Talking About Sex With Your Partner

Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Social Psychologist, researcher at The Kinsey Institute
by Dr. Justin Lehmiller Last updated 12/06/2023
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Are you getting what you want when it comes to sex? Odds are, probably not.

Research finds that there’s often a big discrepancy between the sex we’re having and the sex we wish we were having.

Couple sitting awkwardly about to talk about their sex life.

For example, I surveyed more than 4,000 Americans about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want and found that, while 79% of them wanted to act on their favorite sex fantasy of all time, less than one-quarter of them had actually done so.

Fantasies are hardly the only area where we see sexual ideals failing to match reality.

Where does sex fall short?

There is a huge variety of wants and needs, but the most common tend to be:

In fact, in a study published by the Journal of Sex Research, people say they want sex and foreplay to last about 50% longer.

Check out this article about how long sex should last.

Heterosexual men and women estimate that sex and foreplay combined typically lasts 18-21 minutes, but they report wanting it to last more like 33-36 minutes.

Clock ticking

All of these discrepancies have important implications for our sex and love lives because the greater the mismatch between fantasy and reality, the less happy people tend to be.

That’s hugely important because study after study has found that satisfaction is the single biggest predictor of how committed people are to their relationships.

When satisfaction and commitment go down, that opens the door to cheating and all kinds of other destructive relationship behaviors.

So, is there anything you can do to bring your sex life closer to your ideal and to keep your love life on solid footing at the same time? Absolutely.

1. Identify where your discrepancies are.

  • Do you want to start incorporating your fantasies into your sex life?
  • Do you want to have more sexual closeness with your partner?
  • Do you want to have sex more often than you currently do?

All of these issues can potentially be resolved by enhancing communication with your partner about your sexual desires.

In the survey I conducted for Tell Me What You Want, I found that people who had shared and/or acted on their favorite sexual fantasy with a partner were not only happier in their relationships, but they were having sex more frequently, too.

Bringing our fantasies into our sex lives has the potential to do several positive things.

  • It can increase intimacy. By engaging in mutual self-disclosure and sharing things that you’ve never told anyone else, you and your partner may end up feeling closer than ever.
  • Sharing and acting on your fantasies can fan the flames of passion by introducing some much-needed novelty. It’s a basic fact of human life that we tend to grow bored with routines, sexually and otherwise. We need to keep mixing things up to keep it fresh and exciting.

Warning: there are potential risks in sharing your fantasies.

  • It may turn out that you and your partner have different desires.
  • You may find that some fantasies are more exciting in your head than they are in reality.

It’s therefore important to approach sharing fantasies with caution and consider best practices, which is something I spend a long time laying out in my book.

2. Have that chat.

Now let’s say that you have a different kind of discrepancy, such as wanting sex to last longer than it usually does.

Increasing sexual communication could potentially help with this, too, but not necessarily. It depends on what the underlying issue is.

For example, if sex isn’t lasting as long as a couple would like it to due to a male partner who tends to reach orgasm very quickly, a different approach—one that addresses the underlying biology—might be called for.

Start the conversation with your partner when sex is not on ‘to do’ list for the day. It will help normalize the conversation in a neutral environment.

3. Finding a solution for your needs.

The internet is replete with guides on all things sex. A simple Google search may be all you need in order to find the information you are looking for. Additionally, if your wants and needs are niche, there are hundreds of doctors or therapists nationwide that most likely specialize in that specific topic.

Searching Google for an answer

Keep in mind there are many reputable, FDA compliant safe treatments available for sexual dysfunctions – if that is what you are looking for.

And, there is generally more than just one solution for each need.

Let’s take premature ejaculation (or just wanting sex to last longer) for example.

You or your partner aren’t lasting as long as they’d like to.

A search for ‘helping men last longer in bed’ includes everything from trying to mentally distract yourself to Kegel exercises to building up ejaculatory control through repeatedly stopping sex every time an orgasm is about to occur and then restarting it when the sensation subsides.

These techniques could work for some men, but success rates vary.

Yet another option is to consider a “desensitizing spray” such as Promescent, which works to temporarily reduce penile sensitivity in order to postpone orgasm.

Promescent is a lidocaine-based product that is sprayed on the penis a few minutes before having sex.

Clinical research on the effectiveness of Promescent in heterosexual couples has found that men last 65% longer on average when they use it. Promescent spray seems well suited to addressing that gap between desired and actual length of sex mentioned above—recall that both men and women report wanting sex to last about 50% longer than it usually does.

This research also found that use of Promescent was linked to increase in odds of both partners reaching orgasm.

There is a real and sizeable “orgasm gap” between the sexes, with men regularly having more orgasms than women.

Delay sprays like Promescent offer one potential means of closing that gap.

Make it happen.

Research has found that women who report sharing and acting on their sexual fantasies have more consistent orgasms. What this suggests is that increased communication plus finding a trusted solution or medication can truly be a sex game changer!

The data doesn’t lie. More people are having sex that is:

  • Not engaging in their desires and fantasies.
  • Not fulfilling their wants.
  • And, not lasting nearly long enough for both partners to be completely satisfied.

Fortunately, however, science shows us that there are numerous ways we can remedy this and get the sex lives and relationships we truly desire.

It all starts with communication – get out there and start talking.

    Dr. Justin Lehmiller

    Dr. Justin Lehmiller

    Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He is author of the blog Sex and Psychology and the popular book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. He is also a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works, including a textbook titled The Psychology of Human Sexuality that is used in college classrooms around the world. Dr. Lehmiller is one of the media's go-to experts on sex and has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and CNN; he has also appeared on dozens of radio, podcast, and television programs.


    Absorption Pharmaceuticals LLC (Promescent) has strict informational citing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic or research institutions, medical associations, and medical experts. We attempt to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references and only citing trustworthy sources. Each article is reviewed, written, and updated by Medical Professionals or authoritative Experts in a specific, related field of practice. You can find out more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

    • Dr. Justin Lehmiller. 2018 July 10. Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life Amazon. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
    • David M. Frost, Sara I. McClelland & Miranda Dettmann . 2017 March 31. Sexual Closeness Discrepancies: What They Are and Why They Matter for Sexual Well-Being in Romantic Relationships. Springer Link. Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.
    • Pekka Santtila, Ingrid Wager, Katarina Witting, Nicole Harlaar, Patrick Jern, Ada Johansson, Markus Varjonen, and N. Kenneth Sandnabba. 2008 April 09. Discrepancies between Sexual Desire and Sexual Activity: Gender Differences and Associations with Relationship Satisfaction. Taylor &Y Francis Online. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
    • Justin Lehmiller. 2019 January 28. How Long People Want Sex To Last Versus How Long Sex Actually Lasts. Sex & Psychology. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
    • Benjamin Le, Christopher R. Agnew. 2003 February 12. Commitment and its theorized determinants: A meta–analysis of the Investment Model. Wiley Online Library. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
    • Justin Lehmiller. 2015 November 29. Infidelity: Cause Or Consequence Of Poor Relationship Quality?. Sex & Psychology. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
    • K P Mark & I Kerner. 2016 August 25. Event-level impact of Promescent on quality of sexual experience in men with subjective premature ejaculation. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
    • David A Frederick, Janet Lever, Brian Joseph Gillespie, Justin R Garcia. 2017 February. What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction Is Associated With Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study. PubMed. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
    The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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