I want to talk to my boyfriend about sex, but I think he is a lot less comfortable talking about it than I am. We’ve been dating for a while (and are sexually active), but I don’t know how to have the dialogue without coming across as pushy or invasive. I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous to bring it up, but I think it would be better for both of us to communicate about it. Where do I start?
-Eager To Communicate
Your inclination, ETC, is right on the money: you should talk about it.
When you’re in a relationship with someone, whether they’re your business partner, your lover, your housemate, or your sibling, communication is always a good call. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that better communication leads to stronger mutual understanding and transparency. The more you actually communicate, the less your partner has to assume or intuit, meaning the better the two of you will be able to work together toward a goal–no matter whether the goal is buying groceries or figuring out what you want to do next in bed.
Now, this isn’t to say that communication is easy. Sometimes it’s not. But sex isn’t the only difficult topic we face in our lives–if you’ve ever had to ask your housemates to clean the toilet or chip in for their overdue share of rent, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Difficult topics can be (and often are) the really crucial ones. It’s important not to let our concern about the difficulty of a conversation keep us from having it, and bravo to you, ETC, for recognizing this.
If you’re worried about how he’ll take the conversation, though, you can ease into it. Start by making it meta: talk with him about talking about sex. Schedule some time together for the sole purpose of talking to him about sex conversations. I mean it; pick a date and add this to your calendars. You’re not getting into the sex talk you mentioned in your letter just yet–this first conversation is about sex as a subject, why you want to discuss it, and why it makes him uncomfortable (if, in fact, it does).
The whole idea here is that you want to minimize his discomfort while still getting the conversation going. Scheduling conversations may seem a little weird, but it gives you both some time to organize your thoughts while also indicating that this talk is important to you and shouldn’t be brushed off. Like most important sex-related conversations, this one should be had in a non-sexual context where there’s no pressure or urgency.
When it comes time for the talk, you should start it by establishing a reason for the conversation, so your boyfriend can feel more reassured. You can tell him that it’s not because you’re unhappy, or even simpler, just say that you want to talk about this so you can make good sex even better. Make it clear that you’re not blaming him for anything, you just think this would be good for the two of you. And keep the discussions brief for now–it keeps you from drawing out his discomfort to unbearable levels, plus it means there will be more to talk about another time. The more you both talk about it, the easier it will become.
It’s possible that, despite your efforts to make him comfortable, your boyfriend still won’t want to talk about sex. That’s okay–everyone gets to set their own personal boundaries. But in the off chance that this happens, remember that you’re under no obligation to have sex with him. If you’re uncomfortable or unhappy having a sexual relationship with an incommunicado partner, then don’t. Talking about sex is one of the responsibilities of being in a sexual relationship. I’m sure everything will go swimmingly and your boyfriend will open up, but just in case he doesn’t, don’t feel like you have to be sexual with him if he’s not holding up his end.
You’re not pushy for wanting to talk about this. It’s entirely reasonable, especially if sex is already part of your relationship, since the alternative–not discussing with your partner a regular and significant part of your life–strikes me as unsustainable and a really bad habit for any relationship. True, he may be a little uncomfortable at first, but when you get down to it, your ability to express your desires and be heard trumps his desire to be comfortable. This is an important cornerstone of a healthy sexual relationship, so hopefully, the two of you can find a way to talk it out.