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By Beverly Whipple, PhD, RN, FAAN

Professor Emerita
Rutgers University of New Jersey
New Brunswick, NJ

Created: 09/27/2011
Last Updated: 07/19/2012

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Q: My partner and I have different views on sex because of our different backgrounds. Is there any way I can help my partner feel more comfortable discussing topics considered taboo?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. It is impossible to have too much communication, both verbal and nonverbal, in a good relationship. In fact, studies find that the more partners communicate, the greater their sexual and marital satisfaction may be. In addition, being able to communicate about her sexual needs is linked with a woman's sexual satisfaction. It's also important that you and your partner understand each other's preferences in bed and that there is an agreement between you and your partner. This tends to affect sexual satisfaction.

The first step, obviously, is to start the conversation. Don't do this in bed! Choose a time when the two of you have some uninterrupted time alone. You might make a date to do this. Start by telling your partner how you feel about him or her and your life together. Then ask your partner to tell you how he or she feels about your relationship-both in and out of bed.

As the conversation continues, try to follow this advice:

  • Focus on listening. This can be difficult because our minds often jump ahead to the questions we want to ask or the information we want to find out. Nonetheless, this is one of those situations in which listening can be more important than talking.

  • Don't blame. Even if you think your partners' issues are behind any sexual problems, don't blame him or her. The goal of this conversation is greater understanding, not making your partner feel guilty!

  • Ask questions. Gently probe about upbringing and childhood, in addition to cultural and religious beliefs, to better understand why your partner holds the views he or she does.

  • Be supportive. You may wind up hearing some very disturbing things. For instance, maybe your partner was sexually abused at some point in the past and still carries a great deal of shame, embarrassment or fear about it. Sharing these experiences usually only occurs in a very trusting relationship.

  • Share. You're asking your partner to share some of his or her most intimate thoughts and past; you need to do the same.

  • Suggest options. While having the conversation between the two of you is a great start, professional help might be able to move you closer together. Ask how your partner feels about seeing a therapist, either a mental health counselor or a sex therapist, to work through some of these issues. You can find a certified sex therapist at www.aasect.org.

Above all, be patient and understanding. Also be aware that it may take several attempts before your partner truly opens up about his or her sexual past and its effects on your sexual interactions.

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