Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Yes, But Can You Talk About It?

Sexual Needs Part 4: Learning to converse with your partner.

Steven Ing, Inc.
Source: Steven Ing, Inc.

I've specialized in human sexual behavior as a therapist for 30 years. Human sexuality in general and helping people learn to manage their sexuality in particular is my métier, my calling. I've learned that there is a steep and usually fatal drop off from the conversational cliff when I try to talk about human (lower your voice here) sexuality. There's something about that s-word, even spoken in the most banal sense, even in the most G-rated context, that gets some people's moral compass spinning so fast that they simply cannot hear what I actually said.

I'll often hear something like, "What do you mean 'need sex'? You're not going to die if you don't get sex!" (This, after I had carefully explained the difference between needing in the sense of "surviving" and needing in the sense of "thriving." And, BTW, the topic was "sexual needs" and not, "needing sex.") This, and conversations like it, has only happened a few hundred times every one of the last 30 years. And I can only imagine what it's like for most readers when they give it a try because there is no such forgiveness for anyone in a more mainstream profession.

I stand on the fence of sexual conversation oblivion. On the one hand, if I try to make the conversation so safe that it can be tolerated, I risk becoming famous as the guy who single-handedly turned sexuality into a boring topic. And on the other, if you try to talk about it one time too many then you might hear something like, "Sex sure is important to you, isn't it?" Most of us retreat right about here into some safer terrain like, "Oh, not really, I mean for me true friendship is the most important part of any relationship." And, for those who rely on the strategy of a good offense is the best defense there's always, "Oh, no, I thought you wanted to talk about it."

Many of us in an older generation were taught that in polite society there were three topics that shouldn't be discussed: sex and the other two. But we need to be able to talk about sexuality. We need to be able to talk about it for the same, self-evident reasons we talk about other vital aspects of our humanity—we talk about it (or should) because it's important. How do we know it's important and therefore worthy of conversation? Just look at what happens when we get sexuality wrong: marriage, for example, is many things, but it is also clearly a sexual contract. No one marries with the idea of having a terrible sex life with someone who is sexually unappealing. But this happens all too often. And, just considering this one example, how would you best apprehend your odds of marital (and sexual!) success with a potential mate?

Sure, you two can do it, but can you talk about it? Most people have figured out the mechanics of “doin' it,” but very few people can talk about sexuality. And, when you think about it, the odds are pretty grim if we think that someone will be a great sexual partner in a future intimate relationship after we now discover that they can't even talk about sexuality. So, sexual conversation: it's a thing.

Often I interview a client in regard to their sexuality if only to eliminate any concerns that might otherwise be avoided out of shyness. So, naturally, I ask a few questions starting with "Can you and your mate talk comfortably about sexual matters?" For 30 years, the answer, no matter how dysfunctional the relationship is, "Yeah, sure." I smile, nodding my head, and continue with questions about the individual's behaviors, feelings, fantasies, and history. I get the most honest answers, truly vulnerable at this stage of the interview. After each answer I ask, "And what about your mate, what would be their answer." For 30 years, over 90 percent of the answers are, "Gee, I don't know," or "Ah, we never talk about that," or "We don't believe in bringing up the past."

The takeaway is that this therapist, a stranger only minutes ago, has asked questions and gotten an answer to those questions that are vital to understanding the client as a human being, especially one in a committed relationship. The therapist now knows more about the intimate details of the subject above than most partners who've been together for years.

If this seems a tad messed up to you then there's something you need to do. Converse. About. Sexuality. If you have zero idea of how to get this conversation started, start small and start easy. Drop an off-hand remark, make a mildly sexual joke, discuss a sexual moment or bit of humor from a film. Little by little, you will become more and more comfortable. (For more on sexual conversation, see my TEDx talk.)

If any of these ideas seem over the top consider how we all get smarter: we read, we study, and we talk, talk, talk. Doesn't your sexual future deserve an intelligent captain at the wheel?

Facebook image: Suwit Rattiwan/Shutterstock