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Communication Tips from a Sex Therapist

by Stanley Ducharme, Ph.D.  

It's safe to say that sex has always been an essential part of life. It's something we enjoy, look forward to and find time to fit it into our busy lives. If necessary, some of us even schedule a time for sex on a weekend or at the end of a busy day. Having sex is not something that most people just leave to chance. This is true for people of all ages and regardless of whether they are in a relationship or not. Although sexual activity and intimacy may change as we get older, for most people sex remains an important part of their lives well into their 70s or 80s.

Yet in spite of its importance, sex remains a challenge for most of us to be able to honestly talk about it with our partners and the people we care about. Guys seem to have an easier time talking to other guys about sex and the same is true for women. Women are more at ease talking with other women. It's not just that we get embarrassed with the topic, but men and women tend to focus on different aspects of sex. Men and women don't speak the same language when it comes down to talking about sex.

Guys often focus on the physical aspects of sex. It's a nuts and bolts kind of approach. We're into the mechanics of sex. Issues like positions, erections, orgasm and pleasure are what we focus on. For us men, if it's not done in the "correct" way, we feel like a failure. Unfortunately, performance is a big deal for most guys. Most men tend not to be the "touchy feely" type.  At least, they don't like to admit it to other guys.

Women have their own priorities and it's not the mechanics. For women, sex is about closeness, emotions, intimacy and sharing. What position we use, is far less important than feeling cared for. Feeling connected in a loving way is typically more important than the intensity of an orgasm or the rigidity of an erection. It's safe to say that men and women are wired differently and start off on different pages.

In spite of our differences, sex requires a certain amount of talk and honest communication. For example, in a new relationship you may have to ask about STDs or whether it is necessary to use a condom. The same is true if you have any type of sexual difficulty. If you have problems with erections, ejaculation or orgasm, you may have to explain how things work now and what your partner can expect. You may also want to talk about how your partner can be helpful and what kind of assistance he or she can provide.

If you have experienced sexual trauma in the past, this may affect your sexual expression or attitude about sex as well. Sexual trauma may affect your interest in sex or just how comfortable you are regarding sex. A short discussion may be difficult but important. These conversations don't have to go on for hours, but this is an area where communication is critical. If you have some physical or emotional issues regarding sex then it's probably up to you to break the ice.

Since open communication about sex is so critical for a positive sexual encounter, here are a few tips to keep in mind regarding conversations about sex. These might help in those difficult moments when you're trying to figure out what to say or how to say it.

Be Honest: Probably the most important thing to remember is to be honest in talking about sex.  Don't hesitate to share your insecurities or your anxieties. Put your ego aside and let your true feelings come through. This is not a time to be defensive or to appear as if you have it all together. It's a time to be clear, open and honest.

Be Personal: Express your needs from a personal perspective. Talk from the first person using words like "I" and "My". Talking about yourself will put your partner at ease and will be much more personal. 

Timing is everything: Don't wait until the very last moment to explain how your body works and what your partner can do to provide some assistance. A sexual difficulty can be intimidating to someone who is not familiar with it. Conversations about sex are best and more natural when they unfold gradually over time. Sharing a little bit about your sexual needs and desires is best when the two of you are feeling close and emotionally connected.

Pay attention to your partner: Pay close attention to your partner's verbal and nonverbal responses. Take his or her feelings into consideration and be open to any questions that they may have. Be sensitive to their reactions and pace a conversation according to their willingness and openness to hear the information that you are communicating.

Try talking during sex: Don't be afraid to say things like "that feels nice" or "I like it when you touch me here". Suggest different things to try and let your partner know when you are enjoying something. Be careful not to tell him or her that they are doing things wrong. Avoid sounding like you are shouting out orders or instructions in bed.

Find a balance between talking about mechanics and feelings: Although it is important to explain about things like positions, erections and orgasm don't forget to leave time to talk about your feelings. Share some positive feelings with your partner share your feelings about the relationship. Let yourself be vulnerable by letting your guard down. If sex is stressful for you, let your partner know that sex is an anxiety provoking experience for you. Don't pretend that you are experienced if that is not the case.  Let your partner know that this may be a time of discovery for both of you and enjoy the journey together.   

In conclusion, good sex is a goal and it takes some time, work and communication to get there. Sex is not going to be perfect every time and some sexual encounters are going to be more enjoyable than others.  By communicating with your partner about sex, there is a lot better chance that things will go smoothly and be pleasurable. Let down your guard and express yourself!

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