The Silent Treatment: Why Not Communicating About Sex is Ineffective
by Myisha Battle, World Association of Sex Coaches Certified Sex Coach
The primary reason I became a sex coach is that I am a good communicator when it comes to sex. I knew that other people didn’t have this ability, no matter how well they communicated about work, school or even the inner workings of their relationships. I found a niche that allowed me to use my skill to help others.
Sex looms above many people as an ever-present thought bubble filled with a pregnant pause. Sex is paradoxically all around us but never discussed, at least not in the ways that would make sex better for people. We can talk for hours about celebrities’ sex lives, which dating apps are the best or worst for hook-ups and who is and isn’t deserving of sexual attention. But these are all external conversations. We have become skilled at these kinds of conversations because our culture allows them. However, most of us were never encouraged or taught to talk about ourselves as sexual beings. This fact presents itself to me as a sex coach when I see clients who are stumped by how to overcome a sexual issue and who believe that talking about sex just isn’t that sexy.
Thought experiment #1:
Instead of asking your best friend how they are doing the next time you see them, ask them first about what’s going on in their sex life. Depending on your friend and the nature of your relationship, that friend may be a) mortified, b) confused, c) dying to tell you something sexual, but never thought you cared. What about in relationships? How often do we check the temperature of our sex lives by asking our partner a vague question like “Is everything okay?”
Both the absurdity of greeting your friend with a sexual inquiry and the lack of confidence we have talking to sexual partners about sex are symptoms of not having the tools to address a common, natural occurrence in life.
When I studied gender and sexuality during an undergraduate semester abroad in Amsterdam, I became comfortable discussing my sex life openly and honestly with others. During my first day of class with Gert Hekma, my classmates and I were asked to state our name and tell the class something sexual about ourselves. My heart began to pound and I could feel myself getting hot with nervousness. Professor Hekma started with letting us know about his propensity for satin. I had never heard of such a thing, but I loved it! He was so casual, stating that he liked satin sex like he would tell us that it might rain later.
It was my turn and I said “My name is Myisha Battle and on a trip to Berlin last weekend I had sex with a stranger.” It felt great! Other people talked about what they like to do, who they like to do it with and ranged from light topics like making-out to the more outlandish. I felt close to everyone after that. Later in the semester I remember breaking into small groups and talking about masturbation and orgasm. Being in that class was a revelatory experience. As a sex coach, I now use the icebreaker from my first day in that class for workshops and discussion groups. Not because I want people to keel over from shock and anxiety but because I want them to practice saying words that reflect their own sexual experiences. I want them to feel what it feels like to own their sexuality out loud.
The US has a rich history of restricting and regulating sexual acts and the education we receive regarding sexuality. For quite some time, and even on the books today in some states, sodomy (aka anal sex) remains against the law. This, at a time when countless articles and books now tell you about the pleasures hidden in your nether region. Just Google “anal sex benefits” if you don’t believe me.
If you need more proof of the contradictory nature of our cultural relationship to sex, look no further than sexuality education. The Sexual Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS) has been tracking and combating ineffective abstinence-based sex education in this country for over 20 years. Abstinence-only education is basically a way to tell young adults to “just wait and see what happens” instead of giving them real and practical information on how to have sex in accordance with their personal beliefs, boundaries, morals and abilities.
If you had any form of sex education in the US in the last twenty years or so, you most likely had abstinence-only sex education, even if that wasn’t made clear to you at the time. In an abstinence-only curriculum, there is also an emphasis on marriage as the sanctioned space for sexual exploration (for procreation only, of course). That means that the needs and desires of so many people who, for whatever reason, will not get married are denigrated in this context.
Thought experiment #2:
What if every time you had a question about math, you were told “we don’t talk about that”? Or better yet, what if your math teacher didn’t teach you the foundations of mathematics, but instead created an air of mystery around math? That teacher might even tell you that, when you’re older and in a loving, committed relationship, all the math will come naturally to you. The result for someone in that environment would be to fumble through math tests, then wonder why their grades were so bad. Those who wanted to learn more and who had others in their lives who were willing to talk to them about math might do a little better, that is if those people were instructed properly themselves. Odds are though, those folks received the same confusing, unsatisfactory math education as everyone else. You see where I am going with this.
When I see clients experiencing sexual difficulties, one question I ask is what they have tried already. What they tell me often includes lots of tips, techniques and strategies that they heard from friends or found online to “fix” what the problem looks like on the surface. I will then ask if they have ever mentioned their concern to a partner. For some, it’s a “yes”, though often the most they were able to communicate was that they felt like something was wrong. For others the answer is simply “no”. Why? Because they felt that if something was wrong, it was entirely their fault and therefore their responsibility to fix. We place a huge burden on people to understand something that we have poorly prepared for. This takes a toll in otherwise supportive and loving relationships.
Being able to talk about sex is sexy! Sexual satisfaction increases when a person can explain themselves, their thoughts, desires, fears and anxiety to another person. When my clients learn to do this, it’s me who they express themselves to, but the goal is always to expand their comfort level so that they can apply this skill in their own lives. It takes practice, just like everything else in life.
Thought experiment #3:
What if we lived in a world where talking about sex, asking questions of others and receiving accurate information was the norm? What if we could be curious about a sexual topic and not suffer guilt or shame for seeking out information or talking to someone who has had that experience? What if sex education meant that we got to learn ourselves inside and out and discover our own pleasure then talk about it with a sense of awe and wonder sex inspires? I want that so badly for all of my clients. That is why I am here, and why all of my fellow sex coaches, comprehensive sex educators and sex therapists are here — to give our clients the education and encouragement to learn and talk about sex.
Originally published at worldassociationofsexcoaches.org on September 16, 2016.