Talking with Your Partner about Sexual Matters by
Stanley Ducharme, Ph.D.
Talking with Your Partner about Sexual Matters
Given all the negative messages that we received about sex when we were kids, it's no surprise that talking about sexuality as an adult is a daunting task. For most of us, years of hearing that sex was dirty has taken its toll. We avoid discussing our feelings about sex and find it difficult to be open and honest with our partners.
Yet for men, studies have shown that at least one in three men have some form of a sexual problem. These might include lack of desire, erection difficulties or a medical condition or medication that can affect your sexuality. When we add a medical issue or complicating factor to the mix, the idea of discussing sexual issues becomes even more complicated.
For men with disabilities, sexual changes following the injury are almost inevitable. Virtually every man with a neurologic disability can expect alterations in sexual functioning. For women with disabilities, sexual changes may be more subtle but equally difficult. These might include difficulties related to lubrication, positioning, pain during intercourse or an inability to achieve an orgasm.
Despite the common problems in developing a positive intimate relationship, few couples find it easy to discuss such matters. Sex is often a sensitive and awkward topic that raises feelings of inadequacy or embarrassment. For most of us, there is so much at stake that a sexual conversation just cannot be natural and spontaneous. A conversation about sex has implications for every man and woman. In a discussion about our sexual desires and preferences, our self esteem is on the line. Almost everyone is fearful of being judged in these situations.
For men, the ability to sexually satisfy a partner is at the core of a man's sense of himself. Fears of being considered "less of a man "or being thought of as being different because of a sexual difficulty can dominate our thinking. Guilt and shame seem to be the overriding emotions with sex. Thus, it can be easy to avoid talking about sex or to avoid sexual contact all together.
For women, feeling attractive and desirable are important at any stage of life. Often, a partner's sexual difficulty can impact one's sense of self as much as one's own sexual issue. Insecurities can arise for almost any reason. Any sexual self doubt or insecurity can have a dramatic influence on self esteem, body image and confidence in a relationship.
Having a positive sexual relationship doesn't necessarily happen by itself. A positive sexual experience requires some degree of communication. In addition, a good sexual relationship requires trial and error. Not every sexual encounter will be great sex, (and that's OK). That fact needs to be accepted by both partners.
Some couples seem to have good sex from the start while other couples take months or longer to find a satisfactory rhythm. For most of us, a good sexual relationship is probably not going to develop right from the very first sexual attempt. It will take a discussion of what does and doesn't feel good as well as some talking about the mechanics of sex. Such intimate discussions don't come easily. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when discussing sexual matters:
1. Let your partner know that you would like to discuss some sexual matters. It's generally a good idea to inform your partner that you would like to have a discussion about sex. This will give you both the opportunity to gather your thoughts and to plan a time for such a discussion. Finding a time to talk in the future will hopefully help the two of you in being less defensive and emotional in a discussion of this nature.
2. Agree on a good time to talk. Having a discussion about sex needs to occur in a private, face to face setting without interruptions. Trying to talk about such matters with the kids close by or while watching television is a sure bet for disaster. With interruptions and distractions, most couples will have some misunderstandings and miscommunications. Agreeing on a time to talk will also help insure that such important discussions don't happen when the two of you are fatigued and tired from the day. Also, a discussion about sex needs to occur when you have ample time and are not in a rush.
3. Use sentences that begin with "I" and try to talk about yourself. In a conversation about sex, talk about your needs and wants. Talk about what would enhance the sexual experience for you. Avoid putting blame on your partner or suggesting that your partner is doing something wrong. Stay positive and remember that the goal is to make the sexual experience more enjoyable.
4. Avoid being defensive. As important as it is to express your feelings, it is equally important to listen to your partner. Have an open mind realizing that most difficulties involve both parties. It is rare that a sexual issue is one person's fault. Accept some degree of responsibility in the problem and focus on what you can personally change. Avoid making excuses for yourself and listen with an open mind!
5. Stick to the facts. In a discussion about sex, it is very easy to bring other issues into the conversation. There may be unresolved feelings of anger or hurt from other issues in the relationship. This is not the time to express your feelings about other problems or other concerns that you have about the relationship. Stay specific and stay focused on the sexual issues at hand. If the conversation starts to go into other areas, refocus on the sexual issues at hand.
6. Talk about sex on a regular basis. If a conversation about sex is rare in your relationship there is a good chance that it will be awkward and difficult. What makes talking about sex more relaxed is the frequency of these discussions. Try to have conversations about sex on a regular basis in order to be more at ease and natural with the topic.
In conclusion, becoming sexual and enjoying one's sexuality is a process that happens over a period of time. It involves taking risks, being vulnerable, having a sense of humor and being able to have fun. It also requires the ability to talk about personal and private matters. Feeling comfortable with your sexuality requires time and practice. Try to remember that enjoying a positive sexual relationship is not about performance or doing something correctly. Enjoying a sexual relationship is about letting go of control, sharing and enjoying the fantasies, sensations and closeness associated with sexual pleasure.