Lovemaking is more satisfying when we open the channels of communication wide
As the camera scans along the floor, we see shoes, socks, pants and shirts thrown about, and finally, underwear and a lacy bra dangling haphazardly off the end of the bed. The view then focuses on a man and woman, lying in bed, looking totally blissed out and satisfied.
The media feeds us an unattainable model of “ideal sex.” Sex happens spontaneously, with little or no discussion. Everyone intuitively knows what to do, and partners please each other naturally. No one needs to talk about desires, or dislikes, safer sex or birth control, fears or anxieties. Sex takes care of it all.
We have been encouraged to believe that not only should sex not require any communication, but that talking about sex can wreck the mood.
Sex might be the only thing that is harder to talk about than do. Oh, I love to talk about cleaning the house, but actually taking out the vacuum – not really. Oh, I love talking about going to the gym, but actually heading out the door – not really. But sex? We would often rather just do it than express our needs and desires.
Research confirms what we might already know: couples – newer, long-term, younger or older – all have trouble talking about sex. E. Sandra Byers, in a 2011 Canadian Psychology article, concluded (after scanning thirty years of research into sexual communication): “most people do not communicate effectively about sexuality even when it is important to do so. . . .Most romantic partners have difficulty telling each other what pleases and displeases them sexually.”
Being closed to sex talk has significant implications for our safety and satisfaction. To protect our physical health, we need to be able to discuss safer sex practices and the possibilities of sexually transmitted infections. And our emotional security is essential too. Do we feel good? Safe? Are we being triggered? And even before any contact can happen . . . do we consent?
As well, since our sexuality is very personal and unique, there is no way for a partner to know what we like or how our bodies respond unless we articulate it. And since our sexuality is fluid, our needs and desires may change from experience to experience and even from moment to moment.
We need a new model of “ideal,” one that tells us the truth: sex is a form of communication that is enhanced by other forms of communication. It’s so unfair that we are saddled with the expectation that good sex should come naturally and intuitively. What a recipe to feel inadequate. We need permission and encouragement to explore communication in all its forms.
In the face of these significant challenges, what can we do to make it easier to reap the benefits of opening up sexual communication?
Stay present in the process
A recommendation I have repeatedly come across is to initiate a conversation during a neutral, non-sexual time. While I agree that having some idea of what you want to talk about may be helpful, this focus on preparation can increase the anxiety and the pressure to have a “polished presentation.” There is a lot of benefit to speaking in the moment. What are you feeling right now? What are you needing right now – slower, faster harder, softer, less, or more? What are you loving? What are you fearing? RIGHT NOW.
In the Netflix series About a Boy, single mom Fiona, who has been out of the dating scene for a long time, is finally about to get it on. Her friend encourages her to get “sexy” with a bikini wax, wearing uncomfortable high-heeled boots and donning a piece of lingerie so complicated Fiona can’t put it on properly. There I am, watching as she hobbles up the stairs, and yelling at the screen: “He wants to have sex with you. So be you.”
Scary? You betcha. Vulnerable? Totally. But that’s sex. Sex is not neat, contained and intellectual. Sex is about what’s going on for you RIGHT NOW. There is no script. We bring our whole selves into every sexual experience, and the best way to communicate about what we need is to be led by what the moment tells us.
Embrace your own sexuality
If we approach sexual communication from a place of wanting to enhance our connection and experience, it comes off very differently than if we approach it from a place of “s/he better get me off.” No one owes you an orgasm.
If sexual frustrations and challenges have been building, I can empathize with how difficult it might be to approach your partner with love and generosity, but no matter the circumstance, we are responsible for our own sexuality. We can and should “take care of ourselves.”
Dr. Betty Dodson, in her pivotal work Sex for One, promotes life-long masturbation as a way to learn more about our own bodies and pleasure responses. She reflects on what made one key sexual partnership so powerful for her:
“Honest-to-goodness sharing was the essence of intimacy. We felt more at ease, and sex was a lot more fun. Becoming responsible for our own orgasms was a basic statement about individuality and equality. It established us as people who had a choice when it came to lovemaking.”
As we step away from keeping score, we can approach sex and communication with a spirit of openness, play and exploration rather than pressure and responsibility. And who doesn’t prefer play to work?!
I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions, or if you would like to know how I can support you to express yourself sexually!