"Can I ask you something sex-related?" a married girlfriend inquired over drinks at a local wine bar.
"Of course!" I shot back, topping up her glass with another serving of rosé.
"Since you're sort of the expert on this stuff, what's the best way to please my guy in the sack? I feel like our sex life has kind of died recently," she sighed, looking down bashfully into her drink.
"Well, what does John like?" I asked.
"Um … I don't know," she responded, swirling the wine around in her glass as she thought.
"You've never asked him?" I queried back, perplexed.
"I get weird talking about it. I guess I feel like I shouldn't have to ask," she answered.
For the sake of respecting her privacy, I'm going to refer to this friend as Jane. Jane has been married for more than a decade and is one of the most confident, switched-on women I know.
It baffled me, then, this same headstrong woman was incapable of communicating with her own husband of 10+ years in the bedroom. And yet, as someone whose line of work often makes me privy to the intimate details of people's sex lives, I know Jane is not alone.
One of the more common questions I receive from readers is, "How can I be a better lover to my partner?"
This is a healthy goal to have in any romantic relationship. What's decidedly less healthy, though, is people feeling more comfortable coming to me to ask this than they do their own partners.
I should probably emphasise I am not a doctor or a sexologist. I don't have any medical or psychological education in sex. But I've been researching and writing about the science of intimacy for almost a decade now, so it's fair to say my sexual knowledge is above average.
Regardless, the majority of people aren't concerned with this when they land in my inbox. They simply want an anonymous, non-judgmental ear to confide in.
Which begs the question: What's holding us back from talking to our partners when it comes to sex?
This question becomes particularly pertinent when you consider the direct link between communication and sexual satisfaction. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research confirms couples who communicate more often and openly about intimacy have better sex lives.
It really shouldn't come as a surprise to any of us. We recognise the role of verbal communication in every other aspect of our lives. No one's ever called in sick to work by shooting the boss a wordless glance or pulled up at the drive-through window and ordered nuggets telepathically.
And yet, in the bedroom, we expect the sparks to fly in the complete absence of dialogue. This is partly due to being conditioned to think of physical passion as instinctive rather than learnt.
Heterosexual couples, in particular, have been taught to view vaginal sex as the go-to, with little consideration for the multitude of alternative ways to pleasure and bond with one another. The conversation around intercourse ultimately begins and ends with consent. Everything else is assumed.
This is important to acknowledge because the approach of same-sex partners is vastly different. There's an almost compulsory emphasis on pre-coital discussion and negotiation.
Commentator and writer Dan Savage puts it best when he says, "When two men go to bed together, they get to consent … and that is the beginning of the conversation. We are compelled to communicate. Who is going to do what? It cannot be assumed."
I often feel the need to spell out to couples there is no one-size-fits-all model for pleasure. One person's kink is inevitably another's yawn-fest. I'm happy to share my knowledge of various sexual techniques with readers, but they'll ultimately be rendered useless if they're used in a vacuum of silence. Which is why the most powerful thing you can do in the bedroom is to talk.
Or more specifically, ask these four words Savage himself calls "magic": "What are you into?"
Being with your partner for 10 or 20 years doesn't mean you're done with getting to know one another sexually. Conversely, I've spoken to women who've been married for decades and confess they've never actually told their husbands what their kinks, turn-ons or fantasies are.
Contrary to popular belief, great sex isn't instinctive. It's the end result of a tireless commitment to ongoing, honest communication. Which is great news, really, because it means it's never too late to reboot your sex life so long as you're willing to have the discussion. Just start with four words.