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week 3. intimacy and relationship

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Welcome to Week 3!

This week, we will talk about the role of sex in relationships and how to have a productive, positive conversation about sex with yourself and your partner.


Please take enough time to read and reflect.

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1 min read +  2 videos (9 min, 5 min)

4 min read + 2 videos (3 min, 4 min)

10+ minute reflections

sex and relationship

Sex and Relationship

The importance of sex in a relationship is different for everyone. People who have a low libido, want to have sex after marriage, have a medical condition, or with many other reasons could have a happy and healthy romantic relationship without sex.

Let's watch a short video of Gala Steinberg, an Israeli queer activist, talking about asexuality in a wider context of human relationships.

For some people, sex is an essential part of romantic relationships. Recent research by Anik Debrot shows that people experience higher levels of well-being when they have an active and satisfying sex life. The size of the difference in well-being for people having sex once for a week, compared with those having sex less than once a month, was more significant than the size of the difference in well-being for those making US$75K compared with US$25K a year. [1] 

The research indicates sex is beneficial for a person’s well being not just because of its physiological effects, but also because it strengthens the connection with the partner. For many people, just having sex in the absence of a thriving relationship could not be pleasurable.[2]

talking about sex

talking about sex

why is it so difficult to talk about it?

why is it so difficult talk about sex?

Like many other issues that may emerge from a relationship, such as how often you want to text or call, or where to go for a date, conflicts around sex is also natural. While couples who talk about such sexual issues or what they want could have higher satisfaction with their relationships, many people find it challenging to have a conversation about sex, especially with their partners. This could happen to couples who are good at resolving other issues in a healthy way. [3] Researches show that only about 50% of the youths discuss contraception with their partners before the first intercourse. [4] [5] Even for couples in committed long-term relationships, people struggle to communicate openly and honestly about their sexual desires to their partner. [6]

Researches show that there are three main reasons why couples avoid conflict communication. [3]

People are scared if they are damaging their partner’s feelings, or wo/manhood. Again, they care about their partner’s feelings and welfare even when they are not happy with the relationship. 

People are scared because they think that the discussion will hurt the relationship. They value the relationship even when they are not satisfied. So they choose to say nothing and stay as-is, instead of taking a risk to solve a conflict that may improve the relationship.

Threat to relationship

Threat to partner

Threat to self

People are scared of becoming vulnerable. They are scared that their partner may feel shame and disapprove of who they are if they expose themselves too much - and eventually lose the intimacy with the partner.

The same reasons could be applied to sexual arguments, and people perceive the threat even higher than other non-sexual conflicts. This partly comes from the cultural context, where traditional values view engaging in sexual activities as guilty and shameful behavior. Some women are afraid of raising issues that may hurt their womanhood or if they are heterosexual, their partners’ manhood. People may think that their sexual desires or fantasies are weird or not normal, and are afraid that telling about their desires may intimidate their partners. One other reason is the lack of education. For those people who have not received adequate sex education, people could be ignorant about sexual anatomy. 

Watch this video by the school of life taking about the fear of being bad in bed. 

Talking sex is critical for better sex and better relationship. Researches show that open and candid conversation about sexual desire results in higher sexual satisfaction and positive relationships, regardless of age. [7][8][9].


Here are the basic steps you could take from various sex coaches, psychologists and therapists. [10][11][12]

how to talk sex 101

know yourself

Knowing what you like and what you dislike is the first step. If you don’t know about yourself, you and your partner may get lost even if you have the conversation. Your partner is not a mind reader or knows about your body more than you do. Start to explore and experiment by yourself to figure out what makes you aroused, and what your boundaries are.

start easy

Start with more comfortable conversations before sex: Build trust and intimacy by talking with easier topics, such as STI or contraceptions. These are the topics that you could talk about before sex. This will allow you and your partner to correctly laying the groundwork in the right setting. 

trust and listen

The conversation should be a judgment-free zone. You should be comfortable with sharing your desires, and so does your partner. You don’t need to follow all their preferences and attractions, but you could be open-minded and just listen to it. If you don’t find something they want, just simply say that you are not interested in trying those and tell them thank you for sharing them and you would love to hear about what they like about it.

be positive

When you make sexual feedback, frame it positively and don't be critical. For example, you could say “I love it when you do XYZ” instead of saying “touch/lick/suck me like XYZ”. When your partner does something good, say that you love it and ask them to continue to do it.

use games

Games could be an easy and fun way to express your desires and learn about what your partner loves. One of the games recommended by a renowned sex therapist Emily Morse is A/B game. 

