Last week, I wrote about the importance of prioritizing intimacy. Next, I want to discuss a second tenant of a healthy sex life – good communication – and how the Giver/Receiver exercise can help you and your partner improve in this area.
Phase 2 – Communicating About Sex
Good communication is a key component of a satisfying sex life. For many people, talking about sex is difficult and uncomfortable. If you are struggling with your sex life, you often either avoid the topic or argue in circles until a fight flares up. You may have been raised in a household where sex wasn’t discussed. Because you didn’t get any modeling for how to talk about sex, you internalized the message that it’s not an appropriate topic of conversation. Your sex education, if you had any, probably didn’t include information on talking about pleasure, connection, variety, and exploration with a partner—the topics that are critically important to tending to your sex life. If you were lucky enough to be raised in a sexually open and healthy environment, or you have some comfort with talking about sex regardless of your taboo upbringing, your partner may not have that same willingness to talk about things.
Maybe you didn’t need to talk about sex much early in your relationship. After all, there’s a lot you can do and enjoy without needing to talk about it. You can signal your wishes with body language, movement, and vocalization. You can get by on this tactic for quite a while, depending on how things are going and how well you are matched to your partner. But over time, and as things change (or one of you is interested in changing what you’re doing), it becomes more important to be able to address sex directly.
If you are in a place where problems and negative feelings are already a factor, talking about sex is even more important. Unfortunately, it is also even more difficult. If neither of you has the skills or willingness to talk about difficult topics like sex, you will probably end up avoiding it.
Communicating about sex has more than one layer to it. You need the ability to talk about your sex life as a whole: its role in your life, your overall satisfaction, your expectations, your disappointments, and your contribution to the problems you’re experiencing. But you also will need, at some point, to be able to talk specifically about the act of sex itself: what you like, what you want, how things feel, and where your boundaries are. These conversations need to be specific and explicit. They don’t have to be lengthy, but you need to be able to talk to your partner clearly enough that they understand.
Ask for things. Tell your partner what you’d like. Provide feedback, encouragement, and instruction. Invite the same from your partner. The more you can create a dialogue about what is working, what you want, and how to best move through sex together, the more you will be able to optimize your physical experience and create a sense of partnership and connection with your lover. You don’t need to talk your way through every sexual encounter, but getting used to communicating about and during sex means you can use words when you need them.
One technique I suggest is reading a good, approachable sex book aloud to each other (The Guide to Getting it On by Paul Joannides is a great example). This way, you start out reading about sex in the abstract. You’re not talking about yourself yet, so it can feel less threatening. Doing this helps you get used to the language of sex, desensitizing you in the process. Plus, you may learn a few things and get some ideas about what you want in sex.
Using the Giver/Receiver Exercise – Communicating About Sex
You can use the Giver/Receiver Exercise to practice talking about how you like to be touched. Because you are asked to direct your partner, almost continuously, you can learn to overcome your reluctance to ask for things and to be specific in your requests. While you will probably not talk that much during “regular” sex, having the ability to speak up and be specific when necessary is a good tool to have in your toolbox.
Pitfall: Not Being Able to Ask for What You Want
You know what you want, but you feel ashamed, self-conscious, or just embarrassed to be that specific. You’ve never been comfortable talking about sex. You’ve never learned to give feedback. You don’t know what to call your body parts, and it feels awkward to be specific, directive, or “bossy.” You’ve always believed your partner should be able to read you. Or maybe they should know what you want. Or you’re worried that your partner is so uncomfortable with sexual talk that you clam up. So you tone down or change what you want. Or give vague instructions. Or lapse into silence and hand the control over to the Giver.
Breakthrough: Getting Comfortable Talking About Sex
You get a lot of practice giving feedback and putting what you want into words. You learn the level of specificity you need to get the desired result. You learn how you want to refer to various parts of your body. You can speak up easily when you want something different because you’ve gotten good at talking during a physical encounter.