If you’ve been in a sexually intimate relationship for longer than a year, chances are you’ve experienced being in the mood when your partner isn’t—or vice versa. Having unequal libidos, at least occasionally, is a super-common long-term relationship issue.
My boyfriend and I just celebrated our two-year anniversary. It’s the best relationship I’ve ever been in by far, and I love him to pieces, but there’s no doubt about it: Sex columns (and columnists) imitate life. Just ask Carrie Bradshaw.
So I reached out to a few of my favorite sexperts for their advice on how to solve this common quandary. How do you ask for more sex… without hurting your partner’s feelings?
1. Talk about it.
“First of all, stop worrying about hurting your lover’s feelings when asking for more sex,” says certified sexologist and couples’ counselor Anka Radakovich. While it’s important to be kind to your partner while discussing any sensitive topic (more on this in a minute), mismatched sexual desire is a common problem with couples, especially in long-term relationships where needs and desires can change over time. Radakovich stresses that the important thing is to talk about it. “Never be afraid or ashamed of discussing sex with the person you’re having sex with!”
Emily Morse, sexologist and host of the Sex With Emily podcast, agrees that communicating your desires and preferences is key. “Relationships are full of compromises, and your sex life is no different,” she points out. “In fact, many couples aren’t on the same sex schedule, but there’s no reason you can’t let it be known that it’s important to you.”
Radakovich warns that failing to address it will only breed resentment, which happens to be one of the biggest relationship killers out there. Who knows, your partner might tell you that they are completely stressed by a work situation or confess that they’ve been dealing with another issue that you didn’t even know about—the only way to find out is to talk about it.
2. Have the convo IRL, if possible.
“As uncomfortable as it may be, having a face-to-face conversation with your partner is the best way to go,” says sex researcher and neuroscientist Debra W. Soh, Ph.D. “Delivery is everything,” she says, noting that it’s a good idea to introduce the subject when neither of you is feeling rushed.
Radakovich agrees “Bring up the subject when both of you are relaxed and happy,” she says. “Or take a tip from the swinger crowd: Give them a nice back massage. Swingers know how to relax people… including other people’s wives,” she jokes. But it’s a seriously good tip! “A massage will relax anyone, creates intimacy, and the next thing you know, they might be down—or up!—for some long-awaited sex.”
3. Give the good news first.
This one’s extra important: You don’t want to put your partner on the defensive. To this end, Soh suggests starting off on a positive note by talking about what you like about your sex life. Besides, conjuring up some erotic memories might be just what the doctor ordered to help get your partner in the mood.
4. Speak for yourself.
Soh also recommends using “I” statements as another anti-defensive measure and all-around good relationship practice to get into so that your partner doesn’t feel like you are placing blame on them.
“My No. 1 tip when it comes to talking about sex in general without hurting your partner’s feelings is to make sure you’re not putting them on the defensive by blaming them,” Morse says. “Rather than saying, ‘You never want to have sex,’ or ‘We never have sex,’ lead with why you feel like having more sex would be beneficial for both of you.”
When your interests are aligned, you’re definitely more likely to get an outcome that both of you are psyched about—and then you can build a habit or routine based on that positive feedback loop.
5. Ask about your partner’s preferences.
Finding that alignment can come from discovering what would enhance your partner’s experience, Morse says.
“If your partner never seems in the mood, ask them what makes them feel sexy, what times of day they prefer to have sex, or which ways they would like you to initiate,” she says. “Even if it comes down to setting the alarm a few minutes earlier in the morning or setting up sex dates, at least you’re working toward a more satisfying, sexier solution.”
6. Be specific about your wants.
Because clarity is crucial when you’re trying to suss out relationship discrepancies, Soh encourages you to be as specific as possible about exactly what kind of sex you want to be having—and how often.
“Sex is such a huge part of our lives, and it’s important to feel fulfilled,” she reminds us. “If it isn’t a topic you usually talk about, doing so will hopefully open up the dialogue so that your partner will feel comfortable telling you about any concerns they have too.”
7. Find a win-win solution.
Ultimately, Morse advises sex-thirsting partners to proceed with a spirit of empathy and cooperation. “Tell them how much you love feeling close and intimate with them and how you could work together to make sure you’re both getting your needs met.”
This advice reminded me of the wisdom How to Keep Your Marriage From Sucking author Amiira Ruotola dropped on a recent episode of my podcast, “At the end of the day, it’s not like one of you gets to win. You either both win or you both lose.”
So use these tips to talk to your partner about how to achieve a sex life that works for you both… I know I will.
Courtney Kocak is a Los Angeles-based writer and host of the sex and love podcast Reality Bytes. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @courtneykocak.