Try out two different toys, techniques, angles, thrust styles and tempos on each other, and ask your partner which they like more. (You can even add a blindfold to make the game more excited!)

after-sex review

Discuss what you liked and disliked after sex. What made you turned on, aroused, and what did not. But again, keep in mind to frame the conversation positive, not critical!

how to talk sex 101

explore your body

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod, on the xxTALK team, developed a remarkable way to explore your body. She will give a special session about erogenous zones.  Here, we brought an essential exercise, called Body Maps which will help you explore your own body. You can also read the full article here.

Everyone knows what erogenous zones are, but it’s your own special sexy zones that can be the key to really satisfying sex, especially once you get into an established relationship. Making a SexSmartBodyMap© can amp up your sexual communication and help you get the touch you crave.

I consider touch to be the Ground Zero of Sexuality.

Research consistently shows that pleasurable touch is critical to women's sexual enjoyment. When you are in the lust stage of a relationship, when you are beginning to have sex with someone new, sex is easy. You are unbelievably excited to have this special, fascinating, and desirable person interested in you, and having exhilarating sex is a snap. I often say it’s like sledding down a steep snowy hill. “Whee—this is so much fun. Let’s do it again. So thrilling!” It’s literally electric without anyone doing anything in particular. Cool, right?

That’s because you have been dreaming and fantasizing about what’s going to happen when you get together with this person for hours, days, or weeks before sex starts. You’re self-seducing, having what you might consider “mental foreplay”—and you are so charged up mentally, emotionally, and physically that it does not matter what your partner does to you or how you are being touched; the whole sexual interaction is deeply arousing.

Incidentally, this is pretty much the only kind of sex that is portrayed in the movies or on TV. No one has to talk. No one has to ask for any kind of touching to start or change or stop. Total mind reading and synchronicity. Total perfection. Whatever happens, it is just unbelievably wonderful and deliciously stimulating.


Unfortunately for we humans, this lust-driven state of affairs does not continue forever. Anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D. has documented the science behind this sad fact. No sweat, mind-blowing sex with the same partner when you are being monogamous only lasts for two years at the most.


Are you in an ongoing, stable, monogamous relationship now? If so, my hope for you is that your sex not begin with having your genitals touched. I want you to get the touch you deserve so that you are first tingling with sexual energy from the top of your head to the tip of your toes.


This takes some doing. Sex therapists are fond of saying, “Men are microwaves; women are crockpots.” Think about yourself as potentially full of sexual electricity. Don’t try to start things unless that battery is charged. When life gets going, juicy sex with an established partner is much more challenging for women than it is for most men. There are many reasons for this, probably too many to even write down. But here are the primary culprits.


So when a monogamous relationship is solidified, that’s when having good enough touch and communicating the specifics of what you like is critical. As a sex therapist in the early 1990s, I learned the intimate details of how frustrating it is for a lot of women to get their touch preferences met.

hormonal difference

if you are straight, your partner has 8 times as much testosterone as you do, and testosterone is the hormone of desire.

traditional roles of women

unfortunately, women tend to have many different roles. when women are distracted, un-erotic thoughts can interrupt arousal (e.g. thoughts about a report that needs to be written, or brownies that need to be baked for a child’s class.)  it is difficult to switch roles from mommy or worker to sex goddess.

lack of sexual charge

sex therapists usually say "men are microwaves; women are crock pots." think of yourself as potentially full of sexual electricity. we need to get this battery charged!   so if your sex begins with your genitals being touched, it could distract you from getting into a sexual mood.

having a good touch is essential.

communicating your needs is the start of everything.​

I came up with the idea of having men and women patients draw and color a map that indicates how they would like to be touched by their intimate partners. I first described my BodyMap technique in SexSmart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sexual Life and What to Do About It, in 1998.

