A previous version of this article on how to talk about sex issues with your partner Blood + Milk. This article has been updated with current information.
Dealing with healths issue can be, well, a pain; but managing pelvic, genital, or sexual health struggles is made harder by society’s taboo surrounding these topics. The shame and silence accompanying conditions like urinary incontinence, vaginal and pelvic infections like BV and UTIs, pain during sex (e.g. vaginismus, vulvodynia), erectile dysfunction, fibroids, and other problems “down there” can make it more challenging and uncomfortable to discuss with anyone, especially someone you’re having sex with. Yet your partner(s) can be incredible allies, providing support and encouragement.
If you’re ready to talk about your sex health issues with your partner(s), here’s a step by step guide to do just that—without awkwardness or embarrassment.
Before The Talk
Having the most productive talk about sex health issues with your partner(s) means starting before you sit down together. Here’s how to set the stage for an open, nonjudgmental conversation about sex.
Do Your Research
Learn how this sex issue can impact the different aspects of your sex life and relationship, from body image to stress to trying new things in bed. Talk to your healthcare providers, seek out blogs and research articles on the topic, and reflect on your personal experiences.
It may help to write down talking points to guide your conversation and ground you.
THINK ABOUT HOW YOUR PARTNER(S) BEST RECEIVES INFORMATION
Do they resonate more with personal anecdotes and stories? Facts and figures? Something else? Share it in that way to make it easiest for them to understand and for you to feel heard.
GATHER TOOLS TO HELP YOU STAY PRESENT
Do you have a beloved talisman like a crystal, goddess card, stuffed animal, etc? Are there tinctures that help you feel connected? How about an essential oil blend that you can diffuse? Gather whatever it is you use to ground yourself.
Read More: 10 Ways To Use Essential Oils for Sex
REFLECT ON WHAT YOU WANT AND NEED from the Conversation
Journal, meditate, practice mindfulness, pray, or move your body on why you’re telling your partner(s), what you’d like to get out of the conversation, and how you want them to support you. Some questions to consider are:
- How active of a role do you want them to take in your healthcare?
- When you experience the issue during sex, how would you like them to react?
- How do you most like to be supported?
- In general, how do you want them to approach this issue?
Some of these answers will come over time, through trial and error. Reflecting on them in advance, though, helps the conversation stay focused and be productive.
ASSUME THE BEST
Someone new(er)? Trust that most humans can handle more than we give them credit for.
During the Talk
When you go to talk about sex health issues with your partner, use these tips to guide you in the moment.
START THE CONVERSATION THE RIGHT WAY
Let them know there’s something you want to talk about and that it feels sensitive, awkward, etc—whatever emotion is alive in you.
Learn What They Know – or Don’t
Are they aware you’ve been having issues? Have they commented on changes like increased trips to the bathroom or wincing in pain during sex? Are they completely oblivious? Did they research the issue on their own? Know someone with something similar?
Based on what they share, tell them more about your experience thus far. Use the resources you prepared to share the impact of this on your life and the relationship.
LET THEM KNOW HOW THEY CAN SUPPORT YOU
Would you prefer they ignore the issue? Joke about it? Check-in regularly? Provide practical support like helping you with vaginal dilator exercises or by carrying extra underwear or pads in their bag? Do you want them to offer you suggestions or defer to you in all things or something in between?
Use the reflection you did in advance to guide this part of the convo. And, remember: if you don’t know the answers to these questions, that’s OK! Share that, plus whatever feels true in this moment and the expectation that your needs will likely change over time.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO DO THEIR OWN RESEARCH AND EMOTIONAL LABOR
Repeat after me (as often as needed):
I am not responsible for my health issues OR partner’s emotional response to them.
Often in relationships—especially heterosexual ones—the sick person ends up managing their own emotions, their health issue, and their partner’s feelings. That’s not fair to anyone, especially the person struggling.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid having vulnerable conversations about how this sex issue impacts your relationship and sex life, and how you both feel about it.
It means your partner(s) needs to find their emotional center of gravity (h/t Emily Nagoski) around this issue, both in the moment and on a larger scale.
BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS
Don’t shy away from being real and raw about how this sex issue makes you feel, as well as how your partner’s words and actions impact that. Understand that a lot of it is your own mindset—how you feel about the situation and also how you feel about how you feel about the situation. But you and your partner(s) can work together to create a better context.
After the Talk
Just like your sexual health issues, the conversation doesn’t necessarily stop after you finish The Talk.
Seek additional support
Dealing with health issues can exhaust everyone involved. Make sure you both have support beyond each other to lean on when one or both of you is at capacity. This might look like personalized support like working with a therapist, sex coach, or couples counsellor. Digital support counts too! There are thriving online communities dedicated to every type of health issue, including blogs, facebook, mighty network groups, and more.
Read More: 16 Reasons Couples See A Sex Coach
CONSIDER BRINGING your partner(s) TO A PELVIC FLOOR PHYSICAL THERAPY APPOINTMENT
Pelvic floor physiotherapy is an increasingly common treatment for many kinds of genital issues, from incontinence to pelvic pain. Bringing your partner(s) for a visit or two can help them understand/give them new ways to support you. Sometimes it also helps to have, and/or is easier to hear information from, an objective third party—who society deems an expert.
Same goes for other healthcare appointments.
DON’T LET ALL YOUR CONVERSATIONS BECOME ABOUT THis Sex Issue
It’s easy for healthcare issues to consume your time together. It impacts every part of your life, after all. Agree to create intentional space for other topics that you usually talk about. If you struggle with this, try doing an all-consuming activity like a movie that gives you something to talk about.
Physical sex issues are one more challenge for you and your partner(s) to solve together
When it comes to how to talk about sex health issues with your partner(s), these steps will help you approach it as a team, support each other in the healthiest way possible, and grow stronger as a result.