Women's sexual health: Talking about your sexual needs
Medically reviewed on April 18, 2017
Women's sexual health, like men's, is important to overall emotional and physical well-being. A fulfilling sex life improves your sleep quality and reduces stress. But achieving a healthy and satisfying sex life doesn't happen magically; it takes self-reflection and candid communication with your partner. Although talking about sexuality can be difficult, it's a topic well worth addressing.
Follow this guide to discussing women's sexual health concerns and promoting sexual enjoyment.
A bit about women's sexual health
Many people think that your body's physical desire for sex motivates sexual activity, which leads to sexual arousal and then orgasm. Although this may be true for most men, it's not necessarily true for most women. Many women have different motivators and stimuli that make them feel aroused and desire sex — but they also have different factors that dampen desire.
For many women, particularly those who are older than 40 or who have gone through menopause, physical desire isn't the primary motivation for sex. A woman may be motivated to have sex to feel close to her partner or to show her feelings.
What it means to be sexually satisfied differs for everyone. For example, some women say the pleasure of sexual arousal is sufficient, while others want to experience orgasm. If you have concerns about your sex life, or you just want to find ways to enhance it, a good first step is talking with your partner.
Women's sexual health: Start by talking about your needs
It's not always easy to talk about your sexual desires; however, your partner can't read your mind. Sharing your thoughts and expectations about your sexual experiences can bring you closer together and help you experience greater sexual enjoyment. To get started:
- Admit your discomfort. If you feel anxious, say so. Opening up about your concerns may help you start the conversation. Explain to your partner if you feel a little shy about discussing what you want, and ask for reassurance that your partner is open to the conversation.
- Start talking. Once you begin the discussion, your confidence and comfort level may increase.
- Set a time limit. Avoid overwhelming each other with a lengthy talk. By devoting 15-minute conversations to the topic, you might find it easier to stay within your emotional comfort zones.
- Talk regularly. Your conversations about sexual experiences and desires will get easier the more you talk.
- Use a book or movie. Invite your partner to read a book about women's sexual health, or recommend chapters or sections that highlight your questions and concerns. You might also use a movie scene as a starting point for a discussion.
Topics to address with your partner
When you're talking to your partner about your sexual needs, try to be specific. Consider addressing these topics:
- Time. Are you setting aside enough time for sexual intimacy? If not, what can you do to change things? How can you prioritize sexual intimacy? Think about how you and your partner can support each other (for example, taking care of stressful tasks) to help create time and energy for sex.
- Your relationship. Talk about any challenges between you and your partner that might be interfering with sex, and ways that you can address them.
- Romance. Do you and your partner have the same definition of romance? Is it missing? How can you reignite it? How can romance set the stage for sexual intimacy?
- Pleasure. What gives you individual and mutual enjoyment? Be open to hearing your partner's requests and negotiating differences if one of you is uncomfortable with the other's request. Discuss boundaries of what sexual activities make you uncomfortable.
- Routine vs. rut. Has sex become too routine or predictable? What changes might you make? For instance, explore different times to have sex or try new techniques. Consider more cuddling, a sensual massage, self-stimulation, oral sex or the use of a vibrator — depending on what interests you. Talk about what you like, what you don't like and what new things you would like to try.
- Emotional intimacy. Sex is more than a physical act. Remind each other that it's also an opportunity for emotional connection, which builds closeness in a relationship. Try to take the pressure off of each other when it comes to having sexual intercourse or achieving orgasm. Enjoy touching each other, kissing and feeling physically and emotionally close.
- Physical and emotional changes. Are physical changes, such as an illness, weight gain, changes after surgery or hormonal changes, affecting your sex life? Also address emotional factors that may be interfering with your ability to enjoy sexual activity, such as being under stress or feeling depressed.
- Beliefs. Discuss your beliefs and expectations about sexuality. Consider whether misconceptions — such as the idea that women become less sexual after menopause — are affecting your sex life.
How to handle differing sexual needs
Sexual needs vary. Many factors can affect your sexual appetite, from stress, illness and aging to family, career and social commitments. Whatever the cause, differences in sexual desire between partners can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, rejection or resentment. Talk to your partner about:
- Your intimacy needs. Intimacy is more than just sexual needs. Intimacy also includes emotional, spiritual, physical and recreational needs. If your emotional intimacy needs aren't being met, you may be less interested in sex. Think about what your partner could do to enhance your emotional intimacy, and talk about it openly and honestly.
- Your differences in sexual desire. In any long-term relationship, couples may experience differing levels of sexual desire. Discuss your differences and try to explore options that will satisfy both of you.
When to talk with your doctor
If your difficulty persists, consider turning to a doctor or sex therapist for help. If you take medications and are concerned about your level of desire, review your medications with your doctor. If a particular medication is affecting your comfort with sex or desire for sex, your doctor may be able to suggest an alternative.
Likewise, if a physical sign or symptom — such as vaginal dryness — is interfering with your sexual enjoyment, ask about treatment options. For example, a lubricant or other medication can help with vaginal dryness associated with hormonal changes or other factors.