefits of exercise. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 8(7). ↩︎

  16. Murray, B. (2002). Writing to heal. American Psychological Association (APA). ↩︎

  17. Mostova, O., Stolarski, M., & Matthews, G. (2022). I love the way you love me: Responding to partner’s love language preferences boosts satisfaction in romantic heterosexual couples. PLOS ONE. ↩︎

  18. Vowels, L. M., & Mark, K. P. (2020). Strategies for Mitigating Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(3), 1017–1028. ↩︎ ↩︎

  19. Denes, A. (2012). Pillow Talk: Exploring disclosures after Sexual activity. Western Journal of Communication, 76(2), 91–108. ↩︎ ↩︎

Author picture of Amy Clark
Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

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