SexSmartBodyMaps© are incredibly helpful for sexual communication, and sexual communication is the number one ingredient for satisfying sex.

01. Draw outlines of your body

One is for the front of your body, the other is for your back. The drawing does not have to be artistic. It can just look like a gingerbread cookie. Honestly. The key is to color these rough outlines in, thinking about how you like to be touched.

02. Mark areas you love to be touched, don't want to be touched, and somewhere in between

Think of your partner touching you. Color each part of the body based on how it would feel. Here are some color suggestions. Make sure that every square inch of your front and back maps are colored one of the three colors.

GREEN : an area in which you would love to be touched. You could add DARK GREEN in case you have areas you particularly love.
- RED : an area where you do NOT want to be touched, ever.

- YELLOW: an area where how you feel about being touched “depends”. Make sure to take some notes about what the “depends” means.


I think my breasts and vulva are yellow. I don't want to be touched there until I am warmed up emotionally and physically by being touched in other places. My BF often touched my breasts sooner than I wish he had. 

I love to have my neck kissed, and my hair touched, and gentle touches on my face!

I feel ticklish in lots of areas marked in red. My BF had a bad habit of tickling me and I hated it.

To get in tune with this exercise, try to notice the places you long to be touched during sex. These are often areas that are not considered "erogenous zones." But you should consider them part of your erogenous zones. If you were lucky enough to grow up in a loving family, these often are areas where an adult touched you lovingly, like on the top of your head, or your hair,  or your back.  Even if you did not grow up in a loving family,  these special areas are places where someone touched you in a way that expressed nonsexual caring and tenderness.   Or maybe they just are your idiosyncratic likes.   In any event, own them as part of your treasured sexual template.  Don’t cheat yourself out of great sex.  Don’t be passive.  Make sure you ask for the touch you are longing for.

If you have very little green and much yellow and red, stop doing this exercise and reach out to a trained mental health professional. It could be a sign that you experienced some kinds of trauma that are stored in your body. (Zoldbrod, 1998, 2015) - there is such important information stored in our bodies but most of us live in our heads. You need to explore your sexuality in a safe way. 

explore your body

Say YES to things you want

Have you ever been in a situation where you were unsure about sexual activity but have done it because you felt pressure from your partner? It could be anything - such as your partner touching parts of your body where you don't want to be touched and your partner wants to do anal sex. Whatever it is, you must be engaged in the activities which you are willing to do. [13] [14]

is a situation when people agree to engage in certain sexual behaviors. 

It is only given with a yes, and not saying a NO does not mean that a consent was given.

If you are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, you CANNOT consent. 

It is about a voluntary and clear expression of agreement. Even when you said yes to a particular behavoir before, you can always say NO anytime later. 


Sexologist and intimacy coach Dr. Betty Martin explains about this dynamic between two people with the wheel of consent. The basic idea here is that when we are engaging in a sexual relationship, we constantly are moving around different zones on the wheel of consent. And often times we don't recognize where we are. Let's take a look at each quadrant.



You are doing something to the other person, in order to get pleasure for yourself. For example, you want to kiss someone for your own pleasure.


You are doing something to the other person, in order to get pleasure for them. This is when someone asks "will you kiss me?" and you give them a kiss.


You allow someone to do something to you to give yourself pleasure. This is when you ask someone "will you kiss me?" and that someone gives you a kiss.


You allow someone to do something to you to give them pleasure. This is when someone asks if they could kiss you, you say yes, and that someone gives you a kiss.

say yes to things you want

practice how to consent

this is a three-minute game developed by Dr. Betty Martin, which will help you to practice consent. 

