Whenever we bring up a new sexual conversation with a partner, we are exposing a part of ourselves. Even with long-term partners this can feel so risky that we avoid it altogether. But keeping lines of communication open is essential to keeping a long-term sexual relationship alive. One way to make these conversations feel safer is by establishing ground rules for sexual communication.
Here is a list of sexual communication ground rules. If you’re looking for a way to start a new (and uncomfortable) conversation one way to start is by sharing this list with your partner, and developing your own set of rules. You can pick and choose from these ideas, or use them as a launch pad to develop whatever rules feel right for everyone involved.
Time to Check In and Check Out
If you start a conversation when you’re exhausted or angry about something else that happened that day, you’ll bring those things into the conversation with you. One way to deal with this inevitability is to "check in" at the beginning of the conversation; spend a minute sharing something about your day and how you're feeling so you know what you're each coming to the conversation with. Do the same at the end of the conversation to say how you felt it went (but don’t use that as a way to keep the conversation going after you’ve agree to end it). It's a nice idea to end each conversation sharing at least one positive thing that came out of it.
Define Safety for Yourselves and to Each Other
No one can be expected to communicate honestly and openly unless they feel safe. Make a list for yourself about what you need to feel safe and then share that list with your partner. Feeling safe might be about language that you use, or where you have the conversation. It might be agreeing to no yelling, or that neither of you will storm out of the room. If you can agree on things from your lists those can become part of the ground rules.
Respecting Differences in Sexual Interests
If the conversation you want to have is about sharing sexual fantasies
or trying a new sexual activity together
, everyone needs to agree not to belittle, shame, or otherwise laugh at their partner’s sexual interests. This doesn’t mean you have to like them or act them out. But if your partner takes the risk of exposing a sexual desire, you need to consider that kind of sharing a compliment and be respectful, even if you want nothing to do with the actual proposal.
Attend Without Interrupting
This is one the hardest ground rules to follow, but also one of the most important ones. You need to engage and attend to what your partner is telling you without interrupting. If you’re interrupting and talking over each other, neither of you will ever feel heard. Agree to not interrupt and know that you’ll both slip up, but when you do you’ll apologize and try harder to pay attention and wait until your partner is finished before responding.
Bring a Sense of Goodwill to the Conversation
Hopefully it’s true of your relationship that neither you nor your partner are trying to intentionally hurt the other or be mean to the other. If you believe this is true, try to remember it even when you’re getting into it with each other. If you find yourself attacking (either in what you’re saying or how you are saying it) remember this ground rule and back off a bit.
Make 'I' Statements
A basic rule of good communication is to avoid telling the other person how they feel or what they think (in reality, you have no idea). What you can do is communicate about yourself and your own feelings. And a simple way to do this is try to start sentences with “I”, as in “I feel like this when you do that”
Respect Differences in Values and Feelings
Relationships require a lot of compromise, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to have our own thoughts, values and feelings. Show each other enough respect to allow for differences without forcing either person to concede their beliefs. In the end, everyone has to compromise, but in the beginning everyone should be feel as if their perspective was acknowledged.
Be Specific, Ask Questions
Try to be as specific as you can be and avoid making sweeping general statements (e.g. “you always do this” “I can never do that”). If you find your partner making vague or general statements ask for clarification and ask questions to try and help both of you get a clearer idea of what specifically is the problem.
Anyone Can Call Time-Out at Any Time
For a conversation to feel safe, everyone needs to feel like they can leave at any point. This doesn’t make it OK to storm out while your partner is in the middle of a sentence, but agree that either of you, at any point, can ask for a time out, or to end the conversation, as long as you also agree to pick it up at a later point.
Agree on Confidentiality
Everyone needs to feel like what they say in a private conversation stays private. You’ll have to agree on the limits of that (is it OK to talk to a best friend? A brother or sister?) but whatever restrictions you put on it, you have to respect those and not break confidentiality.