Why We Don't Talk About Sexual Issues With Our Partners (and Why We Should)

When it comes to sex, we're afraid to be open

Updated 12/02/18

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Couples will often find themselves fighting about all sorts of random things—what to spend our money on, where to vacation, who is doing the dishes, who’s turn it is to take the dog to the vet, etc. There is no limit to the things we can disagree upon...and ultimately resolve.

Studies have shown that couples who fight actually have healthier relationships. Why? Because when you bring up a conflict, argue about it, and then find a resolution, it’s over and you can move on.

Yet, when it comes to sex, we don’t have this same boldness. A problem arises, and we ignore it. We push it down and pretend it isn’t there.

How many times have you heard a friend complaining about her sex life? She won’t bring up the issues with her spouse, and instead chooses to suffer in silence. She has no issue telling them they need to stop leaving last night’s underwear on the floor, but when it comes to sex...nothing.

What gives? This is what we know about why we don’t talk about sex issues with our partners (and why we absolutely should).

Why just sex?

Sex is unlike any other topic we fight about with our partners. We consider sex a topic we cannot discuss openly. The subject of sex is shrouded in shame and embarrassment. We might chat about it over mimosas with our friends, but in any other context, we struggle to bring it up. In fact, many women wouldn’t want to talk about their sex lives over mimosas, either.

We are encouraged to be open about everything. But not sex. Why is that?

How we view sex is based on a very strict set of social scripts: A heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman are in a relationship. The man gets horny and then his penis gets hard. He puts his penis in the woman’s vagina. She is OK with this, but, like, obviously doesn’t like sex that much. He thrusts deep and hard resulting in an orgasm, simultaneously, with his partner.

It might sound ridiculous to you, a modern person, but this is very much how we still view sex. Anything that deviates outside of this script is a grey area—it's a place we’re not supposed to venture. If your partner doesn’t get a throbbing erection every time you have sex, you have a higher libido, she doesn’t want to go down on you, you’ve lost your orgasm, etc., there must be something very wrong.

So wrong, in fact, that you are not to speak of it. Our society is so scared of sex and anything sexual that we opt not to talk about it at all. We choose bad sex and orgasm-less existences over an uncomfortable series of conversations.

We’re afraid of being judged in a vulnerable state

We don’t talk about sex because we’re afraid of putting ourselves in a vulnerable state. When you’re ill-equipped to handle a subject, talking about it is scary. When the only thing you hear is: “Uh, oh. You have a sex problem? That’s embarrassing,” you’re not going to want to put yourself in that place.

Sex is about as vulnerable a position one can be in. If you have an issue or frustration with some part of your sex life, you’re treading in tender, delicate territory. One wrong move could mean disaster.

Imagine you want to talk about a fantasy you have with your partner. You’d love for her to wear men’s clothing and dominate you, for example. What if you tell her about it and she thinks you’re weird? What if she says that’s a sick thing to want? These questions plague us. We have no answers because we have no basic understanding of how to communicate about sex.

This fear of judgement and shame is enough to back our booties into the closet so far we find Narnia.

We’re worried we’ll lose our partner

We avoid talking about sex, especially something our partner could improve upon, because we genuinely fear losing them. This is how loaded a topic sex is: It has the potential to cause irreparable damage to our relationships. Well, at least in our minds.

This is actually untrue. Yes, there might be some discomfort and possibly tears, but your partner is not going to leave you because you want more oral sex. If they do, that is because of a much larger relationship problem.

Yet, the worry is there and it is persistent. We don’t want to bring up sex because it will rock the boat. And not “rock the boat” in a “my partner is annoyed I want them to do the dishes” way, but rock the boat in a “won’t speak to you or have sex with you for days” kind of way.

We are so emotional when it comes to sex. Being told you could use some improvement on a blow job is like having your face eaten off by Hannibal Lecter. It sticks with you. Why? Because we are conditioned never to talk about it!

Why we should talk about sex

Studies consistently show that couples who discuss sex openly have happier relationships. We need to allow for more emotional intelligence not just into our relationships, but in our sex lives. The way we do this is by breaking down these nonsensical barriers in which we are entrenched and talk the heck out of our sex lives.

Start a conversation with our partner about WHY talking about sex is important. Open a dialogue even though you’re afraid. Take steps to be as open about your need for sex toys in the sack as you are about leaving beard hair in the sink.

Once you have established trust and love, you both can open up about the things that are bothering you without fear. It’s about setting a foundation of openness.

We need sex, discussions about sex, and a whole lot of empathy for one another. You’re in this for a lifetime. You better make the most of it.

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, educator, and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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