Obstacles to Intimate Conversation

April 2nd, 2010

Many people have trouble talking about sexual topics, including me. Thinking about how to recognize and overcome some of the following obstacles might help you develop an ease and vocabulary for having meaningful sexual conversations in your relationship or with your kids.

“Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer sex raises some pretty good questions” -Woody Allen

Many people have trouble talking about sexual topics, including me. I have never been successful using the pornographic language often associated with sex, but medical terms feel as odd rolling off the tongue in the midst of a pleasurable act. Generally, it is easier to not discuss the topic at all, but then I often wonder if I might get more of the experience I want if I could figure out how to ask for it. This tongue tied situation isn’t limited to just my partnership either; just this weekend, my sons were talking about how disgusting the idea of oral sex seemed to them and I found myself at a loss to respond. Even with all the work and writing about sex that I do, I still find myself in awkward and uncomfortable situations where I am unsure what words to use, how much to share or explain and even whether it is my place to be the one explaining.

Usually I break through my discomfort, sometimes placing my foot squarely in my mouth, because I believe that even more important than knowing the right words is the intention to break the silence that weighs so heavily over our sexuality. This is an ironic statement when you consider how much titillating, exhibitionist sexual talk fills the Internet and even mainstream media.Yet when it comes to garden variety discussions about improving intimate lives or even more, sharing sexual health information with the next generation, we are all silenced. Thinking about how to recognize and overcome some of the following obstacles might help you develop an ease and vocabulary for having meaningful sexual conversations in your relationship or with your kids.

Sex Myths: The biggest sex myth that is perpetrated, primarily because we don’t know how to talk about our sexual desires, is that we must all cultivate the skill of mind reading if we want to be great lovers. The idea that you should just know what will turn on your partner without communicating does a great disservice to many a relationship. Communication isn’t always about talking, but learning to feel comfortable with anatomically correct language is a good start because it is much easier than learning to read minds.

Sexual Fear: Many people walk around with a lot of fear associated with sexuality. High on the list is the fear of being normal, which makes many people hide their desires. A close second is the fear of sexual rejection, also known as making a fool of one self. Considering how naked, literally and figuratively, our sexual lives make us these fears are understandable, yet not helpful. Hiding our sexual selves or feeling ashamed cuts us off from ourselves and strongly hinders communication.

Negative Beliefs about Sex: Most of us were raised with some negative sex beliefs. For some of us, these are very personal, including bad feelings about one’s body (ugly, dirty, fat etc) or the more universal and religious-based sanctions against sexual pleasure. Whichever is your flavor, these beliefs are not strong openers for a good sexual conversation. Combining two people that hold negative beliefs greatly increases the potential for miscommunication because the message trying to be conveyed is misinterpreted.

Lack of Sex Information: To be able to discuss sexual issues and concerns, it helps to have some basic information. Unfortunately, many of us never benefited from any real sexual education. Lacking accurate and basic knowledge of sexual organs and functioning makes a real conversation difficult because there is no context for where to begin. Not knowing the reasons you feel or don’t feel something can make the topic all the more frightening and builds our fears and negative beliefs often without our awareness.

Privacy and Boundaries: Sexuality is one of the areas that we hold most privately in our life, especially as we get older. We all want to have good sex lives but we don’t want anyone else to know about it. Creating the privacy you need to feel comfortable about your sexuality should actually enhance your ability to communicate about it. But using the lack of privacy as an excuse to avoid the conversations will not get you closer to what you want. Additionally having a clear sense of your personal boundaries is essential because sharing your sexual questions will require you to be vulnerable in ways that are uncomfortable. Knowing your own comfort zone might take crossing the line a few times, but feeling confident in your ability to stretch within your boundaries will build your ability to communicate.

It has been said that language shapes the way we think and even determines what we can think about. By developing your comfort and vocabulary with your sexual language, you actually expand your ability to think about who you are sexually. Breaking through our own barriers to discovering and sharing our sexual selves is liberating and gives access to one of the most essential and mysterious parts of our humanity. The more I experiment and practice, the more gratified I am to see how pornographic exclamations and anatomical pointers mix themselves together with little effort, inventing a sexual language that communicates quite effectively. Open your dialogue here and I promise it will open your experience.

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