Let’s Talk About Sex: Why Is It So Difficult to Talk About?

Let's Talk About Sex

If you’re like most people, talking about sex is difficult. Whether you love sex and need a lot of it, or whether you find yourself a-okay with long stretches between lovemaking, you probably don’t often (or ever) turn to your spouse or partner and declare, “Hey, what do you say? Let’s talk about sex.”

Even imagining yourself saying that may strike you as unnatural, never mind actually saying it!

But why?

Let’s Talk About Sex: Communicating about Sex Even When It’s Difficult to Do So

If you’ve been married or in a committed relationship for any length of time, you most likely know how to communicate with your spouse or partner. You probably don’t need to be sold on the importance of communication; you’re very careful to keep the lines of communication open with your mate so that relatively trivial misunderstandings don’t fester in the basement until they swell to gigantic proportions.

But when’s the last time you and your partner talked about sex? I’m not referring to sex talk (talk that goes on during sex; “dirty talk,” if you will). I’m talking about a frank, direct, no-punches-pulled, no-holds-barred conversation about sex.

“Do we really need to talk about it?” you might ask. “After all, we’re doing it just fine.”

Good question!

First of all, this article is not intended to heap “shoulds” on your head. There’s nothing that kills the fires of a sex life quicker than a should-list. So don’t misread this no-pressure exploration of a subject and friendly advice from a couples counselor as pressure in any way. Don’t feel as if you have to buy a giant whiteboard and squeakily magic marker “Learn how to talk about sex” as the first item on there!

Next, there is no one magic formula that all couples should follow, in any regard. Some couples use lots of verbal communication in general (remember that talking is only one form of communicating…indeed, the very act of lovemaking is a type of communication, self-expression, and connection, predominantly of the non-verbal sort), and some use far less. If it works for you, that’s all that matters.

So don’t feel like you need to slap a prescription onto your marriage or relationship, especially if it already feels healthy.

But, with that said, the more open you can be about all facets of your relationship, the more likely you’ll be share to the deepest, most honest parts of yourself with your mate…even if certain topics make you feel squirmy when you talk about them (at first; generally, the more often you talk about something, the more comfortable you become).

Note: All communication discomfort is not the same

Before we get into the specifics about why talking about sex typically proves challenging, let’s distinguish between different degrees of discomfort so that you can know which you can push against and which you might be better off steering clear of.

Check in with yourself

Get specific with yourself about how you’re feeling. Feeling a little on-the-edge-of-your seat may be okay for you—it may signal that you’re stepping out of your comfort zone but not falling off a cliff. It can be good for us to do things that make us nervous sometimes if they contribute to a bigger whole or to personal growth.

However, if something makes you terrified, if it causes visceral reactions in your body that you can’t ignore, it’s best to proceed with caution or to put the brakes on. If you believe it’s something that your relationship needs to have aired through discussion, then it may be best for you to work with a couples counselor so that you have professional support through it.

Most people feel awkward and “squirmy” when they talk about sex; however, there are some people who are truly uncomfortably triggered by this topic…those people should honor that and not attempt to push past it without the assistance of a professional.

4 Reasons Why Talking about Sex Is Difficult

1) The cerebral (talking about sex) vs. the physical (having sex)

“I feel like a different person when I’m having sex,” a client once told me. “An uninhibited one, a freer one. So it’s hard to reconcile the sex-me with the post-sex me afterwards.”

Many people feel this way, even though it may be more subtle than this client’s example. In a sense, we are the same people when we’re making love with our partner as when we’re not, but in another sense, we are different, too. So much of sex is about the brain…much of the anticipation leading up to the physical act of sex is cerebral.

But when the physical act begins, the physical is dominant and we lose ourselves and feel freer; but when we talk about sex, we place our needs and desires on center stage to be looked at and self-consciousness may result.

It doesn’t mean that you check your brain at the bedroom door! And it doesn’t mean that the cerebral and the physical are at odds or are in conflict with each other. But the relative divide between the two worlds is one reason we find it hard to talk about sex after the orgasm…we’re trying to use a cerebral framework (the ordering of words so that another will understand them) to encapsulate an intense sensory experience.

Sometimes people will say that sex is “beyond words.” It can feel like sex defies being reduced to the confines of sentence structure.

2) “Let’s have sex with the lights out, please.”

Whether or not your issue is that you don’t want your naked body viewed in the harsh blaze of full light, there’s something appealing about having sex in the dark. You can release yourself from the daytime world, the world of roles that you’ve inhabited, and in the dark, you can remake yourself. You can even say anything (here’s that dirty talk again).

So to talk about sex after the fact (or before) may feel like dragging the whole sexual experience out of the mystique of the shadowy dark into the megawatt, no-curve-left-unexposed fluorescent glare.

3) What happens in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom

If you’re of a certain generation (and I’m in that generation), you were taught—quite clearly—that to talk about ‘unmentionables’ (sex probably wasn’t even named as such!) was just plain wrong. Sure, you had to have sex at some point (continuing of the species and all that), but you shouldn’t talk about it. (Gosh, no!)

Even though many of us have (mostly) gotten past the messages from our childhoods that we now see differently or that we’ve outgrown, there are often lingering residues, especially of this one. Sometimes those residues leave a film on our perspectives, even when we’re not fully aware of it.

You don’t have to try to resist it; you don’t have to fight against it or force yourself to change it. Just knowing about it and therefore understanding why talking about sex makes you feel uncomfortable is a good thing, is enough.

4) Sex makes us vulnerable…talking about sex makes us vulnerable, too

Because sex is so incredibly private, and because we need to put ourselves aside to a degree in order to join our partner in the sometimes transcendent, often mysterious experience that is making love, sex makes us feel vulnerable, perhaps more vulnerable than any other human activity (including public speaking!).

Through the act of intimately connecting with someone else, we offer our deepest, truest selves to the other. And while that can be exhilarating and meaningful, it can also be frightening. What if they reject us? What if they see something in us they don’t like? And what if it causes us to see something in ourselves that we don’t like?

Therefore, talking about sex can bring up all those feelings of vulnerability, perhaps when we’re not ready to face them.

One way of dealing with emotions we do not want to deal with in the moment is through forced humor, which is why people will often make jokes about sex when the other person had been trying to be serious. Mockery and laughter can act as a knee-jerk reaction to something that makes us uncomfortable, but of course this makes it tougher to have a discussion about sex with your partner if that was your goal!

You are not alone: talking about sex outside of the bedroom isn’t easy

So if you are one of the many, many people who wants to run the other way when your spouse or partner says, “Let’s talk about sex,” take heart: you are not alone, and there are understandable reasons for your discomfort. You shouldn’t place undue pressure on yourself (or your partner, if the situation is reversed), but nor should you shy away from talking about sex with your mate if you feel it could increase intimacy and enrich the lines of communication between you.

Here’s to better communication for a better sex life!

Dr. Rich Nicastro