Sex Therapist Vanessa Marin Shares How to Get Comfortable Talking About Sex

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It's time for some dirty talk. Sex education has long been lacking in the department of how to talk to your partner about your pleasure. And while almost all relationship advice boils down to communication, it's easy to avoid talking about sex until something is "wrong," such as when your libido is lower or there's been a dry period. Others may feel like they can't talk about sex because — ironically — it's not "sexy."

"I want people to understand that talking about sex doesn't mean something is wrong with you or with your relationship. It's a sign that you value yourself, your partner, and the intimacy that the two of you share."

Sex therapist Vanessa Marin says it's understandable that we don't want to talk about sex, because we really don't have any examples of it. "You never see characters on TV talking to each other about what they're doing, and it just creates this expectation in our heads that sex, when done properly, should not require any communication whatsoever," she says.

Sex on the big screen typically looks perfect, effortless, and organic. And while most of us rationally understand TV and movies are not what real life looks like, it's only natural that we internalize this expectation when we see that play out over and over again. "We feel like that's what our sex life should look like and that something must be wrong with us if that's not the case," Vanessa explains.

She and her husband, Xander Marin, have experienced this disconnect firsthand in their own relationship. "We struggled in our own sex life and really had to muck through things without a ton of guidance and support," Vanessa shares. And so the two wrote "Sex Talks: Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life," which offers step-by-step guidance on how to become more comfortable talking about sex with your partner, including building emotional and physical intimacy in the process.

The book centers on five conversations: acknowledgment ("Sex is a thing, and we have it"), connection ("What do we need to feel connected to each other?"), desire ("What do we each need to get turned on?"), pleasure ("What do we each need to feel good?"), and finally, exploration ("What should we try next?"). "It's meant in a way to mimic the arc of a sexual experience," explains Xander, who offers a nonexpert perspective.

With more than 300,000 followers on Instagram and a popular podcast (called "Pillow Talks"), it's clear that the advice resonates with many. POPSUGAR spoke with Vanessa and Xander about how to improve your communication skills with your partner in order to improve your sex life.

Acknowledge the (Sexy) Elephant in the Room

Regardless of whether you've been married for 20 years or you're on your first few dates with someone, Xander recommends simply acknowledging: we have sex and therefore are allowed to talk about it. "And that can be super simple. The day after you've had sex, just saying something like, 'Hey, that was fun. I really enjoyed what we did last night. I enjoyed it when you did this or that,'" Xander suggests. "It's just laying the groundwork that sex is a normal topic of conversation."

That way, "when you need to have a more serious conversation about boundary setting or whatever, it's not coming out of nowhere," he explains. If you were to avoid the topic of sex completely until something is wrong or something big needs to be addressed, the very first conversation you have around sex will likely feel like a heavy or serious one. That can put a bad taste in your mouth for future sex talks. Also, it's easier to become defensive when there's a history of shame around a topic.

Recognize That Everyone's Needs Are Different

There's no such thing as being universally good in bed, Vanessa says. "We all have such different preferences, likes, and desires," she explains. "Something that may have been a surefire orgasm for your previous partner could actually turn off your current partner."

So while there is some element of starting over, in a way, it can be a relief to recognize you're not expected to be this sexual expert who knows exactly what to do in every single moment. "There is space for us to explore and learn about each other," Vanessa says.

Approach each new partner with an open mind about trying new things, having bonding experiences, discovering what works for each of you, and building your confidence by pleasing your partner. "The experience that you have in the past really has no bearing on the present," Xander adds. "What matters in the present is who you're with now and what it is that they like. And to find that out, you have to talk about it."

Leave the Ego Outside of the Bedroom

When trying something new in the bedroom (like bringing in a toy) or receiving feedback from a partner, it's easy to shut down because it feels threatening, Xander explains. "Men are socialized from an early age that we are supposed to be really good at sex regardless of how much experience we actually have," he says. And then on the other end of the spectrum, there are all these examples of men who don't have sexual experience that we laugh at, he explains. (Think: "The 40-Year-Old Virgin.") "Then we get into relationships with people and begin to build a repertoire of things that we feel comfortable with, and that's what we want to do because that is our way of showing, 'Hey, I know what I'm doing,'" he says.

Instead, communicate with your partner about how you were socialized to show up during sex, whether it's wanting sex "no matter what" or an expectation to "always be the initiator." When Xander came to Vanessa with a similar dilemma, she says, it helped her clear things up for him. "I was able to say, 'That's not what I need from you either. That sounds really hard to have all of that pressure on yourself, and that's not what I want for our relationship.'" Being honest about what you need — and asking your partner to do the same, and listening without judgment — can help you both stop assuming what the other person wants and start knowing instead.

Make Talking About Sex a Daily Occurrence

Start weaving these "sex talks" into your day-to-day conversations, even when you first start dating someone new. That way, "it doesn't have to feel like this formal sitdown, talk-about-it-all type of process that I think a lot of couples in long-term relationships worry that it's going to feel like," Vanessa says. "Instead, you get to just start weaving these conversations in naturally over time." Try checking in after every sexual experience, even if your only feedback is: "That was awesome."

It's also an opportunity to build connection and intimacy. "I want people to understand that talking about sex doesn't mean something is wrong with you or with your relationship," she adds. "It's a sign that you value yourself, your partner, and the intimacy that the two of you share." And what's hotter than that?

"Sex Talks: The Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life" ($22) is available anywhere books are sold.