Have you ever been with someone who checked everything off your list, but intimacy? You two always have an amazing time together, perfect conversation, your partner is thoughtful and always considers you. But sexually, you’re unsatisfied.   

Encountering challenges within the sphere of intimacy can be hard on a relationship.

“As couples journey together, they often encounter challenges within the sphere of intimacy. Whether it’s differences in sexual appetites, understanding each other’s unique desires, or expanding their collective experiences, navigating these waters demands patience and persistence,” said Dr. Donna Oriowo LICSW, M. ED, CST.

Sexual compatibility and satisfaction play vital roles in a romantic relationship. While initial chemistry might spark the flame, consistent effort, understanding, and communication keep the fire burning. Navigating sexual intimacy with a partner involves addressing various facets, including differences in libidos, effective communication, and shared learning experiences.

“The commitment to fostering sexual harmony becomes a testament to the overall health and vitality of the relationship,” Dr. Oriowo continued.

Dr. Oriowo is a sex and relationship therapist in the Washington DC metro area and the owner of AnnodRight. She primarily works with African-American women on issues related to sexuality, relationships, self-esteem, colorism, and texturism. She spoke with 21Ninety about effectively communicating to your partner about your sexual needs.

Create a Safe Space for Your Partner

Clear and candid communication is the bedrock of any healthy relationship. In the context of intimacy, it becomes even more crucial. Telling your partner about your desires, boundaries, and preferences is essential.

However, it’s not just about what you say but how you say it. Instead of focusing on what’s lacking, frame the conversation around what you’d love to explore together. Use phrases like “I would like” or “I feel that.” This approach prevents the conversation from seeming like a critique and makes it more about mutual exploration.

“One of the best ways that my clients have been able to effectively communicate specific sexual desires or things that they really want to try out is by the use of a ‘yes, no, or maybe’ list. It lists several sexual acts and then asks both parties to, you know, do it on their own. But really, to get to a place where they’re saying [either] ‘Yes, I would love to try this,’ or ‘I have done this,’ or ‘No, this is not it'” Dr. Oriowo stated.

“[Or] figure out how we might be able to try this a couple of times to see if something that would be like,” she added.

She also noted that this helps create a safe “space of being sexually curious about what the other person would like or like to try as well as reduces the risk since both partners are required to be vulnerable.”

Dr. Oriowo suggested notecards for couples as well.

“You can also use cards so that you can have a comfortable sexual language between the two of you. One of my favorites is “Use Your Mouth” by Sexologist Shamyra,” she shared.

And sometimes, just talking about positions you see in a magazine or online, or trying sex toys can also help spark the conversation.

Difference of Libidos

Another issue faced by couples is the difference in libidos. Libido refers to one’s sexual drive or desire. It’s natural for this to vary from person to person. Some may have a heightened sexual appetite, while others might have a more subdued one. Over time, factors like stress, medication, hormonal changes, and age can also affect an individual’s libido.

The disparity can lead to feelings of rejection or being overwhelmed. Recognizing and addressing these differences openly is the first step towards bridging the gap.

“The thing is, most couples are sexually discordant. This means that they are not going to have the exact same sex drive. So ideally, I have my clients have a conversation with each other where they’re each able to discuss how often they would like to have sex without having to worry about the other person,” Dr. Oriowo revealed.

“So if one person wants to have sex five days a week, and the other person wants to have sex one day a week, then number one, generally, you go with the person with the lower sex drive that is as much as much sex as you are able to have,” she continued. “But then you have actually to define sex, what counts as sex, [and] what sexual activities can also offer a sense of sexual fulfillment and satisfaction that the other person is willing to engage in that doesn’t leave them feeling like they are. There’s overdue pressure to perform. And that also ensures the other partner does not feel a sense of rejection. But basically, this is a conversation.”

Partners should find a middle ground by scheduling intimate moments or finding other ways to maintain a physical connection, such as through cuddling or non-sexual touch.

Shared Learning

Exploring new sexual experiences can be daunting for some. When one partner hesitates to venture beyond familiar territory, it often stems from fear, past traumas, or misconceptions. The other partner’s support, understanding, and patience become essential. Open dialogue, reassurance, and gradual steps can help ease anxieties, ensuring that intimacy remains a safe and shared journey for both.

“One of the ways to do so is to have a conversation about what you’re getting that you are appreciative of and what more it is that you are wanting or needing,” said Dr. Oriowo. “This is a way to encourage sexual experimentation.”

“We’re not doing ultimatums, but we are allowing our partners to know that ‘Hey, I was wondering your thoughts about this because I’m feeling more sexually adventurous and would like to experiment with more ways of being sexually adventurous with you.’ And then, both of you can define what sexually adventurous would mean to you, what it would look like, and when you want to try to implement it,” she added.

Dr. Oriowo encouraged inviting a third-party, such as a sex therapist, to help relieve the anxiety and steer the conversation in a good direction.

Furthermore, shared learning in the context of intimacy offers couples a path to deepen their connection and enhance their sexual understanding. Couples can discover new dimensions of their relationship by exploring educational resources.

For instance, books on intimacy often provide a foundation of knowledge, breaking down the mechanics and emotions behind certain acts. Videos, meanwhile, can give visual insights, showcasing techniques and fostering discussions on preferences. Workshops present a hands-on approach, allowing couples to engage and practice new methods under expert guidance directly.

As partners engage in these learning experiences, they enrich their physical connection and strengthen their emotional bond. Learning together fosters an environment of curiosity, openness, and growth where both partners feel valued and understood.

Enhancing sexual compatibility and understanding in a relationship is an ongoing journey. It’s about recognizing differences, communicating openly, learning together, and continually adapting. By addressing these areas with care, couples can cultivate a deeper, more satisfying sexual connection.