Sustained communication is key to sexual wellness and satisfaction, according to Cooper
Talk and Get Support
Cooper suggests carving out time, either weekly or biweekly, to discuss feelings around the sexual relationship or relationship as a whole. Checking in keeps the communication channels open so that both partners can share their expectations and work toward balance.
Going together to talk with a counselor or sex therapist may be helpful. “When discussions around sexuality and eroticism lead to escalating arguments, I’d recommend seeing a sex therapist who is trained to guide partners to talk about intimacy issues,” says Cooper. “If one partner initiates the conversation in a calm manner and the [other] continues to shut the topic down, either through changing the subject or dismissive statements, this would also be a sign that professional help is needed.” Particularly with issues that are so complicated and can be so emotional, having a third person in the room may really help make communication more productive.
Shift Your Perspective
Shifting the way you think and talk about sex with your partner could set you on the right path. A study from the no string attached dating site Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who believe in the idea of sexual growth-that sexual satisfaction is attained from hard work and effort-experience higher relationship and sexual satisfaction than those who believe in sexual destiny, the idea that sexual satisfaction is attained simply through finding the right partner.
“If partners are willing to discuss and experiment with all kinds of erotic and physical sexuality with one another, there is more hope that they will discover more overlapping experiences of sexual compatibility,” says Cooper. “Employing a sustained sense of willingness to explore is a key ingredient.”
Do It for Your Partner
Getting out of old sexual patterns can be tough, but it may be well worth the effort. If you’ve developed a story about the two of you being incompatible, it will take time to write a new story. “Set a time to share ideas on activities you’d like to try with one another with an agreement that neither partner will put down or make fun of their partner,” advises Cooper.
We all do things for partners because we want to please them. And as long as you aren’t doing something against your will or that feels bad for yourself, being sexual together even when you feel ambivalent might be one way of moving toward a different sexual relationship.
Not unlike the first point, making compromises is part of any relationship, and compromising on sex shouldn’t be off the table simply because it’s sex.
“Create a weekly intimacy date that could alternate with experimenting with each partner’s interests with an agreement that, if either partner started to feel uncomfortable or turned off, a safe word would be used to stop without blaming or shaming,” suggests Cooper. “Share resources that would better illustrate the kind of scenarios you’d like with a scene from a film, a porn scene, or an erotic podcast or book.”
You always need to feel fine about the compromises you’re making. But if it’s the idea of compromise that is stopping you, know that it’s fine to take another look.
Find the Third Option
The best option is one that neither of you initially thought of. Often when we have conflict, we take a position and dig our heels in. Between two people there is always a third option, and finding it means unclenching your fists and opening your mind to creative possibilities.
“There are times that some couples have come into sex therapy to help negotiate specific consensual nonmonogamy agreements that would give them more freedom to satisfy their needs while maintaining a commitment to the relationship and the sexual health of both partners,” says Cooper. “At other times, partners engage in self-pleasure that incorporates their specific interests in which their partner doesn’t want to engage.”