Bringing uncomfortable things up is uncomfortable. Be it that colleague who keeps stealing your lunch, your friend whose boyfriend is possibly the worst human ever or your uncle who says things that are just a little bit off colour. It’s difficult.
Bringing up things with your partner can be even worse. The sense of vulnerability and openness that comes with dealing with the collective “we” can make any conversation, especially ones around sex, extremely daunting.
Any psychosexual therapist worth their salt will tell you that you must talk about things. We take the act — and knowing how to navigate it — as a given in romantic spaces, thus if it is not up to scratch or disappears we automatically zero in on resolving the problem, looking to quick fixes like romantic weekends away, lingerie or a short course in tantric sex practices, rather than trying to unpack what it all means. We do this without looking at questions such as why it is happening or even why is it so important? Or even is the sex so important?
Having these conversations about sex with a partner(s) is not just about having the “we” conversation, but understanding the individual as well. To have those conversations you can’t simply rely on what “the group” is doing, you have to understand (or at least try to understand) your individual sexual identity.
For example, if you and your partner(s) are not having sex what does it mean for you? Why does it make you feel some type of way? What would you need at the moment to make this process a little easier? Having the collective conversation, it’s important to figure out your own relationship to sex. If you aren’t having it and it’s making you feel a thousand-and-one emotions, why? What role does sex play in your view of intimacy and connection? Or is it that you tie your sense of desirability to your partner wanting to see you ass-up on a Friday evening?
You will find some very interesting things about yourself when you must interrogate the sex you are having with someone else.
The collective sexual ego is a very big part of a relationship’s identity, so speaking about it without flaring up emotions can be hard. After releasing my book, Quirky Quick Guide To Having Great Sex, I hit a wall. You would think dropping a guide on how to get down and dirty would make me a connoisseur of coitus but the exact opposite happened.
I became a hobgoblin of a human, living under a bridge of insecurity, self-doubt and utter confusion. There was so much to know, so much to explore and was I equipped or ready (emotionally and physically) to climb that mountain? The book simply scratched the surface and this overwhelming revelation had me like a deer in the headlights. Which meant my sex life came to a screeching halt.
Now had I been single in a pandemic this would have been fine but being in a long-term relationship meant eventually having the difficult conversations, which, as the months stretched on, became heavier. But have them we did. Furthermore, the relationship being non-monogamous made this even more of a precarious conversation.
Notions and practices such as radical transparency, open communication, check-ins and being willing to hear the person out are at the core of having these conversations. Granted, when your partner is seeing other people naked as well they are very handy to have in your toolbox but whether you are seeing one, two or twelve people in the nude, being able to speak about your sex lives will not only keep the relationship afloat and intact during difficult times but also make it better.
Experts who give advice about this all agree on one thing: start gently and slowly. This is not the sort of thing you throw across the table over a bowl of pasta one evening, but a conversation that needs to be brought up with care and consideration. Often if something is wrong in a relationship sexually those within it might think it’s a disaster, and that the wheels are coming off the entire relationship. But really, it’s something you can sit and chat through, and is sometimes indicative of another problem. It might not even be about the sex.
One of the most important things is being caring and kind. This isn’t an Amazon review. You aren’t here to give your partner’s performance two-and-a-half stars. Using the conversation not as a time to criticise your partner(s)’ performance but to have a kind chat about things that need to change. Being open and kind from both sides is at the core of this, even if you might be feeling defensive or hurt.
Attacking your partner about their sexual skills is only going to make for a tense conversation at best and a possible screaming match, insecurity and fraught interaction at worst. Unless you are sharing your fantasies, during (or before and after) is not the right time for a major debrief. Set up time to do that.
However, if you are speaking fantasies, being turned on could be the perfect time for sharing because when you are horny you are more likely to be game for new things and less likely to be put off. During the conversation remember that taking your pleasure into your own hands is a key part of this.
When entering the conversation, think about what you want and what you would enjoy and engage with your pleasure. Owning the experience and your active part in it makes it less a case of criticising your partner(s) but finding a synergy between the two (or three or four) of you.
One way of avoiding making this a “big thing” is having the conversation regularly. This means when it does happen people aren’t blind-sided or think there is a crisis as there is constant and open communication. Setting up a time to have check-ins about your sex may seem a little cheesy (and who needs another meeting in their calendar right?) but in the long run it well and truly helps to continue the conversation and deal with any big things that crop up. And the conversation doesn’t just have to be about what’s lacking or wrong. Sprinkling some praise in there never hurts. Or even a request or two.
Asking yourself deeper questions about your sex life, whether it is in a good place or a bad place, is an important part of a good shag. Speaking about sex isn’t easy, but it is worth it.