Why do we usually find it so very difficult to discuss sex with our partner? For most of us do.
We all have different desires, different levels of desire, and desire sex at different times and in different ways. Any difference between couples can be a cause of conflict, let alone one around something so intensely personal as sex. And conflict can bring with it negative emotions. And we’d rather just avoid those wouldn’t we. And besides sex is private, and it’s just so embarrassing to openly discuss it.
Research has shown that couples avoid talking about issues that create conflict because they perceive it as threatening. We can feel this threat in three different ways:
1) Threat to our relationship: We fear the conflict discussion will irreparably break the relationship. We value our relationship, even when there are aspects we are not satisfied with. So rather than risk a conflict that might improve it, but might also tear it apart, we say nothing. It can feel safer that way.
2) Threat to our partner: We fear hurting our partner’s feelings. We care about our partner and so even when we’re not happy with something in our relationship we’d rather bumble on than risk hurting our partner. We tend to discount the fact that we have a chance of making things better by talking it through.
3) Threat to our self: We’re scared that conflict will make us vulnerable. If we reveal too much about ourselves, will our partner disapprove of us, will they still desire us? I might feel ashamed or humiliated. We want our partner’s approval, and the fear of losing it drives us to avoid talking about sensitive issues full stop.
The subject of sex leads to even higher levels of perceived threat. From our very first experience of gender, of our bodies, we learn that sex is different; it’s naughty, taboo, or at the least intensely private. We don’t talk very openly about it, however we still want to be good at it; we believe it would be the utmost humiliation if we can’t please our partner.
But how are we to please each other if we don’t know and share what we like? If we don’t show them, or – god forbid – tell them?
This is especially true of revealing our secret fantasies to our partners. Since we probably believe that our desires are weird, we assume our partner will think so – and then decide that we are weird too. Our urges seem deeply personal, to be built into our innermost being; what turns us on just turns us on. To dare to discuss our secret fantasies might mean we are judged, and rejected at our deepest level. So we keep pretending we don’t have any. And maybe let things go stale.
But how are we to keep things fun and exciting if we don’t acknowledge and communicate what would help? Are we missing out on something if we keep this part of us locked away?
We can grow in confidence to voice what we want out of the bedroom, so we can also – gradually – grow the confidence to explore and express what we want in it. It may help to start with something less personal and build up to it. Get used to expressing yourself and simply learning to say “I’d really like…”
Difference and conflict don’t mean that the relationship is doomed. When we work through them, it can mean the opposite. If both partners want to explore, to discuss and to resolve issues, we can learn to enjoy our differences all the more, and enjoy our relationships growing stronger as a result.
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