Communication isn’t always verbal – especially when it comes to sex. It’s remarkable how much we can say using our bodies alone. Eye contact can send a message or deepen a connection; pressing your body against someone else’s or using a certain type of touch communicates desire.
There are a couple of reasons why people lean towards choosing this type of non-verbal approach:
- Discomfort or inexperience with the subject matter (not knowing how to approach those tricky conversations)
- Because sex is physical, physical initiation may seem intuitive
Our bodies can say a lot, but non-verbal communication has its limits.
There are some conversations about sex that are worth having, maybe even necessary, that cannot be properly articulated physically.
It may be an uncomfortable line to cross at first, but working towards improving your sexual communication can make sex safer and relationships better. Positive sexual communication challenges you to confront your own wants and needs, which is a good thing especially if what you want is considered a little taboo or not the norm. It’s meaningful to your significant other because it shows that you care and gives them a safe space to disclose what they need out of the relationship. If we feel like sexual communication is lacking and choose to ignore improving it, relationships can suffer and your sexual health can be at risk.
We don’t necessarily understand all of our SO’s sexual needs simply because we’re in a serious relationship or even something that is more casual and long-term; this usually requires a ton of exploration and discussion. Culture and movies might lead us to believe that when two people are in love, everything falls right into place and the sex is instantly mind-blowing; although that’d be amazing, it’s not always the case. Positive sexual communication is more complex than most people think, and in order to have a satisfying relationship in all aspects, making that communication effective is crucial.
Who’s Got it Down and Why?
Some people might be naturally comfortable and open about sexual communication while others struggle with this degree of vulnerability. The feelings of openness and comfort required for optimal communication have to do with early learned behaviors from our childhood that have been internalized and, in turn, shape how we act in relationships as adults: attachment style. Attachment styles are our methods of interpersonal relating that we learn from childhood experiences through our relationships with parents or guardians. The effectiveness of your sexual communication is related to your type of attachment, which has already set the tone for how you deal with closeness, emotional intimacy, and expressing your wants and needs (and just as important, recognizing the wants and needs of others). There are four types of attachment styles: secure (autonomous), anxious (preoccupied), avoidant (dismissing), and disorganized (fearful).
According to attachment theory, people who are secure grew up with a trusted base which made them feel like they could be independent and free to explore on their own. They bring this same sense of independence and trust into their adult relationships and feel comfortable expressing their sexual needs and being emotionally vulnerable. There is a distinct level of confidence and initiation (verbal or non) comes easier.
Anxious people can experience something called “emotional hunger,” which causes them to look to their partner for safety, comfort, and completion. The only way they feel safe in relationships is by clinging to their partners and may also have a hard time expressing themselves in a sexually assertive manner.
Avoidant people can have tendencies which cause them to be emotionally distant and inattentive to their partner’s needs. They get uncomfortable with intimate discussions and vulnerable disclosures and they think the way to get their needs met is to act like they don’t have any.
Fearful people have lots of highs and lows; they want to be intimate but worry that close can be too close. They may have endured abuse and as a result, they’re unpredictable. Communication (about sex and other things) suffers in the relationships of these people with fearful attachment styles.
Basically, if both people in a relationship have secure attachments, they’re more confident overall and likely to have better intimacy, physical satisfaction, and more openness talking about intimate issues.
We don’t have a great deal of control over what sort of attachment style we develop, as they are primarily established in early childhood – that’s why being in a relationship is a great way to learn about yourself. You can discover your attachment style through the ways you relate to another person. Making an effort to recognize your style is important in order to understand what your strengths and vulnerabilities are in those relationships. As with every other behavioral pattern, the first step to changing it is acknowledging it. If the secure attachment style doesn’t sound like you, picking a partner who is more secure can challenge you to learn, become more self-aware and overcome insecurities about sexual communication. If both parties are less secure individuals, communication could not be more important; being aware of your partner’s feelings if they are prone to insecurities is entirely necessary.
Through practices like cognitive-behavioral therapy or mindfulness, patterns can change.
Awareness of attachment style and positive sexual communication benefits two people, together – how they relate to each other and their dynamic in the bedroom. It has these emotional implications but how does it impact our physical, sexual selves? One of the most critical reasons why we need effective sexual communication is to maintain sexual health.
Real Talk – Not Just Dirty Talk
No one wants an STI or an unplanned pregnancy, but everyone wants the “got to have you now” kind of sex without words getting in the way. It all comes down to our choices – do we take the risk and ignore bringing up protection as to not ruin the moment, or pause to consider the potential aftermath? To get there, we need to have that sometimes awkward, dreaded discussion of birth control/protection. When we’re with someone new, we might be afraid to bring it up because obviously, it can be a mood-killer. The struggle is not wanting to ruin the moment yet knowing how important it is to have that talk.
Some people are hesitant to insist on using a condom, for example, because they don’t want it to seem as if they themselves are a health risk, or possibly insult the other person by implying that they are. If that’s your fear, always communicate that your request is not a personal thing and you try to make informed choices every time you have sex. Get it out of the way before things escalate – the more you think about it and push it off, the less likely you are to say something. Remember you’re in your body forever, so don’t compromise taking care of it for temporary satisfaction.
You’re Better off Knowing About Your Partner’s Tastes before You Start Cooking.
Sexual communication doesn’t have to be so technical; it can be fun and has the potential open doors you didn’t know existed. Being direct is key because with sex, the specifics matter and it’s as good as the effort you put into it. If you feel like something’s off between you and your partner or have something on your mind, speak up – chances are, no matter what the reaction, you’ll feel good about putting it out in the open. If you’re not getting what you need but you’re worried about hurting your partner’s self-esteem, include their needs in the conversation – say that there’s something that you want but also that you want to make sure they’re completely satisfied too. In our opinion, it’s a pretty great feeling understanding, being understood, and putting self-care first.
- (n.d.). Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Why Aren’t We Talking to Our Partners About Sex? | Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-therapy/201403/why-arent-we-talking-our-partners-about-sex
- (n.d.). Encyclopedia.com | Free Online Encyclopedia. Sexual Communication – Dictionary definition of Sexual Communication | Encyclopedia.com: FREE online dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sexual-communication
- (n.d.). Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship | Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship
- (n.d.). NYC Sex Therapy -Dr Michael Aaron. Sexuality and Radical Self-Acceptance – Dr Michael Aaron. Retrieved from http://www.drmichaelaaronnyc.com/connection/attachment/sexuality
- Brogaard, B. (2015, March 18). How to Change Your Attachment Style. Retrieved January 09, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mysteries-love/201503/how-change-your-attachment-style