In my work with couples and families there is an overwhelming culture of silence, or lack of conversation about sex. While sex continues to grow within our media as a primary focus of tv shows, movies, and literature as a safe topic to explore, within most homes across America it remains a taboo subject of conversation. So although we are being exposed more and more to sex, sexual content, and experiences that may challenge our beliefs surrounding sex and masturbation: the message is not carrying over into our conversations with partners.
While sex sells is not a newly coined phrase, the awareness of the impact on our adolescence has become a new are of interest. In a study by M.F. Van Oosten, Peter and Vandenbosch, of 1,467 adolescents (aged 13-17, 50% female), there was a direct correlation between exposure to sexually explicit Internet material and increased willingness to engage in causal sex.
What about adults though? How does this information impact those who are already engaged in sexual acts and their willingness to now use vulnerability to discuss with their partners and what happens when that discussion is nonexistent?
In relationships what we talk about is where we direct our energy and the discomfort related to our shame in discussing sex reduces our willingness to engage in these conversations. Lack of conversations about sex, desires, interest, likes and dislikes, contributes to mind reading, hypervigilance, and maintaining routines out of comfort. Now don’t get me wrong, being comfortable with your partner is a beautiful experiences, but there is a difference between being comfortable = satiated, and engaging in a routine out of comfort= fear.
- Mind reading, hypervigilance and routine comfort impact relationships negatively. Mind reading results in assumptions about our partners experience without direct feedback on their end. Mind reading goes unchecked by partner, as a result of discomfort talking about or lack of awareness about what feels good, and the behaviors continues due to misinterpretation.
- Hypervigilance can occur when in desperation for feedback a partner becomes hyper aware of every response in order to assess whether experiences are pleasurable or not and can often decreases one’s own sexual satisfaction due to being out of touch with the physical body.
- Routine patterns result after decision are made using mindreading or hypervigilance and a decision is made that this is what works, and therefore I will keep doing what works, and avoid new experiences where I would have to engages with the discomfort of mind reading and hypervigilance again in the future.
So how do we begin to talk about sex with our partners? It’s not the how that is the issue, but more how do we make it a safe place to be able to talk about sex. The first step is to be clear on the intention with our partner and call out the elephant in the room. Simply stating “we don’t talk about our sex life and I’d like to even though it may be awkward for us both”.
Beginning these conversations and making space for the discomfort. Beginning to talk about anything for the first time feels uncomfortable because we simply do not know. Start by talking about messages you have heard about sex, and what your thoughts are about those messages. Take time to engage in or discuss solo-sex (masturbation) as well as messages received about this topic. Beginning to explore the impact of what you have heard, combined with the insight that these messages often go unchecked for years is a great way to start to get to know your partner in an intimate way.
Learning to provide feedback about likes and dislikes, allows validation to occur naturally and reducing shame attached to less than satisfactory explorations. Meaning pretty simply when the goal becomes to try new things and see what feels good, the pressure for everything to feel good all the time decreases.
As this modern area continues to expand our exposure to sex, it is time now for us to speak up more about what we are seeing and how it does or does not fit into our world. Only with increased communication can we radically accept our sexuality and live within beliefs that serve our values.
Johanna M. F. van Oosten, Jochen Peter, Laura Vandenbosch, Adolescents' Sexual Media Use and Willingness to Engage in Casual Sex: Differential Relations and Underlying Processes, Human Communication Research, Volume 43, Issue 1, 1 January 2017, Pages 127–147, https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12098
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