Communicating about discomfort during sex to a partner can be tough (we’ve got the numbers to back it up!). There are tons of valid reasons why people are hesitant to speak up (from not wanting to ruin the moment to just wanting their partners to feel good)—but there are also plenty of good reasons to mention it.
Let’s dig in.
WHY TELL YOUR PARTNER AT ALL?
No assumptions made here, we got curious and ran a little study—featuring you!
*Represents an informal study of 291 respondents from the Ohnut community.
1. “WE SHOULD BOTH FEEL GOOD.”
25.2% of folks said they tell their partners because pleasure and comfort are important for everyone involved.
“I want to enjoy sex, too!...My partner can usually tell when I’m uncomfortable and has voiced that it bothers him, too.”
2. “THEY WOULDN’T WANT TO HURT ME.”
21.6% tell their partners… for their partners. Either because their partners wouldn’t want to hurt them or they would feel bad if they knew they were causing pain.
“I...know that there [are] no "bad consequences" if we stop having sex. Also, we talked about what turns us on and off before we even had sex for the first time and for him he doesn't like to see his partners in pain...”
3. “WE’RE USED TO TALKING ABOUT SEX.”
20.7% said they speak up because they and their partners are used to talking about sex with each other (even the uncomfy parts).
“I trust that my partner will respect and listen to me. We've had to become very receptive to each other's body cues and explicit communication around pain. My endometriosis and vaginismus diagnoses were instrumental in giving me the language to use to explain my pain during sex to my partner.”
4. “PAIN OUTWEIGHS PLEASURE.”
18.9% said they tell their partner when the discomfort gets too extreme or it outweighs feelings of pleasure.
5. “I’M NO MARTYR.”
17.1% said they speak up because they put themselves first (YAS!). They don’t want to be in pain and don’t want to sacrifice themselves for their partner’s pleasure.
6. “IT HELPS US CONNECT & IMPROVE.”
14.4% said they tell their partners about their pain because a shared understanding builds the kind of trust that allows partners to work together toward the shared goal of—well, enjoying each other.
“I let him know [because] I realized years ago that having painful sex made me resent my partner, feel unloved, and feel despondent and depressed.”
BUT HOW DO YOU SAY IT?
TLDR; there are a lot of ways.
55.7% of folks use their words to communicate when sex is feeling uncomfortable. Here are some examples:
Ask a Question:
“Oof, that's a bit much for me, can we figure out something else?”
"Hey, that’s a little uncomfortable, what do you think about changing X?"
"Can we stop? I don't feel it today.”
“Can you touch me here?”
Shout, Shout, Let It All Out:
"AHHH F*CK IT HURTS"
(We encourage all forms of expression! But to avoid confusion, it’s best to have a chat with your partner before exclaiming these in the heat of the moment.)
Move It, Move It:
"Let’s switch positions."
"We need to move."
"I’d like to try X!"
“Explicit language is important—it conveys the seriousness of the feeling and the moment.”
When something is uncomfortable, it’s not always easy or possible (or even reasonable) to form full sentences or keep it upbeat—and that’s okay. Say what you need to say, but remember you and your partner are in this together.
2. BODY LANGUAGE
36.3% said changes in their body language communicates discomfort to their partners.
That can commonly mean:
pulling or turning away
holding your breath
avoiding eye contact
or closing legs tighter
If this sounds like you, try identifying what your body language means. It’s helpful to communicate those exact gestures to partner(s) before or after sex, so when words are hard to muster, they already know exactly what you’re saying.
34.4% said sounds (or the absence of sounds) communicate their discomfort to their partners. Here are some examples:
4. TAKE ACTION
23.8% said they physically do or change something to tell their partner. They might:
change or slow positions themselves
place a hand on their partner’s chest or hips
move their partner’s hand
grab some more lube
grab an Ohnut (sorry, shameless self-promotion!)
rearrange their legs (not in a Mr. Potato Head kind of way)
give their partner a little double tap that lets them know it’s time to take a breather and check in
5. FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
Lastly, 21.2% of people reported their face is a big giveaway. Usually a grimace or a wince—a fair number of folks have a trademark face that their partner recognizes as unwanted pain.
Check out our "Choose Your Own Adventure" for more communication tips (both in and outside the bedroom).
BUT HOW WILL MY PARTNER RESPOND?
For a lot of folks, this is a huge concern. What if I ruin the mood? What if I hurt my partner’s feelings?
Turns out, overall, partners take it really well! As in 94.1% definitely don’t react negatively.
Partners are people too!
And they generally agree that it's not okay if something isn’t working or isn’t feeling good! Really... they usually just want to do a good job, but they can't if we don’t tell them what is or isn’t working. Not saying anything denies them the opportunity to actively partake (in something that's supposed to feel good for everyone). So. Speak up and help them help you. Teaming up together is the point of the whole thing anyways isn't it? :)
(Trust us, it works.)