Everyone has a hard time talking about sex at one time or another. Whether it’s answering a question about sex from your children, talking with your partner about a sexual issue, or asking your doctor a medical sex question, sex talk can feel anywhere from awkward to impossible.
But keeping silent about sex keeps us ignorant and potentially leads to negative sexual health outcomes (which could be anything from just having bad sex to acquiring sexually transmitted infections). Keeping silent about sex also allows all of us to perpetuate sex myths that are rarely true but sound accurate in the absence of honest and open sexual communication. If you’re looking to improve your sexual communication skills, consider these common obstacles to good sexual communication:
The lies we’re told about sex
present a huge barrier to good sexual communication. Many sex myths encourage us to believe that to be great lovers we need to be mind readers, not communicators. Communication isn’t always about talking, but I can promise you that one of the keys to great sex
is an ability to talk about it. I can also promise that it’s easier to learn to talk about sex than it is to learn to read minds.
Our various fears about sex -- fears of sexual rejection, making a fool of oneself, disclosing politically or socially “inappropriate” sexual desires -- present significant obstacles to good sexual communication. While these fears are often justified, since we also live in a culture of fast and harsh judgment of those who don’t maintain the status quo, they make it very difficult for us to talk about sex honestly with the people around us.
Negative Beliefs about Sex
With very few exceptions, we are all raised with some negative sex beliefs. These can be very personal (being told your body is ugly, dirty, or should only be used for procreation) or more universal (sex is bad, it leads to immorality, people who have sex end up single, depressed, etc.) These beliefs act as a strong deterrent to talking about sex. When you get two people who each have their own negative sex beliefs, the potential for miscommunication multiplies.
Lack of Sex Information
To talk about sex, it helps to have some basic sex information. Unfortunately a lack of comprehensive sex education
means most of us don’t even have accurate basic information, and this presents another barrier to good sexual communication. It’s hard to know where to start a conversation about sex when you have no context within which to begin. Lacking basic sex information also makes talking about sex all the more scary, which ties into the fear, myths, and negative beliefs about sex mentioned above.
So many of us grow up without accurate sexual vocabulary. Children are rarely taught the correct names for genitalia, and this extends to sexual behaviors, orientations, and identities as they get older. This is changing with the amount of sexual content online and in mainstream media, but there are still people who find it hard to talk about sex because they don’t know the words to express what they want to say. Having a basic sexual vocabulary can make it easier to talk about sex. It can also be reassuring to discover that there are words for how we feel, and that others share these feelings and experiences.
We’re told that sex is private, and it follows that you need privacy to talk about set. But many of us lack privacy, and our sexual communication suffers for it. Whether you live in a group home and can’t lock your door, or you have kids, thin walls, and not enough money for babysitting, worrying about outsiders overhearing your conversation makes talking about sex that much harder. In reality, most people just adapt and learn to make the best of the privacy they can find. But if you can carve out privacy both in terms of space and time, it will make your sexual communication go a little bit smoother.
One of the reasons talking about sex can feel threatening is that you’re putting yourself “out there” in some way. For this reason, good sexual communication usually means having a clear sense of personal boundaries. Without them, you may disclose more than you’re comfortable with or even take more responsibility for the person you’re talking to than you really should. Developing boundaries isn’t something that happens over night, and it often is a process of pushing the boundaries to get a sense of what you are and aren't comfortable with. But good sexual communication should never feel like it goes too far over the line.