Do you feel comfortable talking about sex?
Being a sexual person in the United States can be a rollercoaster. On the one hand, we have magazines like Cosmo and Men’s Health with headlines about sex at the end of every grocery store aisle (raise your hand if you learned a lot of interesting terminology at a young age while waiting for your family’s groceries to be scanned!). Sexual innuendo is everywhere, including in shows and media made for children.
On the other hand, the United States has a history of puritanical views when it comes to sex and sexuality. The combination of repressed sexuality and the obsession with sex can lead to some mixed messages, which can be confusing for folks of any age.
Why is it hard to talk about sex?
There are lots of reasons why it’s hard to talk about sex, even in our sex-obsessed culture. First, sex education is not standardized in the US. Some states have comprehensive sex education programs, but many still teach methods like abstinence-only that ignore the realities of human sexuality.
Purity culture, which is often enforced by major religions, can cause people to develop unhealthy attitudes about sex. In purity culture, women are supposed to remain pure and chaste for their future husbands, and sex is about procreation, not pleasure. When sex is considered taboo and sexuality is ignored as a reality of life, it can lead to feelings of shame or confusion around perfectly normal sexual feelings or urges.
Many people have had traumatic experiences associated with sex, and that can make it extremely difficult to talk about sex. Trauma can make it hard or triggering to discuss sex. Folks who have experienced sexual trauma are not doomed to live with the trauma forever – working with a sex therapist or trauma therapist can help when in recovery from sexual trauma.
The scripts we have for sex from movies and TV is that sex is mostly heterosexual, between two thin able-bodied conventionally attractive people, with little to no foreplay, penis in vagina (PIV) sex, and unassisted simultaneous orgasms for both parties (usually in under 5 minutes). Even in porn, the messy reality of sex is cleaned up for the cameras. Everyone is bendy and has endless stamina.
That’s not usually how it works in real life though. Sex is messy and goofy and unpredictable. Bodies make weird sounds and smells. What looks good on a camera in pornography often isn’t compatible with the most pleasurable positions in real life. PIV sex is not the only way to have sex – not by a long shot! Lots of folks, especially those with clitorises, find that clitoral stimulation is essential for orgasm, and it can take folks a long time to reach orgasm for lots of reasons. Orgasm isn’t always the end point of sex, either. The end goal can be whatever works for you and your partner(s): emotional connection, physical exhaustion, relaxation, etc.
Why is talking about sex important?
The key to good sex is communication. Without communication, it’s next to impossible to know what everyone’s preferences and boundaries are.
Communication allows you to explain what you like and want from sex, and gives you the chance to learn the same about your partner. It’s hard to address an issue with your sex life if you’re not able to talk about it without judgment. Learning how to talk about sex not only makes it easier to address problems in the bedroom, it can make it easier to feel safe exploring new things together as well.
Communication is also essential to establish consent during sexual activity. Consent is required for sex, and it should be actively given, not passive. Some people are less verbal during sex and have ways to communicate a yes or a no without words, but these still need to be discussed beforehand so everyone knows what to look for.
What can you do to get more comfortable talking about sex?
Journal about it
Not everyone is ready to talk about sex with a partner right away. Sometimes, it helps to become more comfortable exploring your own thoughts on sex in a journal. A journal gives you a space to be honest, let down your guard, and explore patterns and old beliefs.
It may be helpful to journal on your core beliefs around sex and your sexuality. What do you believe about sex? What do you believe about yourself as a sexual person? Where did you learn these core beliefs? Do you believe these to be true still, or do they no longer serve you?
Talk about sex with friends
There’s nothing like a pep talk from your friends. If you have a hard time talking about sex with partners, try bringing it up with friends first. Friends often have valuable feedback and insight based on their own lives, and they also know you really well. You don’t have to worry about judgment or shame, you can get feedback and support from people who care about you. Friends can be a great resource for questions that you might be too embarrassed to ask anyone else, and can give you a nice boost of confidence when you need one to get through a tough conversation.
Name how you’re feeling
It can go a long way to simply say, “Talking about this makes me kind of uncomfortable, but it’s important, so I’m going to do my best.”
It’s okay to have feelings, and it’s okay if they’re not always positive. Feelings come and go, and don’t hold any moral weight. Talking about sex is vulnerable, because it involves physical and often emotional intimacy. It’s more than likely that your partner has some things they don’t like to talk about either. Naming how you’re feeling can help you explain your point of view to your partner when you’re having a vulnerable conversation so it’s easier for them to understand where you’re coming from.
Use a meme to break the ice
Sometimes a joke can be the perfect way to broach an uncomfortable conversation. Talking about sex can feel really serious, but remember that sex is about feeling pleasure and connection. Sex can be fun!
There are tons of accounts on just about every social media platform that post memes about sex and sexuality. Try saving a few that speak to what you want to talk about with your partner and send them one to start the conversation. Maybe it’s a meme about a kink you’d like to explore, an issue you’re having in the bedroom, or something new you learned about sex. Every conversation doesn’t need to start with a serious chat – you can use visual aids to get the ball rolling if it is helpful to you.
Use a checklist
In the kink community, there is something called a Yes-No-Maybe list, and it’s common to sit down with partners and discuss everyone’s limits and interests. Each participant can decide their preferences on each sex act – either “yes,” they’re into it, “maybe,” they may be open to trying, and “no,” it’s a hard limit. This can help people prepare to play together in a scene while knowing what everyone is open to.
Even if you’re not kinky, you can use a checklist or something similar to get started talking about sex with your partner. You can either write one yourself or find a resource online to find ones that other folks have put together to help start the conversation.
Talking about sex and figuring out how to communicate in your own sex life can be tricky. Working with a therapist, especially a certified sex therapist, can help you figure out how to talk about sex in a way that is comfortable for you. Get in touch with our office today to make an appointment!