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Ask Dr. Ruth: How Do I Broach the Subject of Personal Hygiene With My Partner?

3 minute read

After 30 years of working as a sex therapist, the legendary Dr. Ruth isn’t done sharing her wisdom. Here, she answers your most pressing questions on sex, relationships and life. Email your own queries to drruth@time.com, or catch up on previous installments of the Ask Dr. Ruth series.

Q: How do I gently tell my partner that their personal hygiene needs some work?

A: It’s funny that two people who are engaged in a sexual relationship, spending time together naked and giving each other orgasms, would hesitate to talk about certain subjects — hygiene often falls into this taboo category. The worst thing you can do in this type of situation is say nothing and avoid physical contact. Your sex life is going to crash and that might lead to the entire relationship falling apart. In that scenario, you have nothing to lose by saying what’s on your mind because if it leads to a break up, in the long run that seemed inevitable in any case.

One way to get your point across in a positive manner is to convince your partner to take a shower or bath with you. Then rather than having to say something negative, you can make a positive statement such as “I love it when you smell so clean.” Of course your partner might not take the hint, but it’s worth a try, especially as the entire experience might prove very arousing to both of you.

If you’re really having a hard time talking about this hygiene issue, whatever it is, then consider putting it in writing. A written note will allow you to revise what you say so that you can be sure that you’re saying it as gently and diplomatically as possible, perhaps surrounding the negative news with as much positive reinforcement as you can. Two results may arise from such a note. The first is that your partner will make the changes you want and the two of you never have to talk about it again. Or else it will lead to a conversation, hopefully not a fight, and you can take it from there. But at least you will have gotten the hardest part, stating your complaint, out of the way. Plus, your partner might not even be aware that they’re smelling less than rosy and may thank you for the heads up.

Of course there are situations where you are going to be faced with a decision as to whether to stay or go. If you inform your partner that there is something about him or her that upsets you and your partner refuses to make any changes, then you have to consider the entire relationship carefully. If your partner is selfish in many other ways, then I would advise you to leave sooner rather than later. That type of relationship is not one that you want to remain in. But if your partner is just stubborn about one particular issue, like refusing to apply deodorant for example, then your decision will be harder. You’ll have to weigh all the pros and cons and see what conclusion you arrive at.

Email questions to drruth@time.com.

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