Let's Talk About Sex
Let’s talk about sex. Actually, I think it would be more helpful to talk about what it’s like to talk about sex. Many couples want more sexual intimacy in their relationship but struggle with how to start the conversation. Some may say this issue falls under the category of ‘communication issues’ but we know it’s deeper than that. Exploring your inner sexual world, and inviting your partner to experience it with you, is vulnerable. What will they see? How will they feel about your desires? What if you don’t like what your partner says? What if you need to tell them something you don’t like - will their feelings be hurt if you are honest? How to talk about sex is different for every couple. In couples counseling and individual therapy, we help our clients have these vulnerable conversations in a meaningful way. It occurred to me that even couples who aren't in couples therapy might like to develop the skills necessary to talk lovingly with their partner about their sexual thoughts and needs.
While preparing to teach the sex therapy section of an upcoming couples retreat, I came across a wonderful exercise by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald in their book An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples; The two of us. I’ve revised it for this blog but certainly wanted to give credit where credit is due. The exercise below is an overview of questions and thought provoking statements, intended to prompt your unique conversation with your partner. Some will feel more relevant to you than others. Pick and choose the sections you feel will guide you and your partner through a helpful conversation of discovery and, hopefully, an even more fulfilling sex life together!
Let’s get started….
Set the stage for a helpful, connecting conversation with your partner. Set aside some time when you both feel relaxed and comfortable. Going for a quiet walk together can be just as effective as sitting together in a quiet room. Escaping the intrusions of technology, family and work is a must in order to create the space you need to slow down, connect with your inner self and to share your sexual experiences and desires with your partner.
As you begin to reflect on those experiences, take notice not just of the memories that come to mind, but of how you feel while you are having the conversation. If you begin to feel awkward, shift the conversation to how you are feeling in that moment. Perhaps you feel silly? Unfamiliar? Nervous? Sharing those feelings can help you build a stronger and more supportive bond, which will help you move deeper into this vulnerable conversation.
Begin by exploring how you’ve talked about sex and physical intimacy in the past.
• Have you and your partner tried to talk about sex in the past?
• If so, what happened?
• What went well? Why?
• What didn’t go well? Why?
• How would you like the conversation to go today and how can you own your contribution to how well it goes? For example: “It seems like whenever we attempt to discuss our problems with sex, we get stuck in me getting frustrated and you getting quiet. I don’t like getting frustrated and I don’t think you like shutting down. Can we work together to make it better this time?”
• How can you bring your best, most curious self to the conversation?
Then, begin talking about the positive sexual experiences you have had in your relationship:
• What positive memories and feelings come up for each of you about your sexual relationship? Try to be specific
• Was it an event?
• A time period?
• A type of sex?
• Share one or two of those with each other and allow yourselves to reminisce about those positive experiences.
• Does anything surprise you?
• If so, what? Why?
• What was it like to share a positive sexual memory with your partner?
• What was it like to hear a positive sexual memory from your partner?
• Do you like the way your partner touches, hugs or kisses you?
• Tell him/her about it and why you appreciate and/or enjoy it.
HINT: Pause to each ask yourself, ‘How do I feel about the conversation so far?’ ‘Am I listening with curiosity?’ ‘Am I non-blaming?’ ‘Am I bringing my best self?’. Discuss any discomfort you might be feeling. Validate each other’s discomfort, awkwardness or uneasiness if it should arise.
Gently move towards sharing more thoughts and desires:
• How do you define sex? Intercourse? Non-sexual touch? Explore your respective definitions of sex.
• What would you like to say to your partner about your sexual intimacy needs and your desires for physical touch that you haven’t shared before?
• How do you feel after you have had sex with your partner? Do you feel more connected after sex?
• Does sex provide physical satisfaction?
• Explore how experiencing sexual intimacy impacts the way you feel about your relationship with your partner.
Are there any problem areas in your sex life you would like to discuss?
• Are you satisfied with the frequency of your sexual encounters?
• How, if at all, would you like your sex life to change?
• What is it like to be the partner who desires more?
• What is it like to be the partner who desires less?
• What is it like to be on the receiving end of ‘no’?
• What is it like to say no?
• What are your individual hopes for your future sexual relationship together?
**Try to share your feelings, rather than blame your partner for them. For example: “I feel let down when…” rather than “you never…”. Look to name the vulnerable feelings underneath your frustration or disappointment, and share them. For example, “I feel hurt/lonely/scared/undesirable when…”. This will be more easily heard by your partner.
If you are experiencing problems such as difficulty achieving or maintaining erections, premature ejaculation pain during intercourse, please consult your doctor as they can often be associated with other health problems.
This exercise is just a sampling of topics couples counseling covers when we help clients discover why it’s so hard to talk about sex. If completing this exercise was difficult for you and your partner, our team of relationship therapists can help you by customizing the conversation to your specific needs. Give us a call or schedule an appointment to meet one of our therapists who can guide you through these conversations and help make talking about sex a little easier. Learning how to talk about sex, intimacy and physical connectedness can feel intimidating in the beginning. We create the environment that allows you to explore your own inner sexual self and communicate your needs, learn about your partner’s, then share them with each other. The resulting bond is lasting and contributes to closeness in many other areas of the relationship!