When the sex is good, it speaks for itself. When it's not, you have to use actual words. Just choose them carefully or she may cut you off for good

Love can be messy—especially the sex part. But to straighten things out, sometimes you have to start a difficult conversation. And that’s fine, if you do it with tact. “You have to develop the vocabulary to talk about sensitive issues,” says Arlene Goldman, Ph.D., a sex therapist based in Philadelphia. “It will help you please your partner.” In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapyfound that communication is the most critical factor in a couple’s success—it’s even more significant than the sex itself. That’s why you should pause before you open your big mouth and say something you’ll regret. We talked to the experts to find out how you can ace the talks you’d rather avoid and still come out on top (or bottom—whichever you prefer). 

“That orgasm seemed as phony as Cheez Whiz.”

Don’t accuse her, says Eli Finkel, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University. Instead, have that talk away from the bedroom. When the topic comes up naturally, say, “You don’t ever need to fake orgasms with me. I want our relationship to be totally honest.” You’ll foster mutual respect—in and out of the sack. 

“Not now, thanks. I’d rather just read my book.”

You’re allowed to be tired, but make sure she knows you’re surprised too. Try, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m too exhausted,” says Finkel. Then ask for a rain check—say, for the morning—and tell her you’ll do anything she wants. “Reassuring her is important,” Goldman says. If she knows you’re still interested, she’ll give you a pass. 

“There’s something really weird I want to try with you.”

Congrats—now she’s leery. “If you say, ‘I know this is weird, but. . .’ your partner is bound to feel conflicted,” Goldman says. A smarter way in: “I’m curious about bondage. What do you think?” By starting a conversation instead of forcing her to say yes or no, you give her time to think. She’ll see that you view the act as a way to connect, not control. 

“I’ll enjoy the sex more after you take an STD test.”

The message she hears: “I suspect you have an STD.” That’s not exactly a turn-on. So flip the script: Tell her you want to get tested for her sake, and ask if she’d be willing to do it with you. If you frame the suggestion as something the two of you can do together, says Goldman, then she won’t feel accused. 

“Is that supposed to feel good? I don’t like it.”

Say this, and you’ll look like an ass. Instead, show that you’re eager to improve too, says Goldman. Ask, “What do you want more of or less of in bed?” You’ll learn something about your own game, and when it’s your turn to share, she’ll be all ears. One trick: Sandwich the complaint between two compliments, and it will go down even easier.