Sex and money are the most common issues that get couples into therapy. Typically not because people have too much of either (therapy jokes aren’t great, I’m aware). But the reality is, not enough people talk about sex, and from Freud to Cosmo magazine, the people who are talking about it are often talking nonsense. So strap in (or on!) and let’s talk penises, vaginas, orgasms, facts, fictions, and how there is no normal!
First, let’s back up and talk about safety! If you or your potential sexual partner have had sex with anyone else, you should get tested for STDs. I know bringing up past partners and talking about STDs isn’t sexy, but a healthy sex life starts with safe sexual practices. So, get tested. Second, if you aren’t using protection, then you’re trying to get pregnant. If you don’t want to get pregnant, use protection! Condoms, shots, pills, and more, find a form of protection that works and use it! Many forms of protection are great when used properly, but the fail rate of protection is always dependent on user error, so each partner using their own form of protection is the safest you can be. Also, sex needs to be consensual. Consent is an active and ongoing process that needs to be clearly communicated and can be withdrawn at any time. So, partners need to discuss consent, how to regularly check in about consensual activities, and probably have safe words and phrases that clearly convey an agreed upon meaning. Now, safety considerations accounted for, it’s time for the fun stuff!
As always, it’s good to get on the same page with what words mean. So, for our purposes on this here blog, sex covers anything and everything from arousal to post-coital bliss. A lot of couples are coming to therapy with little to no discussion on any aspect of their sex life. They started doing the dirty and it was fine to good so they never felt the need to discuss anything. But at some point, basic differences become repetitive problems. Look, on a biological level, male sexual responses differ from female sexual responses. But beyond that, each person has their own unique response. Not all females are alike, not all males are alike, so the only way to know what your partner likes or doesn’t like is to talk to them about it! Not all dudes just want to have sex all the time. In about one-third of hetero couples the female is the high libido person, and we rarely see that dynamic modeled or talked about in any constructive space in our culture. So, the only way to know what is going on with your partner and for your partner to know what is going on with you is to use your words! You have to talk about it, because you can’t know what their physical and emotional experience is like without communicating about it.
Okay, message received, you need to talk about sex with your partner. What should you talk about? And how? Again, a point that people skip, words mean different things to different people. Using language that means the same thing is the only way to create shared meaning. Do you like it rough? What does rough mean there? Someone out there has a kink for the Kool-Aid man bursting through walls and that’s their idea of rough, and someone else thinks rough sex is a light tap on the booty. Saucy. But when we use a word like rough, or quick, or dirty or hard or any word without discussing what that word means, we risk relying on assumptions that likely don’t match up. And when we rely on assumptions, it inevitably goes wrong and turns into problems. Also, using language, especially regarding sex, that each partner is comfortable with. To paraphrase The Big Lebowski, some men find the word vagina uncomfortable, but without batting an eye will refer to their dick, or rod, or johnson. A lot of people didn’t have good sex ed or weren’t raised in a sex-positive environment, and so use colloquial terms to avoid feelings of guilt or shame. My default is to recommend using anatomically correct terms to avoid confusion, but that gets into a whole separate point about how people rarely know proper anatomy, let alone of the opposite gender, and how society oddly decided to use the word vagina instead of vulva when discussing female genitalia. I’m really proving my point here that words are hard, and English is an incredibly fallible language, so clarify that the words you use have the same meaning to you as they do to your partner.
Now we got the language down, what should you talk about? I mean, everything? Turn-ons/turn-offs. Foreplay preferences. Aftercare and cuddles. Kinks. How you would do anything for love but you won’t do that. Ask questions, share fantasies, talk about sex before, during, and after you have sex. Talk about it at brunch, talk about it late at night. Just make it a regular conversation. Because sex changes, our libido is affected by a lot of things outside of sex, and each person’s largest errogenous zone (the brain!) processes information differently. There is no right amount of sex, there is requirement or quota. There isn’t even a normal for what healthy couples do. There just is what works for you and your partner, and what you want to create that’s unique to you. So, go find your partner and tell them it’s time to talk about sex, baby.
PS: I’m aware I used a ton of heteronormative language here. That was a conscious choice, but not a choice I’m inherently thrilled with. I’m not trying to ignore all you gay, lesbian, queer, poly, bi, or ace peeps. The LGBTQ+ communities are typically way better at this stuff (like, how many categories and subtypes of gay men are there? What’s an otter?), and much more open about talking about sex and sexuality. So, I wrote this with that kinda uptight straight couple who have missionary sex once every six month as my target audience. I can’t use the necessary nuance to cover these topics in a two page blog unfortunately. Peace and love to all y’all.