Asking for something new in the bedroom is a vulnerable position to be in. This is especially true when a couple has been together with a relatively stable or ‘normal’ sex life for many years.
When someone feels drawn to a new sexual outlet, whether it is a solo or partnered activity, it usually holds a high level of importance - enough to overcome interpersonal inertia that most sexual partnerships grow into over the years. And high importance, particularly in sex, can mean high stress and high stakes.
THE "YOU KNOW"
Recently, I stopped by a favorite locally owned adult retail store to chat with the owners. We were talking about local adult sex ed options when I spotted a man in his early 60’s who looked a bit lost. I asked if I could help. “My wife said she was thinking about a vibrator the other day, and then she said it again yesterday. I know that she won’t mention it a third time, and that she must really, really want one because she mentioned it at all. And she won’t ever buy one for herself.”
It struck me how insightful and sexually open this endearing husband was despite his self-identified lack of experience or education about vibrators, or anything else related to “you know”. That we were resorting to euphemisms for the word “sex” while surrounded by all manner of sex toys and fetish gear would have caused me to raise my eyebrows if I hadn’t been so impressed with this man’s deep love and devotion to bringing his wife pleasure against all odds.
It left me thinking about the many men and women who similarly find a growing interest in expanding their sexual repertoire but stop talking with their spouse out of fear after just one or two hints – when their spouse may not have been as sensitive to the topic as the gentleman I helped that day.
How do you start a new sexual conversation with a long-time partner?
There are two areas to tackle when beginning these discussions: the Why and the How. The first is to give you encouragement to jump into the second!
Why bring up that sexual itch that’s been tickling your brain recently?
Because long-term partnerships are worth the work, including the sexual work, to make sure everyone is happy.
Because it’s important to you and you are worthy of sexual fulfillment.
Because you and your partner can both feel more deeply invested in your relationship through detailed conversations about sex.
Because sexual connection can be so much more beautiful and enjoyable when everyone is open about their needs.
Because your partner may have something that they are interested in and are also feeling awkward about bringing it up.
Because you’ve got this one amazing life to live, and this is an opportunity, an opening, to make as much of it as you can.
Having said that, I hope that you’re excited about the possibilities and are ready to tackle the “How” part of the equation, because it won’t necessarily be easy. Sometimes it is – as with the couple I described at the beginning of this post. (By now I hope they have experimented beyond the small vibrator he bought that day, and found the one or many toys that are just right for her alone and for them together.)
But sometimes, it isn’t.
If talking about sex is unusual for you and your partner, your passage through these initiating conversations may involve a slow start. Test the waters by mentioning that you read an article about sex toys or sex acts online recently. Ask your partner what they think about a specific toy or act. You might start with the one that you’re interested in – or you might start with something else. It’s okay to have a very slow initiation to a conversation you really want to have.
When you’re ready to move past the theoretical and into the personal, you can shift into using “I” and “you”. For example; “Hey babe, the other day I was thinking about trying some new things in the bedroom. What do you think about ____________? I think I might enjoy it.”
It’s best to do this when the two of you are alone, but not in bed where questions may feel pressured. You’re not looking for consent yet – just curiosity. Depending on your partner’s easiest mode of communication, you might choose to bring it up via text or e-mail rather than in person. Do try and take into consideration what sort of environment will best enable them to engage in a thoughtful, clearheaded conversation.
If your partner’s initial reaction feels negative, don’t take it to heart. Our culture is very sex negative, and falling into that reaction at first is easy to do. Take a deep breath, let them know that you’d like them to think about it, and drop the topic for a while. Give them a week, or even two or three, before you bring it up again. It will make both of you feel safer if you allow time for someone to process and consider.
If your third or fourth attempts at conversation are still met with negativity or resistance to the topic, you might need to reframe your game plan.
You can drop subtle hints by leaving related articles or erotica where they're likely to stumble upon it on their own time. If you think your partner just isn’t taking you seriously, restate how important this is to you and that your interest is sincere.
However, you should also consider the possibility that your partner might have a hard limit for this activity or for participating in it, meaning the topic is uncomfortable or unwanted for them. No one can force them to accept it, and you shouldn’t push them to. Every person has different sexual desires and comfort zones, no matter how long couples are together.
If your sexual needs can’t be met within your partnership, and there’s no chance of compromise, consider other solutions. You could try new solo activities, toys, or materials related to the activity you're interested in. If the structure of your relationship permits, you might also consider outside partners or local interest groups.
Speech Over Silence
Whatever you do, communicate your desires and decisions with your partner as much as possible. Coupled sexual exploration requires interest and consent from both parties. Your partner’s excitement about bringing you pleasure is essential – and so is respecting their sexual boundaries. Clear, honest conversation is the best way to make sure everyone’s needs are most effectively met.
Dr. Karen Rayne has been working in education for the past two decades with an expertise in sexuality education. She has her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from UT Austin and founded Unhushed (www.unhushed.net) in order to open conversations about sexuality in the home. Dr. Rayne works locally and nationally. She is passionate about providing comprehensive sexuality education to people of all ages and stages with sensitivity and a touch of humor.