University Health Service

Communication is a key aspect of all relationships. Open, honest, and direct communication can make relationships (whether short-term or long-term) healthier and more fun. If you can communicate openly and respectfully, you’ll be more likely to articulate what you want, and to understand what someone else wants.

Different people have different ways of communicating. Some people communicate very directly, while others may be more subtle in their communication style. Learning about your own communication style, and that of your partner(s), can help you navigate conversations about dating and sex. To learn more about communication styles, visit

Talk it Over

When it comes to sex, everyone has different expectations, values and needs. This sometimes means that things can get complicated if partners make assumptions, use words differently, or misread non-verbal cues. A great way to get what you want out of any relationship, sexual or not, is to talk openly with your partner(s).

The following techniques can enhance your communication:

  • Know what you want before anything sexual occurs. Consider in advance which sexual activities you do and do not want to engage in, and be assertive about what you are comfortable with. Even after sexual activity starts, it’s always OK to change your mind. If you start and want to stop, or have done something before but don’t want to again, say so.
  • To communicate your wants and needs with sexual partners, you’ll first want to find out what you like. Reflect on which activities you do and do not want to engage in.
  • Check in with your partner often to make sure you’re on the same page. Whoever is initiating or escalating sexual activities can ask, “What do you want to do?” “Would you like it if I…?” or even say, “Tell me what you want.” Checking in shows respect, builds trust, and gives you a chance for some sexy conversation.
  • Open-ended questions are those that don’t require a “yes” or “no” answer. For example,“What do you want?” or “What would feel good for you?” are open-ended questions, while “Do you like this?” is a closed-ended (yes-or-no) question. Open-ended questions encourage independent and honest answers, and may help you better understand a person’s feelings and desires. (Though closed-ended questions can sometimes be useful too!)
  • “I statements” (such as “I feel…” or “I like…”) describe how you feel about what your partner does, rather than describing your partner’s actions. They can promote an open conversation and may help reduce defensiveness during difficult or awkward conversations.
  • Sharing thoughts and feelings, listening to your partner, and using body language during moments of intimacy can contribute to positive experiences. 
  • When problems arise, discuss them privately and in a neutral space before things get sexual.

Remember that with practice, you can learn new communication skills and improve your communication confidence over time.