If there’s one myth out there I’d really like to bust, it’s that communication isn’t sexy. Sure, Hollywood movies tend to emphasize the wordless-seduction thing, but in real life, sex without communicating isn’t all that hot. Whether you’re planning to sleep with one person or twenty, a long-term partner or a no-strings-attached encounter, topics like STI disclosure, birth control, safer sex, personal comfort/boundaries and preferences (to name but a few) are very important. But talking candidly and honestly about such an intensely personal topic can be challenging. Up until my present relationship, I had a very hard time being honest about my own desires and preferences. That led to some bad decisions, like not having the safest sex possible and not speaking up when I felt uncomfortable. In a nutshell, not feeling comfortable talking about sex with my past partners meant that I wasn’t having very good sex.
The importance of communication extends beyond the sexual realm to general relationships (and friendships) as well. To clarify, I asked my girlfriend, a certified psychologist (and a very good communicator), to answer a few questions.
Why is communication (including sexual communication) important in a relationship?
Communication is important because when you communicate, you not only articulate what makes you feel comfortable and what is important to you, but you also let yourself know that it’s okay to want those things. You’re helping set up boundaries for yourself, and also exploring different parts of yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. Opening yourself up and made yourself vulnerable are important parts of growing as a person.
What kind of topics need to be discussed?
I think that all kind of topics can and should be discussed. Many couples have problems that stem from only one thing, and it is lack of communication. It can be about money, it can be about sex, it can be about the different religions they were brought up with, but the real problem is that they aren’t discussing why those issues are important to them. Any topic that makes you feel hurt or uncomfortable is important to discuss. For example, if a woman felt insecure about her weight because her partner constantly commented on it, that would be a topic for that specific couple. Why does he/she always have to mention that? Why has she never told him/her that it hurts her? For that couple, that’s a good thing to talk about. But for other couples, there are other issues that would be more relevant. It’s important to get past the surface level and make an effort to truly communicate about what is lying behind that. With the hypothetical couple, the woman could be feeling insecure because whenever her partner mentions her weight, she hears that he/she finds her unattractive, and feels bad about herself. It’s important to recognize and break out of those patterns.
I think that with any communication you have to be open and honest without being deliberately hurtful.
What are some tips on how to improve your communication skills?
Making time to sit down and talk, and learning how to listen. It’s important not to simply assume you know what the other person is saying, but to really ask them: “This is what I heard; is this what you meant to tell me?’ and having your partner do the same thing, so you get in the habit of seeing if what you heard is actually what they were trying to communicate. Another good thing would be to exhaust the topic until you both feel like you have been completely listened to, and you feel good about what you said and what you heard.
What are common fears/pitfalls that people might have to keep them from communicating?
People might fear that if they communicate openly, the other person won’t love them anymore or that they’ll be made fun of, or they are afraid of failure. They also fear that the other person will not want to communicate, and that they’ll be the only one doing it. Sometimes you’ll have to be the one who initiates it, but when communicating constantly becomes a habit, it will just replace the older pattern.
What happens if your partner doesn’t want to communicate?
Just like with any other habit, when you’re introducing something new, there might be some resistance. But if you keep practicing it, you’ll both get better. Because good communication isn’t something that happens overnight; it will take weeks or even months, because you’re breaking down these old habits and learning how to communicate differently.
What is the difference between communicating in general and communicating about sex? Is there a difference?
I think when you develop good communication skills, it will slowly permeate into other areas of your life. Even if you start out talking about something you think isn’t worth talking about, it isn’t insignificant—if it is important to you, then that means it is important.
Sexual Communication Tips (adapted from Scarleteen)
-Talk about sex in neutral spaces, and not only when you are naked/in the moment.
- Own your statements: use "I," as in, "I've been feeling uncomfortable about xyz."
-Make sure both of you are in the right emotional place to talk about sex, since it can be a loaded subject for certain people. Be aware of others' comfort zones.
-Be conscious of the words you’re using and how they might make your partner feel; not everyone feels comfortable using the same terminology when speaking about sex.
- Building trust and communicating is an ongoing process, so be patient with yourself and your partner(s).
-If you don’t know how your partner(s) is feeling, ask.
-You're allowed to change your mind, and so is your partner(s).
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