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  • paulinethepsychologist

Let's Talk about Sex...

While sex is everywhere, talking about it in relationships can still feel really daunting and foreign. Let’s break down why and give you some tools for navigating this important conversation and cherishing this special part of who you are!

It seems like a natural continuation of the blog series on dating to talk about sex. But talking about sex seems to be so hard for so many people.

In usual Pauline style, I want to start by understanding WHY. There are a number of influencers that I will discuss in the next couple blogs: family, religion, & abuse history.

Look around – from magazines and billboards to tv shows and songs, sex is everywhere!!! The messages seem to say: we have no problems with sex. We are open, not repressed, and completely comfortable talking about and having sex.
Oh, if that were only true.

Yes, sex is everywhere … but let me tell you where it isn’t most of the time. It isn’t part of the discussion when a couple is having dinner or taking a walk on the beach. Even between married couples, sex can be a topic (and an act) reserved for the dark. It lurks in the shadows for many people. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

It usually comes up when there is a problem. And still couples avoid the conversation. They push down their wants, needs, and fears. They find other outlets (porn, overworking, overeating, social activities). They tell themselves it’s ok. They wait until things have gotten really bad to finally bite the bullet and talk about it.

I have a specialty in working with sex and intimacy issues with couples and can’t tell you how many couples come to therapy to have another person present when they talk about these issues. The hesitation and fear is so high that they fear talking about these things alone.

What if we want different things? What if there are dealbreakers that can’t be changed? Could this be the thing that tears us apart? These are the questions at the heart of the matter.

To understand the background, I like to ask clients: Did you grow up in a sex-positive, sex-neutral, or sex-negative household?

  • Sex-positive: Sex was explained to you in a developmentally appropriate and nonjudgmental way. Your sexual-self was celebrated as a natural part of you.

  • Sex-neutral: Sex never mentioned – as if it didn’t exist. If something sexual came up (menstruation, masturbation, etc.), minimal or no information was given.

  • Sex-negative: Sex carried a negative connotation – in these households, small comments (“did you SEE what she was wearing? She has NO shame”) or actions (changing the channel if the actors begin to kiss) communicate that sex is bad, wrong, or something to be ashamed about. Sometimes, the words and actions aren’t so small.

When asked, 95% (made-up number but trying to make a point) of clients answer sex-neutral or sex-negative. 

I clarify that sex-neutral actually equates to sex-negative because not acknowledging it sends the message that sex should be ignored because it is taboo.

Most people underestimate the power of the way that sex was framed for them as kids. Unless you grew up in a household that celebrated and destigmatized sex, whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you probably carry some shame and secrecy around sex that makes it difficult to talk about sex.

Most people are not set up by their families to have a nonjudgmental, open, curious, and empowered stance toward sex.

In the next blog, we will continue with the ways in which religion and personal and collective histories of abuse can make discussing and having sex difficult.

Once we understand the influences in and on us, we can begin to reshape the narrative and operate with choice. I promise I will discuss this further in this blog series.

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