The Paradox of Sexual Silence

I am continually surprised by how many people do not talk about sex with their partner/s.

But then again, it’s really not surprising given that communication around sex is not encouraged in our culture. In fact, it could be argued that we are actively taught not to talk about sex – just think of all the movie sex scenes where everything happens in complete silence (minus the passionate music) and talking during sex is represented as an awkward interruption to the moment.

As a consequence, many people have never learnt how to discuss sex comfortably and constructively. Many people feel quite uncomfortable even thinking about talking about sex.

Other people may have tried, but then become disheartened if these chats did not go smoothly and brought up awkwardness, shame or conflict. And again, sexual silence reigns.

Paradoxically, silence around sex can become the loudest conversation you even didn’t have – the big, pink, poker-dot elephant in the room.

Despite the silence that has been encouraged, honest and respectful communication around sex is one of the most powerful tools a couple can embrace.

Communication can be the foundation that allows you to develop a sustainable and flexible sex life over time, rather than sex that is wonderful to begin with (when all the hormones and neurochemicals are racing) and then gradually creeps into boredom or “choredom” over time.

So, what do people actually talk about? Here are some examples:

  • The aspects of sex that are going well, and the aspects that aren’t feeling so great.
  • Preferred frequency and timing of sex.
  • Sexual and intimacy options for when one or all parties are sick, tired, menstruating, or long-distance.
  • Sexual activities that are enjoyable, sexual activities that are not enjoyable.
  • Differences in desire for sex (libido) and intimacy.
  • Things that are getting in the way of a positive sex life, like lack of privacy, stress, hormonal changes, medications, injury and illness.
  • How to incorporate sexual novelties like role-play, dirty-talk, different locations, costumes, toys, fantasy.
  • Sharing sexual fantasies and desires.

If you find that you avoid talking about sex with partners but want to find ways to open up, here are some ideas:

Firstly, I encourage you to acknowledge that talking about sex can be difficult and awkward. We may feel vulnerable, we may feel embarrassed, we may feel shameful – but this does not mean that sex should be swept under the rug.

And this does not mean that talking about sex is embarrassing or shameful, it just means that it can feel that way. There’s a difference.

Secondly, think about when might be a reasonable time and place to start talking about sex. Some factors to consider are privacy, fatigue (no good discussion ever happens when we are tired), setting, motion (some people prefer to talk while walking, driving), relaxation, and time available. But remember, there is no perfect time that means you will avoid all discomfort.

Also, some sexual communication is great to have during sex – like suggestions on how you would like to be touched in the moment, or talking about fantasies. Meanwhile, bigger discussions may be more helpful to talk about when you are not having sex. Perhaps not even in the bedroom.

Thirdly, if you feel awkward and uncomfortable, start by saying so. It might go something like this: “Hun, I feel a bit awkward saying this, and I don’t really know where to start…but I’d like to talk about what happened in bed this morning.”

And lastly, you don’t have to have it all figured out to start a conversation. It’s okay to open up the dialogue and see where it goes. After all, if you had all the answers to begin with, you wouldn’t be having the conversation in the first place. Let the responsibility be shared.

Warm regards,

Dr. Alice Hucker

Clinical Psychologist & Sex Therapist

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