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Why is it so difficult to talk about sex?

Let's talk about sex: why is it so difficult?

Let's talk about sex: why is it so difficult? Photo: Getty Images

Sex is something that's difficult to ignore in our lives because it's everywhere in our culture; it's reflected in magazine and TV advertising, fashion, music, TV series and movies. You'd think we would all be open, relaxed and comfortable with it, but often the opposite is true.

In fact, many people find it extremely difficult to talk about sex; it can be a sensitive and awkward topic that raises feelings of embarrassment, shame or inadequacy.

Given all the negative messages that most of us received about sex when we were young, this shouldn't be a surprise. Unfortunately, a lack of sex education means most of us don't even have relatively basic information. In our society sex is just not an acceptable topic for conversation. To be silent about sex keeps us ignorant and it's vitally important that we talk openly about sex as a society, preferably starting at school level.

Sexual communication involves a degree of risk by talking about sex with our intimate partners; we can become vulnerable to judgment, criticism or sometimes rejection. Revealing your sexual wants and desires to your partner can be scary, especially when your partner's reaction is not positive, which can make you feel ashamed or humiliated. There is also the fear of hurting each other's feelings.

Many of my clients tell me that they think that they are the only ones who find it difficult – they believe most of their friends are having great sex lives.

We are led to believe that sex is something that comes naturally and we should be instinctively good at it, which just isn't true. We are taught from a young age how to perform most basic human tasks and when older, we learn how to study and get a job. But we are just supposed to know how to have sex. In reality the key to becoming a good lover is to have good communication with your partner.

Having sex is an extremely intimate act; we can feel very vulnerable and uneasy, and find it difficult to have a dialogue. Fear of rejection, not performing well enough, body insecurities or anxiety about disclosing an unusual sexual desire can stop us from communicating freely.

Therefore, talking about sex is the only way to have better sex. Educate yourself more; books, magazines and videos might help you get to know your way around female/male sexual anatomy, sexual positions, techniques and so on.

Avoid looking at porn which gives us a very unrealistic vision of what sex is about.

If you don't have the right sexual vocabulary, your communication will be much more difficult. Expressing appreciation to your partner is critical for him or her to feel confident.

You may find that increased intimacy can result in a more passionate and connected relationship. Sex is important; it energises a relationship, restores intimacy and can make each person feel desirable.

Researching this subject I came across a TED talk presented by sex educator Debby Herbenick from the Kinsey Institute of Sex, titled Make Sex Normal. By "normal" she means making sex, bodies and gender, ordinary parts of every conversation. She believes if people are more comfortable talking about sex, they will be more in touch with their own sexuality and be able to discuss their sexual likes, dislikes and boundaries with their romantic partners.

Herbenick says: "Too many of us don't know how to talk about sex and sexual health on a personal level, with partners, our children, physicians or friends. As a result, relationships and health can suffer and important information doesn't get to the people who need it.

"We need to make sure that people, especially young people, have access to good accurate information, and we need to promote tolerant, inclusive attitudes towards everyone regardless of their sexual preferences or orientation."

She would like to encourage people to talk about sex like "it's not a big deal"; and I can't agree more.

7 comments so far

  • Ms Herbenick says: "We need to make sure that people, especially young people, have access to good accurate information, and we need to promote tolerant, inclusive attitudes towards everyone regardless of their sexual preferences or orientation."
    Isn't it time our schools provide sex education and maybe even "relationship education".

    Commenter
    Claudia
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 10:34AM
    • Relationship lessons from the State? That's a worry considering how many kids come out with poor reading, writing and 'rithmatic skills.
      Improving communication skills and "Educate yourself' with non-porn sources might be a better idea which is what I think Matty was getting at.

      Commenter
      John
      Location
      Neutral Bay
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 6:51PM
    • In a similar spirit is the teaching of emotions and emotional awareness, seem to be also something "left to nature" - this is linked with how relationships work. Things like domestic violence certainly have links to people not be able to notice or be aware of their emotions, and not having strategies to deal with powerful emotions like sexual desire, and jealousy. For example, what is the best thing to do if you "want someone so badly"? If your partner does something you don't approve of, or that makes you feel angry, how to deal with it? Having answers to these questions (which are likely to be different for some people) would surely reduce the rate of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as better equip people to work through rough patches.

      Commenter
      vote for pedro
      Date and time
      September 08, 2014, 9:22PM
  • I find that I get the best results from my partner when I reinforce all of the things he does well by starting out sentences with, "I really love it when you XXXXXXX, perhaps we can try XXXXXXX too next time... What do you think? Makes approaching the subject much easier. If you can't be vulnerable with your lover, who can you really be vulnerable with????

    Commenter
    All Heart
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 10:47AM
    • I agree with the sentiments expressed for better communication, but to say "Its not a big deal?" is very misleading and it sounds like you are trivialising it, like it's akin to playing a game of tennis. Of course it is a big deal! Your commentary on the negative consequences and difficulties that can result from sex attests to that.

      It is a very big deal who you are doing it with, how old you and they are and what your relationship is and what the consequences may be of all that.

      For example sex may not be a big deal if it's you doing it, but if its somebody else doing it with somebody you are in love with and committed too, it is a huge deal. Relationships breakup over this, marriages too, families are torn apart and sometimes extreme violence and even murder are the result. If it's not a big deal why do these things happen.?

      Many Bible based religions too have very strong beliefs about how big a deal it is. However if you are not a believer this may make it simpler for you.

      However l am all for better communication on the subject. Driving it underground causes many problems too.

      Commenter
      54
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 1:19PM
      • 54 - You may have misunderstood what Debby Herbenick meant, she was not talking about SEX is NOT a big deal - she meant "Talking about sex" should not be a big deal and I agreed with that statement.

        Commenter
        Matty Silver
        Date and time
        September 02, 2014, 4:50PM
    • Honestly, sex is not a big deal....it is just the very life force of our very existence:) That is what our teens are interested in...I do not think they are really into the journey, so to speak...they just want to reach the destination and quickly:) Or at least, most of the lads are.
      As for adults, um...they think too much.

      Commenter
      Ah dear
      Location
      Sydney NSW
      Date and time
      September 03, 2014, 9:02AM

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