People do not know how to talk about sex. I work with couples (and individuals for that matter) who often report an inability to talk about sex. This is one of the first things I notice in my practice as a sex therapist – the lack of language and comfort in talking about sex. If someone is uncomfortable talking about sex generally, how do they communicate their sexual needs to a partner?
We are not talk about what is good sex. And we most definitely are not taught about how to identify our sexual pleasures – this is something we learn through masturbation and early sexual fumblings. Often it is these early sexual fumbling’s which teach us what we think we do not like.
So to talk about sex we need to know what we like sexually. In earlier columns I have written about self-exploration (masturbation) exercises which can assist in understanding our erogenous zones and extending our sexual play. Knowing our sexual selves is important to good communication about sex.
For many people, Hollywood movies are the basis for the sex we desire. The loving, passionate, long, clean, fun which seems to occur from two people looking at each other and then seamlessly knowing what the other wants. Rubbish!
Sex can be fun, don’t get me wrong. Sex is also messy at times. It can be awkward. Then we add no talking before, during or after. We are not in a cinema watching a movie. We are participating in a fun act. Communication before, during and afterwards is key. Not that I am suggesting a running commentary but some communication is needed.
I believe there are four blocks to good sexual communication: listening; language; sexual shame; fear of rejection. There are also four ways to improve communication: know thy self; talking about desires and wants; explaining and showing what you like; and the good ol’ positive re-enforcement.
This is not the first time I have made mention of listening. Active listening, I believe, is the number one key to opening a healthy relationship. Thinking kills listening. Listening requires us to not be thinking about what we will say in response. Or thinking, “here we go again,” or other like thoughts. Thinking anything other what the other is saying is poor listening.
Multitasking does not exist and is not good for listening. I know people like to say they can multitask. The reality is to do two things at once means we are not giving our full attention to either task. Good listening requires to focus on the other person – not the TV, or dinner, or the iPad.
Our first response needs to be to let our partner know we have heard them (this builds rapport, trust, understanding = love). Reflect, or repeat, back to your partner what they have said – even paraphrase the message. This lets the other person know they have been heard.
A Sexual Language
What’s in a name? Lots of things. We have a limited vocabulary for sex and all things sexual. There are many words for our “private bits” yet these are not suitable for everyone. There are anatomical names for our genitals yet for others these too are not suitable – or embarrassing. Then of course we have to talk about the act/s. “Could you please fellate me while I sit in a chair?” I agree not that exciting or enticing. I can’t write what I would say – nor could I write what my partner would answer. Neither is suitable for publishing. And this of course suggests even two people working in the area can have problems communicating sexual desire and wants.
Listening, of course become key in this instant. Listening to what your partner is asking or saying rather than reacting against the words. We know now that we might have a limited vocabulary – so listen to what is being said. Ask a question if you are not clear on the meaning of the words. Again, a statement like, “Will you perform cunnilingus on my vulva?” is not something which may inspire action. Use the language you have and make this part of the fun.
The sexual shame of it all! Yep this is more common than most people think. Of course, some men (and women) can talk about sex stuff for hours – just not their own. I recently heard a parent refer to their child’s genitals as “naughty bits”. Childhood is where sexual shame starts for many people. The of course there are the other messages about sex growing up and sometimes the silence about sex. Add to this the Hollywood sex-phenomena and we have utter confusion. (Those people on the screen are so comfortable about sex – I mustn’t be normal). I will say it is normal to have sexual shame. In fact, I expect it (unfortunately) given the world people grew up. Talking can help alleviate the shame. Good sexual communication that is.
Fear of Rejection and Rejecting
One common fear is rejection. Fear of being rejected and fear of rejecting our partner. Active listening minimises the act of rejection (in either direction). Communicating honestly about our needs is not about rejecting our partner. Fears of being rejected are based on our own sexual shames. Let your partner know how you are feeling. Any good communication will communicate feelings too.
We are communicating about being better lovers – not poor lovers. We are not talking about critiquing someone’s performance. We are talking about increasing sexual skill.
In addition to the road blocks there are four positive launching pads for good sexual communication.
Know thyself! – I mentioned this in the opening and in past columns. Know thyself. Understanding your own sexuality and how you like to be turned on. Reflect on past sexual experiences and work out what worked for you. Explore yourself through masturbation.
Talk about Desires and Wants – Now that you have dealt with language, shame and rejection, be clear when communicating your desires and wants.
Show ‘n’ Tell – Remember the days of show n tell at school? Demonstrate to your partner what you would like; show your partner. Actions with words speak louder than either alone. Have a go together. It might be fun. I still find the time my partner tried a new sex toy and we fell about laughing in the process. (Note to all: play with your toys first to know how to use them!)
Positive Re-enforcement – When something good happens and you like it, let your partner know. Praise them.
A final note: pillow talk after sex is good for the relationship and improves sexual satisfaction. Pillow talk is also a good time to talk about sex. Spend some time talking after sex and extend the pleasure you both feel.
Talking about sex may not always be easy and can be achieved. Good sex requires good communication. Good sex and good communication means a healthy relationship.
Remember a healthy life includes a healthy sex life. And a healthy sex life is sane, (con)sensual and safe.
Dr Christopher Fox is a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist at Sex Life Therapy in Melbourne. He has clinics in East Melbourne and Frankston.
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