For so many years, I have heard stories from people–both men and women about their lost sexual lives, or about the sexual life they never had. I hear a lot of pain, sadness and a real loss in these stories. I hear from a lot of people who have been in long-term relationships who are unhappy about their lack of sexual communication as a couple and don’t know what to do about it. They feel at a total loss. They wonder, “Is this all there is?” I can just hear that Peggy Lee song playing when I hear their painful stories.
This week I want to write about what I consider one of the most common ‘mistakes’ couples make when it comes to sexuality:
They never learn to talk about sex, so they get used to things just going unsaid… there is no dialogue within the relationship, but at least one person is having an unhappy, uncomfortable internal conversation when it comes to sex.
You may have heard me say that sex requires skills—not the least of which is communication skills. Sexual communication is a bit different from other conversation in that we rarely have role models for how to do it well, unless we just happen to have had a partner who learned it.
How do you talk about sex? And if you don’t, how are you to address your sexual issues? Sexual communication is an essential skill that every person and every couple must learn. Here are some examples of what I mean by sexual communication. I invite you to really check in with yourself about each one.
- How do I talk about what I want?
- How do I address my own desire?
- How do I make healthy requests?
- How do I flirt?
- How do I talk about sensitive things without making my partner feel inadequate or bad?
- How attracted am I to my partner, and how do I feel about that?
- What things am I holding back from saying to my partner?
- What desires have I not yet expressed?
- How do I bring up new desires or acts that I’m interested in?
- What holds me back from talking about what I want?
- How do I react when my partner raises these topics with me?
- What feels easy for me to talk about with regards to sex/sexuality?
- What feels difficult for me to talk about with regards to sex/sexuality?
So many things go into sexual communication: good timing, loving language, a desire to come together, positive reinforcement, constructive feedback, non-defensiveness, accountability and follow-up so things actually change AFTER the conversation, letting go of a need for perfection and so on.
For many people, not only have they not had sexual role modeling, they also feel so sensitive about sex, that it’s nearly impossible for them to NOT be defensive when discussing sex. If one of you gets defensive, it’s not going to work. It’s over. You’ve got to let down your guard and be willing to be vulnerable…that’s hard for most people. The bottom line is that everyone needs to learn sexual communication skills, and it’s not something we are taught anywhere in our culture unless you’ve sought out someone like myself who knows how to help people learn this skill. There are surprisingly few places to learn it.
So most people just go trial-error-trial-error-stop trying-stay quiet-feel shame-grow apart-get resentful. Does that cycle sound familiar to you?
Fluent sexual communication is not something you will magically “achieve” overnight; like any skill, it will always require that you make an effort and commitment to learning to do it well. Becoming aware of the way you’re communicating (or not communicating) about sexuality right now is the first thing you can do to bring more awareness to your sexuality and to step out of the old cycles that keep you dissatisfied.