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How should I talk to my partner about sexual problems?

Jan L. Shifren, MD
Reproductive Endocrinology
Because good communication is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship, establishing a dialogue is the first step not only to a better sex life, but also to a closer emotional bond. Here are some tips for tackling this sensitive subject.

Find the right time to talk. There are two types of sexual conversations: the ones you have in the bedroom and the ones you have elsewhere. It's perfectly appropriate to tell your partner what feels good in the middle of lovemaking, but it's best to wait until you're in a more neutral setting to discuss larger issues, such as mismatched sexual desire or orgasm troubles.

Avoid criticizing. Couch suggestions in positive terms, such as, "I really love it when you touch my hair lightly that way," rather than focusing on the negatives. Approach a sexual issue as a problem to be solved together rather than an exercise in assigning blame.

Confide in your partner about changes in your body. If hot flashes are keeping you up at night or menopause has made your vagina dry, talk to your partner about these things. It's much better that he or she know what's really going on rather than interpret these physical changes as lack of interest. Likewise, if you're a man and you no longer get an erection just from the thought of sex, show your partner how to stimulate you rather than let her believe she isn't attractive enough to arouse you anymore.

Be honest. You may think you're protecting your partner's feelings by faking an orgasm, but in reality you're starting down a slippery slope. As challenging as it is to talk about any sexual problem, the difficulty level skyrockets once the issue is buried under years of lies, hurt, and resentment.

Don't equate love with sexual performance. Create an atmosphere of caring and tenderness; touch and kiss often. Don't blame yourself or your partner for your sexual difficulties. Focus instead on maintaining emotional and physical intimacy in your relationship.

For older couples, another potentially sensitive subject that's worth discussing is what will happen after one partner dies. In couples who enjoy a healthy sex life, the surviving partner will likely want to seek out a new partner. Expressing your openness to that possibility while you are both still alive will likely relieve guilt and make the process less difficult for the surviving partner later.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.