01. take turns to make an offer to each other

offer 1

How would you like me to touch you for 3 minutes?

(e.g., scratch my back, kiss my neck, hold me)

negotiate as needed. never give more than you are happy to give.

02. you have four rounds with different roles


1) you are doing and it's for you (take)

2) you are doing and it's for them (serve)

3) they are doing and it's for you (accept)

4) they are doing and it's for them (allow)

offer 2

How would you like to touch me for 3 minutes?(e.g., may I feel your arms, explore your back - don't offer to 'give' anything like a massage. This is for YOUR pleasure)

try to distinguish each of the roles, and ask yourself who is this for?

Go slowly and start with short turns and neutral (non-sexy) body areas

This video gives an excellent summary of the wheel of consent. Always remember: you should be doing something that you want to do and something that you clearly expressed an agreement! 



Before the upcoming session, please reflect on the following questions. You can just think about the answers, write down your thoughts on a piece of paper, or be convenient with it. The most important thing is to REFLECT! It will boost your ideas and help your experience be more fruitful.


Think about your past relationships. It could be a relationship with your romantic partner, friend, coworker, family, or any other person. What made the relationship important to you? 

02. For romantic partnerships, think about the role of sex in the relationship - did it make the relationship more intimate? How open were you to your partner when there were conflicts or sexual desires you wanted to talk about?

03. Do Body Map exercise on your own. What have you discovered about your body? Have you been touched at the parts that you love? Have you ever had a conversation about where you want to be touched with your partner? If not, what made you hesitate from having such a conversation?


[1] Debrot, A., Meuwly, N., Muise, A., Impett, E. A., & Schoebi, D. (2017). More than just sex: Affection mediates the association between sexual activity and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(3), 287-299. doi:10.1177/0146167216684124

[2] Douglas L. How Sex Bonds Couples and Why Sometimes It’s Not Enough. 2017. Psychology Today.

[3] David L. Why You Won’t Talk About Sexual Issues With Your Partner. 2018. Psychology Today.

[4] Laura Widman, Sophia Choukas-Bradley, Sarah W. Helms, Carol E. Golin & Mitchell J. Prinstein (2014) Sexual Communication Between Early Adolescents and Their Dating Partners, Parents, and Best Friends, The Journal of Sex Research, 51:7, 731-741, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2013.843148

[5] Coleman LM, Ingham R. Exploring young people's difficulties in talking about contraception: how can we encourage more discussion between partners?. Health Educ Res. 1999;14(6):741-750. doi:10.1093/her/14.6.741

[6] Byers E. Sandra. Beyond the Birds and the Bees and Was It Good for You?: Thirty Years of Research on Sexual Communication. Canadian Psychology;Feb2011, Vol. 52 Issue 1, p20

[7] Coffelt, Tina & Hess, Jon. (2013). Sexual Disclosures: Connections to Relational Satisfaction and Closeness. Journal of sex & marital therapy. 40. 10.1080/0092623X.2013.811449. 

[8] Babin, Elizabeth. (2013). An examination of predictors of nonverbal and verbal communication of pleasure during sex and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 30. 270-292. 10.1177/0265407512454523. 

[9] Montesi, Jennifer & Fauber, Robert & Gordon, Elizabeth & Heimberg, Richard. (2011). The specific importance of communicating about sex to couples’ sexual and overall relationship satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 28. 591-609. 10.1177/0265407510386833. 

[10] Laurie J Watson. Four Rules for a Productive Sex Talk with Your Partner (2017). Psychology Today.

[11] Isabella Frappier. Sexual Communication Like a Pro: How to Tell Your Partner What You Like in Bed. 2019. Sex With Emily.

[12] Hannah Booth. ‘Start Low, and Go Slow’: How To Talk To Your Partner About Sex. 2019. The Guardian.

[13] What consent looks like. Rainn, 2020.

[14] Adrienne Santos - Longhurst, Your guide to sexual consent, Healthline. 2019.

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