Talking about sex isn’t always easy. Especially if sex hasn’t always been an open pathway in your marriage, there can be quite a few hurdles to get past: what words to use to describe parts and actions, owning your feelings (the emotions you have about the topic as well as the physical ones you’re talking about), phrasing things in a way that doesn’t hurt a husband’s feelings, and not taking things personally.
Some husbands report that their wives just won’t talk about sex, and some wives say that they just can’t. They feel embarrassed or dirty, they aren’t used to saying certain words out loud (especially outside the heat of the moment), they think it’s wrong to talk about sex, or they just plain don’t know how to bring the subject up or answer questions.
I’ve been in kind of a funk the past couple weeks. There’s a lot of transition in my family life, and my work life has a fairly hectic pace this time of year. I’m not at my best at the moment. There have been some things in our relationship in general and in our marriage bed specifically that have been difficult for me recently.
I’ve been feeling some of the same things that I used to feel earlier in our marriage that eventually contributed to my refusal. I know how it important it is to address these feelings so they don’t snowball into something that causes a problem for us again. I know the problems won’t just disappear if I don’t talk about them.
The other day, a friend emailed me to ask me how I was doing after seeing a comment I made somewhere about feeling raw. I emailed back a reply that was 335 words. Yet my husband said to me that night, “You’re upset. What’s wrong?” And my response was eight words: “I don’t know how to talk about it.”
How can I not know how to talk about it? It’s funny, really. I can talk about sex in general terms with my husband with ease and confidence. I write about sex here, where my words are read by people I will never meet and whose names I don’t know. I’ve become something of a vixen/tigress/rabbit in the bedroom and I certainly enjoy doing all the things I’m not comfortable talking about. I should have no problem at all talking with my husband about our sex life, right?
Sisters, if you wanted to ask for something in the bedroom or bring up some general concerns, would you be comfortable doing that? If your husband asked you what you would like to try in the bedroom, would you be able to answer him? For some of you, you may not have thought enough about your sex life to even know the answer (in which case, get going on that). But even if you know the answer, are you able to communicate it to your husband?
How do you handle it if your husband is the one who wants to have “a sex talk”? We had countless sex talks during my refusing and gate-keeping years. There was a typical pattern: he said he was hurting, I explained how either he was wrong to hurt or how it wasn’t my fault, he responded with a defense of his hurt and a reminder that he shouldn’t have to beg for sex, and I would manage to escalate that into a fight—which either would be used to justify going to sleep on the couch or would make me finally feel emotionally connected enough to him that I felt like having sex after all.
After all those years of ineffective and hurtful (on both sides) sex talks, I had a lot to learn about how to have a conversation with my husband about sex. I am still in the process of learning, but I do know some things that help me.
Don’t take things personally. I know that this makes no sense. Sex is about as personal as you can get. I have to work really hard to not perceive some things hurtfully. When my husband tells me a truth I don’t like to hear or am not ready to hear, I feel upset. I tend to feel inadequate, unloved, and unfeminine. I have to remind myself that these are just my feelings, not what he is actually saying or believing. He sometimes wants to withhold a full truth from me because he knows I will feel hurt—which means that while he can fully trust me with his sexuality, he can’t yet trust me with his truth. If I want full intimacy (which I do), I need to make it easier for him to do his part.
Allow yourself to hear what your husband says without letting those words affect your sense of self and worth. Today, my husband informed me that something I’d been doing for him sexually wasn’t as effective as it had been. I took a deep breath, stopped the words that wanted to rush through my head, and remembered that he was being open with me. He was right that I had changed one specific thing about what I’d been doing. I’d hoped he wouldn’t notice, but he did. And he told me this in the context of telling me he’s decided he’d like us to try something I suggested several weeks ago. Once I reminded myself that my husband was not trying to be hurtful and that he was thinking about something he’d initially rejected, I was able to see that there were some positives to what he said.
Be sensitive about your husband’s feelings. After all, sex is personal, right? Your husband has feelings. Can you think about how to word things in a way that praise and encourage rather than criticize? There’s a vast difference between, “You always move too fast from my breasts to my crotch” and “The other day when you moved your lips so slowly down my body, wow, that made me so hot. Can we try that again sometime soon?” How you word things can either lift him up or make him feel like a failure as your husband. Think ahead and choose the words that encourage and uplift.
Time and location matter. The best time to talk about sex is not during sex (other than things like “a little faster” or “to the left” or “inside me, now”–and for a great suggestion on how to start getting comfortable with this kind of talk, check out Say the Magic Word! at Pearl’s OysterBed). But if you have a concern or a request for a surprising new activity or position, think about whether asking in the middle of sex might be a major buzz-kill. Sex is important, and we need to be able to think about what we’re saying and hearing. Anything said in the heat of the moment will either be forgotten or emblazoned on your memory forever.
I like to avoid any difficult conversations in the bedroom altogether. I want the bedroom to be the place we go to love and feel safe with each other. Given our history of sex talks over the years, talking about sex in the bedroom brings to the surface some of the emotions surrounding those previous conversations. We’ve finally been able to have some sex conversations in the bedroom, but when there’s something I am really struggling with, I know that I need us to talk elsewhere so I don’t tap into history of sex talks in the bedroom.
Our best place for sex talks is in the car. I find some things easier to say when there is no direct eye contact. I can hold my husband’s hand. We’re usually on the way somewhere, so I know how long the conversation will last. The things I’ve been needing us to talk about recently required a couple different conversations, which is what I’d expected. I opened my heart about some things a couple nights ago in the car as we headed to our Friday night dinner date. I was able to share the things I’ve been struggling with. He listened well. Then yesterday, on the way to get a new TV, he brought up some things that he’d been thinking in response to our conversation the other night.
We have come a long way from our emotional, painful, and unproductive sex conversations. It’s easy now when we want to talk about how wonderful something was–a new position, a particularly amazing encounter, ideas for the next time we have the house to ourselves. We are still working on how to talk about the difficult things–techniques that could be better, frequency, frustration, specific desires that the other is uncomfortable with. We can now have a conversation about difficult topics with calm voices, confidence that the other is really hearing us, and continued thinking about the conversation afterwards.
There is only one way to get better at talking about sex, and that is to do it.
If you feel embarrassed, aren’t used to saying the words needed to talk about sex, or have lingering feelings that somehow it is wrong to talk about sex, go read Song of Solomon. And then, even if you start the conversation with something along the lines of “honey, I want us to talk about, well, you know, the bedroom” (blushing the whole time), you’ve taken a first step.
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