Let's Talk About Sex: How Good Are We At Communicating Our Desires?

Dirty talk aside, deep conversations about sex get a bad rap as being uncomfortable and cringeworthy. But unless your partner is a mind reader, you could be stopping your sexual satisfaction with them from reaching its climax.

Speaking openly and intimately about what turns you on can not only normalize these conversations but can also heighten your fulfillment in the bedroom and make you more sexually compatible with your partner.

But how good are we at telling our partners what we like? And how can our relationships change as a result?

To find out, we surveyed 2,000 US adults at different life and relationship stages about their sexual communication, and asked our resident sex expert Sammi Cole to decode the results and give some tips.

How open are we to communicating our sexual desires?

Almost half of the respondents regularly speak to their partners about what they want in the bedroom, regardless of whether they’re single, in a relationship, engaged, married, or widowed.

Interestingly, more opposite-sex couples (44%) chat once a week about what they want in the bedroom compared to same-sex couples (25%). Sammi says this is because “in heterosexual relationships, sex is often approached as penis-in-vagina intercourse, whereas sex covers so much more than that (and for many, that’s not the key to their best sexual experience). Same-sex couples, by nature of their physiology, perhaps don’t have that preconception of what sex ‘should’ look like and may be more open to a variety of sexual activities.”

We also found that the older we get, the more regularly we open up about our desires. Over 50% of 35- to 54-year-olds said they communicate once or twice a weekcompared to over a third of 18- to 24-year-olds who said they communicate just once or twice a year. Sammi explains that “when we’re younger, we’re often less likely to speak up about what we want – and that goes for outside the bedroom as well as inside. This might be because we’re concerned about what our peers think, or because we haven’t discovered exactly what makes us tick yet.”

When you add gender into the mix – men feel more at ease talking about their desires than women, with 48% of men compared to 34% of women bringing up sexual desires once a week. This is because women ‘find the conversations uncomfortable’ (28% vs. 3% of men), they ‘don’t know what they want’ (21% vs. 9%) or it ‘makes them anxious’ (15% compared to just 3%).

Sammi points out that this could be because of the differences in the portrayal and representation of sex for men and women as well as other societal factors.

“Male sexuality is something that has historically been explored much more publicly than female sexuality. The past few decades have certainly seen a shift towards this ‘demystification’, but even though their pleasure is just as important, women may still feel more reluctant to talk about what they need to enjoy sex.

Sex scenes in TV shows between a man and a woman often show kissing, stripping, three seconds of penetration and she’s having the best orgasm of her life! For a lot of women, the reality is less straightforward than that. Between 70-80% of women need clitoral stimulation to climax, but that’s not something we see, so it’s no wonder these desires often go unexpressed or unexplored. On top of that, there’s body image pressures, which result in insecurities; performance anxiety (which can affect women as well as men); potential previous trauma; misplaced ‘guilt’, and’ shame’ around female desire from messages in certain avenues of our upbringing.”

When it comes to relationship status, 96% of single people feel comfortable opening up about their sexual preferences – that’s more than any other relationship stage. Married couples were next at 89%, new relationships (85%), long-term relationships (77%), and engaged couples (61%).

Sammi says that when you’re in a relationship, it can feel like you’ve established your sexual tastes and that’s what you’ve got to stick with. But, in reality, they could now be totally different. When you’re single and having casual sex (that is, sex without a romantic attachment, you probably haven’t built up that same expectation of what sex ought to look like, so you can be more flexible in your exploration.”

What’s stopping us from discussing our sexual desires?

If you and your partner have never spoken about it, there might be an underlying reason on their side as to why. Our respondents said it was for one of three reasons:

  1. They simply don’t want to (17%)
  2. They don’t feel comfortable (15%)
  3. They don’t know what they want (15%)

Feeling comfortable to talk about sexual desires goes hand-in-hand with being totally relaxed around your partner. But if you don’t feel familiar enough around them, this may indicate it’s time to have a conversation that addresses this. While it may seem difficult, there’s a chance your partner wants to know. Our survey found that over a third of Americans think it’s a shame that their partners have never brought it up as they’d like to hear it – this is just one reason why we should get better acquainted with sex talks.

