No one reads this advice with complete shock. People have read this recommendation in books, been told by a friend, or heard this advice from their therapist. The instruction to talk about sex with your partner carries weight and merit, but falls short. This suggestion lacks practical ways to have the conversation nor does it highlight potential pitfalls and risks within the dialogue. This interview with Vanessa and Xander Marin draws attention to some of these issues and speaks to the challenges couples face when trying to talk about sex.
The inability or hesitancy to have open honest dialogues creates several barriers to maintaining a strong relationship. Conversations about sex are no exception to this. In my work, I meet with couples who need help with overcoming specific challenges they are facing. For many, the challenges consist of unresolved conflicts that have built up over years. This build up occurs due to poor dialogue patterns. I assist couples in breaking these habitual patterns and establishing new ways of creating safe space for healthy conflict conversations that do not devolve into harmful arguments. This transformation requires the couple to listen with curiosity and then speak with vulnerability.
Being unable to utilize proper dialogue skills prevents a sense of resolution from occurring. Additionally, repeating a pattern of damaging conversations erodes the feeling of safety in the relationship. This lack of resolution and continued damage in conflicts discourages partners from introducing vulnerable conversations because there is little hope that the conversation will go well and be productive. This lack of communication only exacerbates the problem. Conflicts left unsaid generate resentment in a relationship. Yet, the expectation that couples be vulnerable about sex still remains. It simply does not add up. To restore productive and enjoyable communication about sex, couples need to be having healthy communication within other topics as well. This establishes a new pattern and reintroduces the safety and trust in conversation required to be vulnerable with one another. This vulnerability remains especially critical when discussing sex.
A potential pitfall for dialoguing about sex revolves around cultural and religious values. Some communities consider talking about sex to be taboo. Past experiences of individuals also have an impact on these discussions. Every person has received messages (subtly or overtly) about sex which heavily influences their posture towards these conversations. These messages create learned expectations or beliefs around sex which can provide another stumbling block for couples. The Marin’s refer to this concept in their interview. On a more macro level, society has created a set of standards regarding what defines a “healthy” sex life. It is expected that people follow this standard and there exists a pressure to do so. This pressure is known to contribute to some common sexual dysfunctions. The standards can vary from culture to culture yet exist universally and carry great weight on individuals and couples globally.
Vanessa and Xander talk about the need to view sex from a different perspective than just how society defines “healthy” sex lives. In order to do this, safety and trust needs to be established in the relationship so that the door to these conversations can be opened. Then the couple must experience a personal release from the social standards about “healthy” sex that few people actually meet. Next, the couple needs to ask questions about what great sex looks like for each partner. When this progression occurs and a couple can dialogue about what great sex is for them, then they are “talking about sex” and will be able to improve their sex life.