While it’s tempting to try too hard to impress your partner during the intoxicating “getting to know you” stage—literally, early-stage romantic love looks a lot like addiction—that’s not a great long-term strategy. You want to be your most authentic self so you can get an accurate gauge as to how well you actually fit together. After all, who you actually are is what’s really going to matter once the love-drug loses its potency.
Though it can feel vulnerable and potentially awkward to discuss your deepest desires with someone new in your life, it’s worth it a hundred times over because that’s how you determine what mutually gets you off—not to mention, how you build a foundation of intimacy.
To help you get the conversation started in your new (or gently used) relationship, I consulted three experts for their hot tips and best practices. Here’s what they said:
1. Just talk about it.
“Communication is extremely important in a new relationship, especially when it comes to sex,” says sex researcher and neuroscientist Debra W. Soh, Ph.D. “Be upfront about what you like when it comes to your sexual preferences and particularly how often you prefer to have sex.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Emily Morse, sexologist and host of the Sex With Emily podcast (you’re gonna wanna queue up a few episodes immediately if you’ve never listened to it before), admits that talking about sex is only slightly less comfortable than talking about than money—depending who you ask. However, it’s best to bite the bullet right away because “the earlier you talk about it, the sooner you’ll be having more satisfying sex.”
2. Keep it lighthearted and curious.
Morse highly recommends having these exploratory sex convos outside the bedroom in a neutral environment, like a casual Sunday brunch or on a road trip. “It’s important to stay away from the blame-and-shame conversation,” she says. “Think: less critical, more curious. Asking questions, without judgment, and listening, will make your sex talk way more effective.”
3. Make a list.
Make a sexual bucket list with the top 3-5 things you want to explore in the bedroom, then choose the fantasies you genuinely want to try with your partner. Swap lists and see where you match up fantasy-wise, and also where you’d be down for some sexual experimentation.
4. Sext it out.
Certified sexologist Anka Radakovich suggests conducting this exercise via text message if that feels more comfortable. “Who knows, you may surprise each other and find out you both like sex in public, or whatever,” she says.”Just don’t make fun of the other person if they say they like something you think is weird—like sucking toes.”
5. Play a game.
It’s hard to argue with Morse when she says, “Who doesn’t love a good board game? Especially one where the goal is to explore your fantasies and lay your kinky cards on the table.”
The board game she’s talking about: Sex Marks the Spot by Creative Conceptions. This game encourages partners to reveal their kinky sides more comfortably. It’s a playful and effective way to find out sooner rather than later if you’re both on the same playing field. It also includes sexy suggestions and adventures—and the winner gets to have their fantasy come true! (Obviously, consent is key in these scenarios.)
6. Keep an open mind.
Remember that talking it out isn’t the enemy of eroticism. “Take people who are into hardcore BDSM who do the most extreme stuff,” Radakovich says. “They discuss everything beforehand. They don’t do surprise anal penetration and expect the other person to be into it. They practically choreograph every sexual act they are about to do before they do it.”
7. Don’t throw in the towel if it’s not a perfect fit.
So what if your compatibility is a little off?
“I urge new couples to accept that sexual compatibility isn’t a guarantee,” Morse says. “In fact, it’s inevitable that great sex will always take consistent, honest communication.”
Which brings us full circle. “The best way to handle it is to start talking about sex as soon as you start having it,” Morse says. “Understand that sexual desires will shift in all stages of a relationship, not just in the beginning.”
Morse brings it on home with what is perhaps the most crucial, overarching piece of relationship advice of all, both in and out of the bedroom. “Communication is a lubrication—couples who talk about sex have more satisfying and happy sex.”
Courtney Kocak is a Los Angeles-based writer and host of the sex and love podcast Reality Bytes. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @courtneykocak.