Testing the Waters: A Sex Talk Technique
You want to discuss something big about sex with someone else. Here's a technique for how to get started and use it to figure out what's next.
So you’ve read the blogs about having a set of guiding values and know that you are entitled to privacy when it comes to sex. Great! Now, let’s get into how to talk to someone about your needs, wants, and experience of sex. Communicating well about sex can help people navigate the inevitable bumps along the road.
So how do we share difficult information (1) - especially sensitive and potentially threatening information (2)?
(1) Difficult here could be: that you want more or less of something sexually, that you would like to experiment with something new, that you experience something as painful during sex, that something is triggering for you, that you have experienced sexual abuse, that you are questioning your sexuality, etc.
(2) Threats include rejection, judgment, disconnection, feelings of loneliness, etc.
Here, I suggest a “test the waters” approach.
In this approach, you start with a small chunk of information - sensitive enough to gauge how the person does with this type of information, without jumping straight into a bigger discussion.
When we are sharing something personal, we can be so focused on ourselves that we tend to pay little attention to how the other person is responding. Taking them in is really important here.
Stay tuned into how the person responds - verbally and non-verbally. Are they affirming? Are they grateful that you are feeling safe enough to share and acknowledging the courage, or are they demanding more information and getting upset? How do you feel sharing with them? Calmed and understood? Nervous and judged? These feelings may give you some additional data about the other person’s capacity for honoring your vulnerability and listening without just making it about themselves.
If all goes well and you want to share more, you will be doing this with some established sense of safety. If it doesn’t, you can practice talking about it and build up some skills so that a future conversation can go better. You are learning, but with some reduced risk here.
You want to experiment with role-playing in your sex life.
“Test the waters” by having a conversation about kissing more during foreplay and see how your partner responds.
Do they hear you? Validate you? Make you feel comfortable discussing your needs and wants? Allow you to have your own experience even if it’s different from their own? Operate from a place of curiosity and understanding?
Or do they shut down the conversation? Seem uncomfortable discussing it? Get defensive? Blame you? Get upset? Bring in things they are also “unhappy with” in the relationship?
How they respond give you lots of critical data for navigating next steps. If the person does really well with the first conversation, you might feel really good moving forward into the second conversation.
If they don’t, other conversations may need to be had to understand what comes up with your partner around sex. Depending on how this conversation goes, you may solicit the support of a professional to help the two of you navigate discussions around sex, and really any topic, safely and effectively.
In the next blog, I will go over some essential “basics” to keep in mind when discussing sex. I put “basics” in quotes because while they seem simple, they can be really hard to do as well as profound in their impact on the conversation.
Until then, dip a toe and see how it goes!