Even though sex is more in our faces than ever before, with ideas and advice coming from all angles including women’s magazines, internet news, porn industry and public health education – to talk about it intimately with your partner is an idea that still makes most of my clients break out in a sweat. At least, at first. Cultural approaches to talking about sex also vary greatly, making it sometimes even more difficult to navigate the minefield. Here are some examples of what I hear different people say about talking about sex with their partner:
* We don’t talk about it at all. Just don’t even go there. (If I would allow myself the pleasure of a generalization, definitely the preferred English choice!)
* Let’s talk about it, but when we do, we do so in the most clinical and professionally distanced way as possible. Let’s not talk about how we feel, just about what works and could work (again, while obviously generalising, this is often a preferred choice for many Germans)
* Let’s be very open and tolerant and try out everything out there including swinging, open relationships, etc etc – and somehow deal with our own anxieties about all of this later. (not sure where to put this one, but generally with people who want to be very open to life and exploring their sexuality)
So what is my way?
Whether you always had sexual difficulties, had great sex before but now you have been together so long the passion seems to have died out, are trying out alternative ideas such as an open relationship, or one person just had an affaire and you are trying to repair your sexual relationship, I believe first and foremost in talking about desires (what would you like?) rather than abilities or competencies (what you can do). And talking about how you actually feel, rather than how you think you should or would rather feel. Determining what lies in your comfort zone, what lies just slightly outside (and you could dare to give a try), and what you are just not comfortable with is good way to prepare for a joint conversation. Also when it comes to sex, I believe difference and different sexual interests can actually enhance your relationship – that is when you do talk about it at least in some way that is.
Do we have to talk about sex in the sessions?
No. You and your partner decide what you want to talk about and what you do not want to talk about. Only on very rare occasions, when it involves serious health risks, will I make an exception to that rule.
What can I do to start talking about sex with my partner now?
Just after sex or just before, is often when people feel very vulnerable and it is not always the best time and place to have a constructive talk about sex. Generally, most sex therapists recommend talking about it outside of the bedroom. I think it depends on your relationship and what you think you and your partner are comfortable with. Most important I think is to stick with positive messages: what you enjoy, what you would like more of, and what you are curious about exploring together. And to really take some time to reflect on your own desires and interests, and barriers before you do so. Criticism is something that works if you have a really trusting and confident relationship, but is much more difficult to accept if things are already a bit tense. Also when talking about sex, it is not bad to be mindful of the rule by John Gottman: say 5 things you appreciate before you give one point of critique.
In terms of resources, and if at least one of you speaks German (!), I can highly recommend the book “Guter Sex trotz Liebe” by Ulrich Clement. In English, David Schnarch is a very well known couples and sex therapist, and I can recommend any of his books.