Too many couples only talk about sex when they’re having it, or not at all, and Johnson believes this is a missed opportunity. “We don’t have a lot of communication practice outside the stereotypical sitcom thing where the person says, ‘A little bit more to the left!’” Johnson suggests building a practice of fluidly discussing desire. “If a couple is having hard and fast, porn-style penetration over and over and they don’t want that, yet they haven’t ever practiced saying what they do want, they’ll feel stuck.” Johnson says “I’m not in the mood” can often mean “I’m not in the mood for the kind of sex we’re having,” and that opening up the discussion is important for changing it.
Dr. Donaghue agrees you have to be willing to share honestly what is and isn’t working, even if you don’t know the solution. “Intimacy is really about vulnerability,” he says. “So say what’s hard to hear and hard to say. What isn’t working for you? Is it the amount? The ways your doing it?” If you and your partner aren’t comfortable having that kind of conversation, he suggests practicing having difficult conversations about non-sexual things first, and working your way up.
Never stop exploring
“Sex can get better and better over time,” she says, “and it typically does with people who are able and willing to meet themselves at their edges, to be radically honest and continue exploring, rather than assuming they already know what their partner likes.” She suggests prioritizing exploration rather than just “getting off.”
Dr. Donaghue recommends couples start by asking how close they are feeling to one another. He explains there are may ways to feel close: emotionally, socially, erotically. “If you’re with someone you love, care about and feel safe with, try to use sex as a way to expand yourselves and your closeness.” Challenge your own ideas about how sex should look. “There is a heteronormative assumption that all guys are tops, for example, but some guys are bottoms. Just because they have a penis doesn’t mean they’re an aggressive, assertive, sex partner.”
Many unsatisfied couples are trapped in a pattern of sex with predictable steps, Dr. Donaghue says. For example: “Step one: I just took a shower; step two: I’m going to come sit by you; step three: we’re going to make out; step four: I’m going to touch your boobs…and it’s this boring path that’s become a force of habit.” Try to break that. Whether that means having radically honest conversations or going to a sex boutique together, he suggests you be open to exploring new avenues.
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Johnson says lot of people make the mistake of framing their sex lives around what their partner wants and needs, instead of what they want and need. “Some people won’t own that for themselves, but it’s important to say, ‘You know what, I do want this to be different, and here’s how I want it to be different, because a sexual connection is important to me.’” If you and your partner’s sexual desires are different, she suggests you both voice what you want and why, and see about meeting in the middle. “Work it out. Talk about it. Define what you both need.”
Dr. Donaghue says women are often taught to be a passive object to be sought after, and a lot of his work is in helping individuals find confidence in their active desires. Sometimes that means helping clients learn to feel comfortable with the body they have instead of waiting until they have the one they want, something he hears frequently. He suggests you consider your sexual influences. “Understand where your body-esteem is coming from,” Dr. Donaghue says. “Try to understand the images you’re holding yourself accountable to, and the messaging.” Try engaging with body and sex positive spaces online.