Welcome to my virtual therapy room! I’m Dr Lori Beth and this is Sex Spoken Here. Today we are talking about communication and sex. Many people find talking about sex very difficult. In my experience, heterosexual couples don’t spend much time talking about sex at the beginning of a relationship. Some have the ‘safe sex’ talk but many others simply use condoms and avoid this talk.
Heterosexual couples who do talk about sex before having it come in three flavours: People who prefer kinky sex, people who become involved online (and don’t meet in person quickly), and people who have a sexually transmitted disease and are concerned they could pass it on.
Many gay men also don’t talk a lot about sex before having sex. But more are happy to talk about sex (at least have a safe sex conversation) than heterosexuals. The same is true for lesbian women.
Lots of people ask me what the problem is – you have sex, you enjoy sex – what is there to talk about? When you first fall for someone, the sexual energy is high – almost anything you do together sexually can feel good. You spend a lot of time thinking of your new partner, fantasizing about what you will do together. By the time you have sex, you are halfway or more to orgasm. What he does to you doesn’t matter so much. Lots of couples ignore when things don’t quite fit. Both women and men will fake orgasm so as not to hurt their partners.
Once the relationship settles down into a routine, things change. Part of this is biochemical. Research has highlighted that it only takes between 1 ½ minutes and 4 minutes to decide if you fancy someone. 55% of attraction is down to body language, 38% tone and speed of voice and only 7% as a result of what is said. When you first fall in love, you are driven by testosterone and oestrogen. Then adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin play a crucial role in fostering your attraction. It is at this point when all you think of is your lover.
Oxytocin and vasopressin encourage you to attach to your lover. These chemicals are around after you have sex so the more sex you have, the more you attach and bond. Then you enter routine relationship and these chemicals die down. This is the point at which couples report the beginnings of sexual issues. Usually this is between 6 months and 2 years in a relationship.
This is the point at which talking about sex becomes important but if you have not talked about sex much before, it is the point where it becomes extremely hard to bring the subject up. If you tell your lover you aren’t reaching orgasm, you worry that they will be hurt and also that they will ask if you were faking until that point. If there is something kinky that you really fancy doing, you worry that your partner will be disgusted or reject you.
Lots of couples settle into a routine of not talking about sex. Sex becomes something that happens in the same way, same day and sometimes even the same time. The longer the routine goes on without talking about things, the harder it is to talk about things.
Sometimes this means people live unhappily for years and then something happens that provokes them to get some help. Other times, one partner has an affair. Sometimes the couple then gets help and far more often the couple separates.
In my most memorable case, a couple was referred to me by a fertility doctor because they were arguing a lot and this doctor felt that they needed to learn to communicate. They had been undergoing fertility treatment for 9 months and no pregnancy had yet occurred. I have always preferred to take a comprehensive history when I start working with people. As part of this, I ask about sex life. Margie told me that they don’t have sex. I asked when they stopped having sex and she replied ‘We have never had proper sex’. I was a bit stumped. I clarified ‘You haven’t had sexual intercourse’. And both said ‘yes’. I asked if the doctors working with them knew and they replied ‘No.’ No one had ever explored this with them before. I asked how they knew they needed fertility treatment and Margie replied ‘Well I can’t get pregnant if he won’t fuck me can I?’ I agreed.
In exploring their sex life, Ken admitted that he had never had penetrative sex with anyone. He told me that he could only reach orgasm through masturbation and that he had very specific fantasies that he was embarrassed to discuss. Their sex life had been at the centre of their marital difficulties for years. Margie told me that she had given up on ever having a sex life but was willing to live with this because she wasn’t very sexual anyway. What she was not willing to live with was not having a family. Margie desperately wanted a baby. At first they did not want to work on their sexual life at all as part of the couples work. They simply wanted to focus on learning to communicate so that they were not ‘being horrible’ to each other anymore. After working together for 6 months, they agreed to do some work on their sex life. In this case, most of the work was with Ken as he need helped to disclose his desires to his wife and to break out of the habit he had developed so that he could reach orgasm via other means. They stopped fertility treatment after 6 months of working with me as they had not achieved pregnancy and the expense was so great. After we worked on their sexual life for 8 months, they became pregnant through having sex and were thrilled to bits.
Most of the work we did was on communication. We started with the basics.
- Know your own mind – Before you can communicate effectively, you have to know what you want to say. When it comes to talking about sex this means knowing what turns you on and what you want from your partner.
- Be clear about your approach to the conversation. Conversations about sex feel very tricky. Part of this is usually a fear that your partner will be horrified and reject you. Part of this is often a fear that your partner will be hurt by what you are saying. If you are going to tell your partner that you would like her to do something different, she might wonder if you have been faking all along. If you are able to say that you want to try something different in a way that excites her, this is less likely to be the case. Say ‘I would love it if we could try having you on top’ instead of saying ‘I think I would find it easier to cum if you were on top’. If you have been having bad sex or avoiding sex for a while, it might help to try the approach out on someone other than your partner and get some feedback first.
- Make sure to take responsibility for your own feelings and experience. Use ‘I’ statements: ‘I like it when’ or ‘I don’t like it when’.
