Relationship problems

Sexual Communication Ground Rules

Establishing Rules of Communication for Talking about Sex with a Partner

Every time we begin a new sexual discourse with a partner, we reveal a part of ourselves. Even with long-term couples, this can feel too dangerous, so we avoid it.

However, maintaining open communication is crucial to maintaining a long-term sexual connection. Establishing ground rules for sexual communication is one way to make these conversations safer.

Below is a list of ground rules for sexual communication. If you are looking for a way to start a new (and perhaps not-so-comfortable) conversation, discuss this list with your partner and establish your own rules. You can pick and choose from these suggestions or use them as a starting point to create rules that feel right for everyone involved.

  1. The right time to check in and check out

    If you sit down to a conversation while you are tired or angry about something else that happened earlier in the day, you will bring it up in conversation. One strategy to deal with this inevitability is to “check-in” at the beginning of the conversation; take a minute to talk about your day and how you are feeling so you know what everyone brings to the table. You can also take a minute at the end of the conversation to express how you feel about it (but do not use it to prolong the conversation after you have agreed to end it).

    Make your partner feel comfortable

  2. Define Safety for Yourself and to Each Other.

    No one can be expected to speak openly and honestly unless they are in a safe environment. Make a list of what you need to feel safe about, and then discuss that with your spouse. If you can agree on the items on your list, they can be included in the ground rules.

  3. Respecting Individual Sexual preferences

    Everyone must agree not to belittle, shame, or otherwise laugh at their partner’s sexual interests when it comes to expressing sexual fantasies or things they would like to do together. This does not mean you have to like them or act them out. But even if you do not want to have anything to do with the proposal, if your partner takes the risk of revealing a sexual desire, you should consider it a compliment and be polite.

  4. Listen. Don’t interrupt.

    This is one of the most difficult basic rules to follow, but it is also one of the most important. You will never feel heard if you are constantly interrupting each other and talking over each other. Accept that you both make mistakes and that you will apologize, and try to listen better and wait until your partner is done before responding.

  5. Bring a Positive Attitude to the Conversation

    Hopefully, neither you nor your partner is attempting to purposefully hurt or be mean to the other in your relationship. If you believe this to be true, keep it in mind even when you’re having fun with each other. Remember this ground rule and back off if you find yourself attacking (either in what you’re saying or how you’re expressing it).

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  6. Express your opinion

    As a basic rule of healthy communication, avoid telling the other person how they feel or what they think (in reality, you have no idea). You can express yourself and your feelings by talking about yourself. A simple way to do this is to begin sentences with the word “I,” as in “I feel this way when you do that.”

  7. Differences in values and feelings should be respected

    Although relationships require a high degree of compromise, this does not preclude us from having our own thoughts, values, and feelings. Show appropriate respect for each other’s differences without pressuring anyone to give up their beliefs. Everyone must compromise in the end, but everyone should be given the opportunity to be heard at the beginning.

  8. Ask questions and be specific.

    Try to be as specific as possible and avoid gross generalizations (e.g., “You usually do that” or “I could never do that”). If your partner makes inaccurate or general statements, ask for clarification and ask more questions so that you can both better understand the issue.

  9. Anyone can request time off at any time.

    Everyone needs to feel like they can feel in their comfort zone at any time during a conversation. That does not mean you can storm out mid-sentence, but you can agree that either of you can ask for a time-out or end the conversation at any time, as long as you agree to resume it later.

  10. Confidentiality is something you should both agree on.

    Everyone wants to know that everything they say in a private chat is kept private. You have to agree on the parameters (for example, is it acceptable to chat with a best friend?). Is it a brother or sister? However you set the boundaries, you need to stick to them and maintain confidentiality.

Amie Dawson, Ph.D.

Amie Dawson, Ph.D.

Amie is your go-to gal for all things related to sex and sexual well-being.

A certified sex educator and award-winning sex toy reviewer, Amie has spent her career empowering individuals and couples to embrace their sexuality.

With a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality and an ever-growing collection of over 200 vibrators, she's got the knowledge and experience to guide you on your pleasure-seeking journey.

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