As a therapist who has worked with hundreds of people to improve or correct their sex lives, I am amazed at how often they are unable to really discuss sex.
Men and women who are otherwise very smart, educated, articulate, and open about so many things clam up and sit in silence. This is often the case regardless of whether they are a couple coming to see me together, or just the man or just the woman in the relationship. I have had the same problem with lesbian and gay couples. People are people!
I believe that people in our culture, especially Americans, are still very uncomfortable with their own sexuality. This runs across ethnicities, all age groups, and genders.
Women are often confused about what they are supposed to be. They are told by parents, teachers, churches and synagogues and the larger morality of our society that they should be modest and innocent when it comes to sex. But they are also told through a bombardment of ads in all media that they need to be hot, sexy and daring about sexuality. It’s the Madonna-Whore syndrome. Women are left not sure of what to do or how to act and what’s right or wrong.
For now, let me just say that for starters, there is no right or wrong. Each woman needs to determine what feels right for her. To help her start to discuss all of this, whether with a therapist or a partner, I suggest that she take a paper and pen and write down 5 sexual likes and 5 sexual dislikes to take with her to her first therapy appointment (or to a discussion with her partner). She can begin by discussing which of those are good in her relationship and which are a problem for her. This will get the ball rolling. It’s always a good idea when talking about any difficult topic to start with what’s positive. This establishes some rapport and a bond before you tackle the problems. It also helps to sooth sensitive egos.
Now what about the guys? Well, perhaps surprisingly to many women, men also have a lot of confusion about their roles and responsibilities sexually. Check out any Dolce and Gabbana ad or all the action flicks and even video games, and the men are pretty much all the same. They’re tough, strong, invincible, and completely self-assured. They know exactly what to do, what women want, and how to satisfy them. In my experience with working with men of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors, nothing could be further from the truth. Men learn about sex mostly from their guy friends and from the media. They think they will be viewed as weak or insecure if they show that they are uncertain about what to do or how to satisfy their partner. So instead of starting a discussion, instead of asking, they just muddle through. They often feel unsatisfied themselves but won’t admit it.
Once they begin to open up to me, they express tons of frustration at the high expectations they feel are placed upon them by both society and women. The role they feel they’ve been thrust into isn’t one that comes with written instructions and they are left to fend for themselves. They often can’t even admit this to their closest friends since guys aren’t supposed to express feelings to each other, or so they believe. They are afraid to tell their partners, for fear of rejection, so it leaves them frozen in a bad place.
While changing all of these rigid stereotypes isn’t easy, it can be done. It starts with the C word. Yep, communication. Both men and women need to start talking – to their therapist if they have one, and to each other. My earlier suggestion is a good place to start.
Find a nice neutral place, NOT in the bedroom, and make yourselves comfortable with some soft background music, maybe a glass of wine or coffee. Make sure there are no distractions – no kids, pets, or family members wandering around. Set a time for the discussion. This will help ensure that you don’t ramble. Thirty minutes to an hour is a good starting point.
Set a couple ground rules. The point of this is to learn to start communicating sexual feelings, needs and wants to one another. It’s not an attack show, and it’s not about blame. Stay positive.
As you talk, each partner needs to try and really listen to what his or her partner is saying. Try hard not to feel defensive. This is going to make things better. Remember that it won’t happen overnight, it takes time. Try and make the discussion a weekly routine, as the more you talk, the better you’ll both get at it. And when you get into bed, you’ll find that you can express things about how you feel as they are happening – the good as well as the bad.
Finally, giving each other positive reinforcement and encouragement when he/she gets it right is super important. This is what will help you both to continue down this path to open sexual communication.