TOPIC:  sexual communication

INSTRUCTOR:  James Wadley, Ph.D., licensed professional counselor and marriage, family and sexuality therapist (drjameswadley.com)

Here are 5 topics that men and women need to broach with their lovers but rarely do:

(1) We don’t make love as
frequently as before.

(2) We never switch up times, places or positions.

(3) How many partners have
you had?

(4) When were you last
checked for an STI?

(5) What do you fantasize about?

Conversations about sex, whether we’re sharing with a partner, discussing “the facts of life” with a child or raising a concern during a medical checkup or therapy session, are necessary. Sex is integral to life. But while public messages about sex are everywhere—on TV, at the movies, in advertising and even jokes—when it comes to sharing private concerns, many of us are uneasy. We may feel more comfortable bringing them up with a friend (someone who “gets” us, who acts as a sounding board and with whom disclosure poses less risk) than with the person with whom we get naked. But avoiding sexual conversation alienates lovers. Partners may become resentful over unmet expectations. Conversely, sharing promotes vulnerability and closeness. Discussing expectations, boundaries, desire and fantasies paves the way for better sex!

Why is sex such a touchy topic? Many religious and conservative perspectives promote that it is private; it is for procreation; it  should be saved for marriage; masturbation is sinful and horny feelings should be prayed away; and sex should only be between a man and woman. Regardless of whether we embrace these values, fears of being judged by them, shamed or belittled create conflict. People wonder: Will my partner think I am having sex with someone else? Will (s)he think I am weird? Will (s)he feel uncomfortable and break up with me? Will talking about sex ruin the mood?

Putting fears aside can help a couple move from bedroom boredom to boudoir bliss. Take Thomas, 35, and his wife, Delores, 31. Rushing home from demanding jobs to spend time with the kids, they never discussed dwindling desire and sporadic sex. But in therapy, where talk ranged from their upbringings to past relationships to how they decorated their bedroom, we discovered that overwork and parenting weren’t what sapped their mojo. This couple kept portraits of their parents by the bed, along with religious symbols! Once they talked about how guarded they felt near those objects—and moved them—they could relax and have the “chandelier-hanging” sex they both craved.

Assuring your partner that it’s OK to be open with you means you must first be comfortable with your sexuality. Spend time clarifying and resolving your values, beliefs, ideas and past behaviors. Reading about sexuality, journaling or speaking with a therapist can help. Invite your mate to share thoughts. He or she may blush or hesitate. If so, let your sweetie know you will be patient until the conversation happens. Some tips:

1 Don’t assume (s)he knows what you like. No one can read minds. In addition, your respective needs and desires may have changed.

2 Do talk where you both feel
comfortable. Some couples chat in the car while commuting. Others prefer a favorite coffee shop, park or restaurant.

3 do set ground rules. Talk about
what you will/won’t discuss. What you share should remain between you unless both agree upon “safe people” with whom you can disclose it.

4 do share what feels appropriate and be open to listening.

5 don’t compare current performance to that of a previous partner or stage of life (e.g., “Sex was better when I was single”).

6 don’t discuss performance pro-blems in bed.

7 Do accept that you and your
partner may have different viewpoints.

8 Do suggest a book or article
about sex to read together.

9 Do invite your partner to share what is pleasurable/not pleasurable. Once (s)he shares, ask if there is anything that you two can work on together to
have a more fulfilling sexual experience.

10 Don’t attack your partner when something needs to change. For instance, to address his or her body odor, you could say, “I really enjoy being intimate when we’re clean and fresh. Wouldn’t it be sexy to shower together and lotion each other down first?”

11 Do communicate that you will face challenges as a team. If erectile dysfunction were the issue, you might say,
“I enjoy the way you touch my body, whisper in my ear and let me kiss you all over. Try not to focus on or worry about staying hard; just tell me how to please you in whatever way you want.”

12 Do solicit input on varying the menu. You might say, “Honey, I am curious if you have any thoughts about how to spice up our sex life and if you would be open to me sharing my thoughts.” [Partner responds].
 “I would like us to try role-playing cops and robbers. We could make it fun