Communicating about Sex is the main Pathway to more Satisfying Intimacy
Communicating about sex – actually talking about what is going on, is so vital to a healthy relationship. Here’s why: Sex is an important part of a couple’s life. It’s a part of the emotional and physical “glue” that maintains a healthy bond between you.
Intimacy also can be a barometer of the quality of the relationship. What occurs — or is lacking — in a couple’s sexual life often reflects the degree that the relationship is close, secure and vibrant.
Communicating about sex with our partner also is a gateway to understanding our partner’s inner world — his or her vulnerabilities, self-confidence and his or her security about speaking up and making their needs known to their partner.
Also, communicating about sex is challenging for many couples — young and older, different cultures and different styles of being close to another person.
First, Respecting Your Differences
Successful communicating about sex begins with understanding and respecting each other’s uniqueness — including their responses to intimacy and their
sexual “landscape”. As unique people, we all have our own turn-ons and turn-offs, ways we want to be touched and how we respond to being approached for intimacy. Sex play and kink are wonderful ways to explore what your erotic landscape looks like, and what feels safe and sane to you.
Men and women, also, have different sexual responses. Some women take longer to become aroused; men tend to worry more about sexual function.
Complicating the physical differences are emotional and cultural ones: What we learned about sex from our parents, our faith and our cultural heritage can impact how we feel about sex as adults.
If either partner has ever been a victim of unwanted sexual contact, the trauma can impact him or her into adulthood if not treated.
So, Communicating About Sex Really Matters
Given all these factors, couples truly need to be able to talk about sex!
One of my favorite quotes is from Barry McCarthy, Ph.D., well-known author, sex therapist and researcher: “The last person we talk about sex with is the person we are having sex with!”
It’s important to note that being intimate with another person can be the most vulnerable way of being close. Our basic fears can include fear of not being desirable enough, issues about our appearance, taking a risk when asking for sexual pleasure and fearing rejection. It’s a long list, isn’t it?
Passion is not a constant. Desire naturally waxes and wanes, with events, with the seasons, with health, with a thousand reasons.
These fluctuations, however, hit a nerve in most of us and, unless we can talk about them openly, can easily spark or heighten relationship problems. Many partners can tolerate infrequent intercourse, but they cannot tolerate feeling that their partners do not desire them. Dealing with such feelings is a challenge most partners have to face. –Sue Johnson, Ph.D., the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy
Are Our Expectations Realistic?
Dr. McCarthy notes that realistic expectations are crucial to maintaining a vital sexual relationship. “It is self-defeating and harmful to demand equal desire, arousal, orgasm and satisfaction each time.”
Here are some statistics that can be helpful in understanding realistic expectations:
- One in three couples struggle with different feelings about inhibited desire and differing amounts of desire for intimacy
- Only 35to 45% of sexual experiences are very good for both people.
- Twenty percent of sexual experiences are very good for one and fine for the other, and 15 to 20% are okay for one and acceptable for the other
- It’s noted that 5 to 15% of sexual experiences are dissatisfying or dysfunctional
- Seventy percent of women cannot reach orgasm from intercourse alone
How often to engage in intimacy is often a point of argument for some couples. However, the average frequency of intimacy is from four times a week to once every two weeks. New parents often experience a decline in desire because of the demands of caring for an infant.
The ability of couples to communicate about sex helps them avoid guilt or blaming and develops the ability to be resilient and try again when they are more receptive.
Now, Let’s Talk . . . About Communicating About Sex
Maintaining a fulfilling sexual relationship is vital to most couple’s relationship satisfaction. However, as we see above “sexual Sailing” isn’t always smooth.
Just as you initially became comfortable being intimate with your partner when your relationship was new, it’s as important to increase your comfort about communicating about sex and intimacy when concerns arise.
Here are five key points:
- If talking about sex is more difficult for one of you, say so! It’s true that fear decreases if we “name it to tame it.” Letting your partner know it’s hard for you to bring up an issue related to sex and that you need your partner to understand your challenges, allows both of you to help each other. Agree to “stand together” to maintain sexual vitality. Openly communicating about sex is, as we’ve said from the start, a major component in keeping intimacy loving and vibrant. Set aside couple time to talk — private time with no distractions (and no screens!).
- Let your partner know “the heart of the matter,” that is, your deeper feelings. Here’s what we mean:
One partner feels he or she is always the initiator of sex. To help the partner understand, he or she expresses true, or primary, emotions: “I feel less desired, even sad sometimes, when I’m not invited by you for sex. When you reach for me, I feel even more loved and cared for. Can you help me understand how you feel about this?”
Another example: “I recognize I want sex more frequently than you. When I really think about this, I think I need to know you care for me as much as when we met. I’d like us to touch more, hug more, sit close on the couch when we watch a movie. That means so much to me — to my feeling loved and secure. What are your thoughts on this?”
Here, the partner is stating his or her deeper needs for connection. A request is being made and with a healthy dose of “why” and “meaning.” And, there is an invitation for the other partner to share, too.
The other partner can discuss concerns, too. “I think I’m afraid you’ll want sex, and so I know I stay more distant. I know we have differing libidos. Can we talk more about that, too? I think we need to develop a better understanding of what we’d both really like.”
- Accept responsibility for your sexual needs and desires. Your partner can’t guess (at least not always accurately) what you’re feeling. He or she needs to know so you can have a better discussion. As hard as it can be at first, discussions can become easier when they become a natural part of your intimate life. And, this is hard to hear, but the only person responsible for your orgasm is you. You are the one who turns yourself on or off (in your head, physically, etc), and it’s your job to make sure that your needs are being met. If your partner is able to be intimate, but not able to or willing to bring your to orgasm, that’s not their job.
- There are no bad or broken people: Don’t make your partner feel defective, gross, or broken. If you want it and they don’t, or they can’t get an erection, whatever it is. Agree that it’s off-limits to point the finger and place blame.
- Be curious about your partner’s needs. Realize that our sexual responsiveness can change over time with age, health, work pressures. Tuning into our partner’s needs and separating his or her needs from our own can help us lessen a fear of rejection when we reach for our partner to initiate intimacy or propose some new adventure together.
Says Dr. Johnson, “With this openness comes the sense that lovemaking with your partner is always an adventure. ‘Practice and emotional presence make perfect’ is the best guide for erotic and satisfying sex, I tell couples, [rather than] seeking endless novelty to combat ‘boredom.'”
For more about how to have important conversations with your partner, we suggest Dr. Johnson’s book for couples, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, (Little, Brown 2008).
To learn more about the difficulties that can result from avoiding conflict, click here.
To learn more about what Sex Therapy for couples or individual can help you with, click here. Kat offers complimentary consultations to discuss your needs and see if she is the right fit to address sexual and intimacy concerns with you.