- Make sure to have this conversation in a safe time and space. There is nothing worse than starting a difficult conversation and being interrupted by phone calls, or an obligation. Make sure you have time for the conversation and that your partner has time for the conversation. Turn off phones and other electronic devices unless it is absolutely necessary to leave them on. Make sure the space is free from distraction and safe from intrusion by others.
- Talk about positive things as well as negatives. Let your partner know you still find him very attractive if this is true. Tell your partner what she does that really works for you.
There are lots of fun ways to start conversations about sex that lower the tension. I have a list of questions about sex, sexuality and sensuality that I suggest people use to discover more about their own and their partners’ sexual interests. Instead of just working through these at home at the kitchen table, you could work through them in the bath together or while snuggled up in bed. You could go out to dinner and work through some of the questions at dinner. That adds the additional thrill of talking about sex in public. I suggest picking 4 or 5 questions to work on at a time. When you find a topic that excites both of you, consider setting a date to explore it deeper. For example, one of the questions is ‘Have you ever tried bondage and if so what kind? If not, does any kind of restraint appeal to you?’ If you discover that using handcuffs appeals to you both, talk about how you would like to use them. Agree what your limits would be. Go shopping for the handcuffs together. Create the scene in which you will try them. Are you going to role play? Or are you simply going to cuff your partner to the bedpost? Once you agree how you will do it, schedule the date. Also schedule a time afterwards to talk about how it went and what you want to do next.
Andrea and Nancy came into coaching with me to spice up their relationship. They described the first 6 months of their relationship as super hot and then both reported that things had become stale. Andrea admitted that she went along with what Nancy wanted to do from the beginning because things were so hot that she was willing to do whatever Nancy wanted. A year down the line and Andrea was flirting with other women online and was worried about the temptation. Nancy was spending more and more time at work and felt the relationship was taking an inevitable course towards separation.
In order to turn up the heat, both agreed that any routine sex was off the table for the next month. They agreed to explore sexual and sensual possibilities two to three times a week. They scheduled conversations and dates in their diaries. They agreed that no possible activity was off limits and that they would not judge each other. To prepare for the first conversation, they both made a list of sexual activities they were interested in trying. They also highlighted things they had already done and enjoyed. I encouraged them to bring erotic material to the conversations. Andrea started first and brought an erotic short story with her called ‘Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords’ by Celia Tan. It is an erotic science fiction story with themes of dominance and submission. Andrea suggested that she read the story to Nancy and then they talk about what they liked and didn’t like. They came to the next session all fired up. Nancy said that she found the story extremely exciting and Andrea was relieved. They agreed to try out a couple of things based on the story and found it almost impossible to stick to the no full sex rule. By the time the month was over, Nancy and Andrea had a bunch of new sexual interests and were having regular conversations about sex and intimacy. Their relationship was stronger than it had ever been and they were behaving like newlyweds again.
Regular conversations about your relationship and your intimate life are essential to keeping your relationship alive and well and exciting in the long term. Boredom is toxic to a relationship but it need not ever be an issue as long as you keep talking about your sexual life and are willing to explore. Your mind is where arousal starts. Conversation ignites your passion through your mind.
If you find talking difficult, start by writing to each other. Sometimes I suggest couples use erotica (films, images, books, short stories) to illustrate their desires. It gives you the opportunity to see how your partner might respond without disclosing all of your desires. It lowers the risk of rejection.
Darrell and Grant started their relationship as a casual one. They met at a club and had sex that first night. For the next 6 months, they had lots of sex and lots of fun. After 6 months they began to go out on proper dates, discovering they had a lot more in common than good sex. They were completely surprised after a year when they began to find their sex life dwindling. They both still had strong sex drives but they found themselves finding excuses to avoid sex. They came to see me after Grant had a quick sexual encounter with another guy. Darrell had already worked through the feelings of betrayal and recommitted to each other. They came specifically to work on their sex life so it would not happen again.
We started by exploring their ultimate turn-ons. Both of them mentioned anonymous sex. By definition, one cannot have anonymous sex with one’s lover. We started looking at what parts of anonymous sex were so exciting. Both stated the aspect of surprise was the most exciting. After some thought, they decided to try some anonymous sex with each other by inviting a third person to join them. This brought the excitement back into their relationship. They told me that they had a great time with the three some but also replayed it when they had sex alone. This experience gave them the confidence to experiment with more new activities. Some were a great success and others didn’t work for both of them. They agreed that they needed things to work for both of them in order for them to pursue the activity.
Some couples find they don’t agree on turn ons. When this is the case, communication is essential to find solutions that make both people happy. If solutions cannot be found, communication is even more important when deciding to separate so that an amicable separation can be achieved.
Usually, talking about sex leads to hotter sex and more sex.
Thanks for joining me this week for Sex Spoken Here with Dr Lori Beth Bisbey. Write to me with suggestions for the show, questions you want answered at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on twitter @drbisbey. For a free 30 minute strategy session with me, go to https://drloribethbisbey.com and click the button that says Schedule Now! I look forward to seeing you next week when the topic is How Do I Talk to my Children about Sex?.