Do we have to talk about sex?
It is generally accepted that we have to talk about sexuality in some way to our children so that they can develop into sexually healthy individuals. But what about our partners?
Communication is Crucial
Whether it’s a one-time thing or a long-term committed relationship, there are three prerequisites to any sexual activity: consent, safety and pleasure. There is no way around it: communication is key. For some people, this feels entirely natural; for others, they’d rather visit the dentist.
Let’s say you have a new partner. You are very turned on to each other. You’ve managed to discuss mutual protection and have negotiated safer sex and/or contraception if pregnancy is an issue. You’ve agreed that you’re going to have sex – whatever that term means to the both of you. That’s two down off the checklist. Now, are you going to present a menu of what pleases you before the clothes come off; or are you going to hope for the best?
You have three opportunities to get it right, which means making it an enjoyable – and perhaps a meaningful – experience for both of you.
The Best Times to Communicate
You may have some issues that you need to discuss – a disability, pain, prior trauma, some things you adore or perhaps some “no-gos”. Are there parts of your body you prefer they not touch or explore? Are there some surefire ways to get you going that you want to share?
If you’re not a talker; e.g., “that feels so good”, insert moan of pleasure here. If it doesn’t feel good, try saying, “I really liked what you were doing before. Can you do that again?” If it hurts, “ow” will do.
“I really liked it when you…” “So you like to… I do, too, but it would feel even better if…”
Negotiating Sex With Your Partner(s)
Longer-term relationships can be more fraught because of your emotional history: the lived experience of the couple. If the relationship is solid and based on frank communication, it may still pose some difficulty dealing with, for example, a disparity in the desire for sexual activity; or the desire to try something new.
If one partner enjoys sexual activity with more frequency that the other, that is negotiable. It may be as simple as one wants to be sexual every day, and the other twice a week. It may sound silly, but one compromise is every other day. Another is limiting some sessions to certain mutually enjoyable activities.
In the same way, sexual activities are negotiable. If you’ve always wanted to try something like anal massage, for example, there are a few approaches. One is to just put your finger there and ask if it’s OK and if it feels good. “Can I do it some more with lube?” may be your next question. Or you can send an erotic text about it, leave a note under the pillow, get an instructional video - or porn - if you both enjoy that. Maybe your partner wants to hear you say things that seem out of character. If it feels OK and oddly exciting, why not try? Just like talking with kids about sex, try practicing first in front of the mirror.
Exploring the Issues
There may be times when the lovemaking is unsatisfactory or just unwanted. Is it unwanted because of relationship issues, because you’re too damn tired; or because it’s been getting less interesting/exciting over time?
The real test of your ability to communicate without blaming is at hand. Each partner has to look deeply inside themselves. What are their individual underlying issues (new baby, less money, sick parents, aging…)? What are the issues for the couple? If it is too daunting to work this through and maintain civility and a caring attitude, it may be the time to consider outside help. Perhaps you need to talk with a professional about your relationship before even discussing sex therapy.
Everyone has the right to a satisfying sexual life no matter what that means to them. Finding a way to get it means you have to open wide – and talk.
Lyba Spring was a sexual health educator for Toronto Public Health for 30 years. She worked in schools with children and teens, counseled in a sexual health clinic, gave workshops, university lectures and did guest spots on TV. Over the years, Lyba has addressed every aspect of sexuality from safer sex and gender identity, to raising sexually healthy children and female ejaculation. From sex workers and principals, to staff in long term care facilities, she has worked with them all—in English, French and Spanish. Currently, Lyba speaks to the media, blogs for the Huffington Post, gives workshops and writes educational materials while continuing her work as a sexual health advocate.