Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
For many people it’s hard to talk about sex. No matter how much you think you know about the “how-to” part of sex, and the techniques for giving and receiving pleasure, none of it is helpful if you aren’t able to talk to your partner about sex.
Because you have different brains and are in different bodies, it’s impossible for your partner to know how to please you sexually without conversation and feedback.
But before you start talking about sex, practice doing some self-soothing first to calm yourself down. Only when you’re more grounded will you be able to speak in a moderate and responsible way about this subject.
Below are six reasons why it’s hard to talk about sex.
1. Lack of good sex education
Given the negative messages that many of us received about sex when we were young, most people find it hard to talk about sex. Unfortunately, lack of sex education means many of us don’t even have correct basic information.
Too many of us don’t know how to talk about sex and sexual health on a personal level, with partners, our children, doctors or friends. As a result, relationships and health can suffer and important information doesn’t get to the people who need it. Relationship research shows that unrealistic beliefs and misinformation about sex can be particularly damaging.
What to do
The Kinsey Institute and SexSmartFilms are a good place to start getting research-based sex education. For young heterosexual adults Dr. Paul Joannides’ website is full of useful information. For teens of any gender or sexual orientation, sex ed in the real world is found on Scarleteen. If you’re older and still want to experience sexual pleasure, whether in partnered or solo sex, you should. And if you’re older and not so interested anymore, that’s fine, too. Having helpful information about sexuality in older people is necessary to dispel myths.
It’s important that everyone, especially young people, have access to good, accurate information about sex. This is not found on porn.
Porn is entertainment for many people, but is based on fantasy, not facts. It totally misses the context of intimacy. Porn gives rise to many myths about sex, and it also feeds myths about porn. Promoting tolerant, inclusive attitudes towards everyone regardless of their sexual preferences, gender, identity or orientation is key to good sex education.
2. Guilt and Shame
Unfortunately, many people feel guilt and shame about their sexuality.
Sex can be a sensitive and awkward topic that raises feelings of embarrassment, shame or inadequacy. Because talking about sex involves a degree of risk, we can become vulnerable to judgment, criticism or sometimes rejection.
Revealing your sexual wants and desires to your partner can be scary, especially when your partner’s reaction is not positive, which can make you feel ashamed or humiliated. There is also fear of hurting each other’s feelings.
What to do
Good sex education helps us feel less guilt and shame about what turns us on sexually – as long as there is mutual consent and does no harm to others. Start with telling your partner who you are, where you’ve been and what does and doesn’t feel good.
Practice self-compassion in your relationship. If you don’t have a partner, start by practicing self-acceptance. Dr. Kristin Neff has some wonderful free resources for self-compassion. Read what Dr. Marty Klein has to say about sexual shame and secrecy.
3. No shared vocabulary about sex
You’re not alone if you’re uncomfortable saying sexual words and phrases out loud. Your own ways of thinking about sex, body parts and sexual activities may be very different from your partner’s.
So, get together to create a shared vocabulary about sex. A shared vocabulary will make it much easier to talk about body parts, sexual activities, what you like, want and don’t want.
What to do
First educate yourself about female and male genitals and function with these short videos by sex educator Dr. Paul Joannides. Create shared names or terms for your genitals and some of your sexual activities. Take your time, it’s not always easy to do. Partners do not intuitively know what you want without you having to say.
This short video interview with Dr. Laurie Mintz talks about the huge orgasm gap between men and women. Men have far more orgasms than women, during solo or partnered sex.
Become familiar with what you look like, the types of touch and activities you like for yourself. Then practice telling your partner what you like and don’t like. Practice listening to your partner’s likes and dislikes without taking it personally. Be curious instead of being furious, embarrassed or defensive.
Being up-front, respectful and honest about your needs and desires is a far more effective way to get what you want than hoping your partner can read your mind.
4. We don’t want to look ignorant.
No one likes feeling clueless about anything. And that seems truer of sex than of many things. Because sex may not have been talked about in your families, people often think that sexual information is something you’re supposed to “just know” or figure out for yourself, rather than something you can actually learn about.
You’ve learnt many things throughout your life, like walking, talking, reading, writing and driving. The only way to learn is by practice and repetition. There are no short cuts! Becoming comfortable to talk about sex takes learning, asking questions and plenty of practice and repetition.
What to do
Go back to point 1 – get some good sex education. I can’t stress enough the importance of good sex education. Read my blogs on Myths about sex, Myths about orgasms, Talking about sex, What to do about sexual disappointment, Mindful sex, Myths About Porn. They have links to many good resources about sex and how to talk about sex.
5. Knowing about sex doesn’t “come naturally”
Many people believe that sex is something that “comes naturally”, and we should just know how to be good at it. This just isn’t true. We needed to be taught how to behave in our families, schools, workplaces and communities. But somehow, we’re just supposed to know about sex.
In real life the key to becoming a good lover is to have good general communication skills with your partner. Talk about what you each like and are interested in and what you don’t like and are not interested in. Be open, non-blaming, and honest.
Even communicating a lack of desire can bring partners closer together. Fear of rejection, not “performing” well enough, body insecurities or anxiety about disclosing an unusual sexual desire can stop us from communicating freely.
Sex is not a performance. It’s an activity you engage in for connection and pleasure. If you don’t feel connected, and/or there is no pleasure, that’s a sure sign you need to learn about and talk about sex.
If you can’t communicate effectively about your differences in other areas of your relationship, you certainly won’t be able to talk about your differences in sex!
What to do
Ask, listen, be curious – about yourself and your partner. Tell, explain, show – all without blaming and shaming. Practice, practice, practice, with yourself and with your partner. It’s like learning to play a musical instrument and then jamming with other musicians. Here’s a short video on jamming with sex.
Everyone’s body is different and everybody’s pleasures are different. Our bodies and sexual organs are as different as our faces – although obviously they have common structures.
Don’t assume or mind read. The more you know about yourself, the more you can let your partner know about what works or doesn’t work for you.
6. Learn to give, take and receive
As Esther Perel says, we need to learn how to use these seven verbs in our sexual relationships – to give, to take, to receive, to ask, to share, to refuse, to play/imagine. Learn to say no firmly, kindly and unmistakably. Learn to hear no with good grace. This takes practice, patience and repetition.
Your partner does not have to have sex with you just because you want it. Their body is their own. You must learn to respectfully ask for what you want and learn to accept their answer without taking it personally. Sex is not a “duty”. Your sexual needs are your responsibility, not your partner’s.
Some couples have good sex at the start, and then it wanes. Other couples may take months or even years to find what satisfies both them. Most couples report differences in desire levels – as described in this video with Dr. Ian Kerner. It is common for desire levels to rise and fall over the course of a relationship. Communication skills are key in being able to discuss this.
What to do
Practice having respectful discussions about what interests you or what doesn’t (and why), what turns you on or off. If you don’t do this, it becomes more difficult the longer you’re in a relationship. Without talking about them, sexual desires become hidden. And then we can feel embarrassed or shy about mentioning things that we would have eagerly done in the early stage of a relationship.
If you’re not learning to talk about sex, after a while sex has no room to grow. Things break down when we take them for granted, and the process of fixing them, once they have fallen apart, may be hard. Prevention is better than cure.
Research on sexually happy couples
Research on sexually happy couples by Dr. John Gottman shows that couples who talk constructively about sex have more satisfying sex and generally happier relationships. Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually. Creating intimacy by sharing thoughts and feelings about sex often ends up getting you closer to a truly satisfying sexual relationship.
Even though it’s hard to talk about sex, having ways of effectively exploring these issues is the secret to being happy in your sex life.
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