Can a conversation lead to a better time in the bedroom?

While some didn’t want to, of those who did, two-thirds of people said that having open conversations about their sexual desires with their partner leads to more satisfying sex with almost half (46%) saying it makes them feel empowered in bed.

Of the two-thirds who said it leads to better sex, most of them (82%) were single. That means that less married couples, engaged couples, and people in a relationship feel that having a conversation can lead to better sex.

We’ve discussed why single people may feel they can open up more, but Sammi confirms why having frank and honest conversations about sex with your partner is important.

“Regular conversations help us to check ourselves and reprioritize sexual intimacy. Talking to your partner about what’s blowing your mind, and what you’d like to see more (or less) of, also shows that you’re invested in this intimate relationship. And finding out more about each other’s fantasies can be a big turn-on in itself.

These conversations should never be critical or judgemental and should include a blend of positive experiences (‘Wasn’t it great when we did that thing last week?’) alongside clear but respectful expressions of your desires. But remember, neither of you should ever feel coerced into trying something new – try to understand more about your partner’s boundaries, but never pressure them.”

What sex topics do we feel most comfortable discussing?

When it comes to chatting all things sex, some topics are easier to broach than others.

This differs between age groups – for 18- to -24-year-olds, period discomfort was their preferred topic of choice, while 25- to 34-year-olds most love talking about sexual fantasies and fetishes.

The 45- to 54-year-olds brought up sex toys most often. This could be because as we get older, we may have grown tired of the same old positions and are open to trying tools that promise new sensations.

How do you feel about introducing sex toys?

When asked how they’d feel about introducing sex toys into the mix, most people said ‘interested’ or ‘excited’.

While the above results seem positive towards the idea of using a sex toy collaboratively, nearly two thirds (57%) of people felt that if their partner used a sex toy on themselves without talking to them about it first, they would feel like their partner was cheating on them.

Sammi explains that “often, this comes from a place of insecurity. Some people regard their partner’s desire for a sex toy as a way to ‘replace’ them, or as something that can do something they can’t, rather than a way to improve sex and intimacy for everyone in the relationship.

Firstly, in all my time working in the sex toy industry, I have never heard of someone leaving their partner for a sex toy. However great a device may feel, it’s not a substitute for a living, breathing person.

Secondly, think about why your partner using a toy without you might feel like infidelity. Is it the fact that they didn’t tell you about it? If so, talk to them about why they might not have felt comfortable discussing it with you. Is it the fact that it looks like a body part? Perhaps try shopping together for a different toy that you’re more comfortable with. Or is it the fact that they’re using it without you? Simple – find a way to use it together!

If it’s your partner who’s not happy about you having a sex toy, communication is just as important from your side as well. Find out what it is about toys that they don’t like.

But at the end of the day, you’re the only person who decides what to do with your body. Respecting your partner’s wishes is important – but so is respecting your own.”

Couples sex toys are made to bring an exciting element to the bedroom (or even in public) that partners can experience together. One popular choice for a lot of couples is remote control vibrators, such as remote control panties or remote control cock rings.

As it’s a toy that you can both enjoy there shouldn’t be any feelings of jealousy, but an exciting sexual endeavor that can make for surprising and tantalizing play. There are also so many different types of remote control sex toys, so most preferences are taken care of.

Could a sex toy be the answer?

If you’re a person who struggles with talking to a partner about what you want, or you are self-conscious, a couples sex toy can give you an opener. Having one in hand turns the focus away from yourself and directs it on a mutual object that you can both derive satisfaction from.

This can then lead to a bigger conversation on the topic. A simple, “hey, I bought this new thing that we can both try out in the bedroom” can kickstart talking about what the sex toy does, how it can stimulate both of you, and then what you do and don’t like.

Try a couples sex toy for yourself and let us know what you think.

Want to take part in our case study?

We want to hear from you to find out how in-tune you and your sexual partner are. We are looking for couples/sexual partners to take part in a video case study. Send an email to lovehoney@builtvisible.com if you’re interested and let us know your age, relationship status, sexual orientation, and how long you have been with your partner. Successful participants will be given a $100 Lovehoney voucher to spend as they please!