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February 14, 2017 11:00 AM EST

We all want to be close with our partners, to share our deepest secrets, our hopes, our fears. But when it comes to the bedroom, nerves can get in the way of having an honest discussion about your sexual likes and dislikes. Even with a long-term partner whom you love and trust, these conversations can be a little, well, awkward. What will they think of you? Will they take your desires as a criticism of your most intimate moments up until this point?

But the reward is worth the risk as a fulfilling sex life has umpteen benefits for your relationship, your health, and your happiness. Just ratchet down the awkwardness by actually scheduling a talk about it, says Ohio-based sex and relationship therapist Randi Levinson, CSE, CSC. “Make a date of it, so it’s not brought up out of the blue while someone’s cooking dinner or washing dishes,” she suggests. “Set an actual intention of opening up to each other, and go into the conversation saying, ‘I’m going to do my best to be non-judgmental, open-minded, and curious about you.’” Once that time is set (and, perhaps, the wine is poured), here are a few questions to help you along.

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1. What Do You Fantasize About?

The wonderful thing about fantasies is that they aren’t real, and have no bearing on what kind of person you or your partner are. “Preface with ‘I don’t want to make this a reality. This is just a fantasy and I want to share it with you,’” Levinson says. The answer can reveal fascinating things about what turns your partner on or a certain sexual persona they’d like to try—or it can just make you feel even closer to each other. “There’s something really vulnerable about sharing your fantasies with your partner,” adds Levinson, “and also very sexy.”

2. How Do You Like to Be Touched?

The level of pressure and where it’s applied can evoke varying amounts of pleasure for every human body, so it’s worth asking if they prefer delicate, feathery fingers in one spot or a strong squeeze in another. And if your partner is of the opposite gender, you may still have questions on how best to touch their differing nerve centers. Levinson suggests the red-yellow-green game, a kind of adult traffic light: “You can say, ‘Show me on my body how you like to be touched.’ Your partner touches you, and you get to say red, meaning ‘Stop, don’t like it.’ Green means, ‘Do more, please.’” Yellow? Well, it’s always good to know what feels lukewarm.

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3. Do You Like to Be in Control?

There’s something about the idea of control that has been ruined forever by Fifty Shades of Grey, but the natural give-and-take of sex means that often one partner is in the driver’s seat in any given moment or position or act. “A lot of people think it’s unsexy to talk about the details of how you want [sex] to play out, but the sexiness is in the safety of it,” Levinson says. “When you can talk about it, you know nothing is going to surprise you in a negative way.” If you’d like to explore having one of you being in control—of one evening, one encounter, or in general moving forward—she encourages the discussion of expectations and boundaries. If a move seems too over the top, or too intense, then it’s off the table.

4. What Would You Like to Try That You Haven’t Tried Yet?

Yes, your partner may have a sexual bucket list, and part of keeping your sex life interesting and satisfying is to tick off some boxes. The real minefield with this question, Levinson notes, is that it can stray toward talking about your past lovers. “You might say, ‘I don’t know how it’s going to make you feel if I talk about past experiences,’” she says. “‘Do you want to hear about them, or don’t you?’” If yes, then you are free to say, I tried X but I think it’d be great to do Y with you. If they don’t want to hear about it, then you can just go ahead with,I’ve always wanted to Y. Are you interested in something like that?

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5. Will You Do More of This?

Everyone likes a compliment, so a really great way to say “stop doing that” is to request “more of this.” “You don’t have to mention the negative, because that’s an ego blow. It brings up performance anxiety,” Levinson says. “Focus on the positive.” You’re emphasizing your partner’s skills and how sexy they are, and who can say no to that?

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