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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012

Overcoming the Awkward: Talking About Sex With a Partner

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Every year, I am part of a panel of “sexperts” at a national college peer education conference. Our goal: to answer as many anonymous sex questions as possible in 60 minutes. We always receive a fair number of questions on the usual topics: female ejaculation, anal sex, premature ejaculation, difficulty achieving orgasm and HPV. This year, our largest stack of questions dealt with how to communicate with a partner about sex.

We are taught, through mainstream movies and porn, that sex happens without communication. People seem to instinctively know how to give their partners pleasure. No one ever says, “A little to the left, actually,” in the middle of a sex scene. This is not how things work in real life, but we are led to expect that they should, which makes us feel awkward when we try to talk about sex.

Our parents often give us messages—either spoken or unspoken—that sex is something that we shouldn’t talk about. They may have sweated nervously through “The Talk” when we were young adolescents, or they may have chastised us for asking questions about sex in public. The message is clear: Don’t discuss it.  No wonder we have problems.

So, how can we overcome the awkwardness? Try having the conversation outside of a sexual situation. Using a “yes, no, maybe” list can be a great beginning. Scarleteen has an incredibly comprehensive one, and That Other Paper has a classic kinky one. The point is to use these lists as tools to jump-start a conversation.

You can also try reading erotica, sex instruction books or blogs, either alone or with a partner, and pointing out things that seem hot to you. Read a sexy bedtime story together and talk about activities from the story that you’d like to try. Flag a passage in a book or send a link to a blog with a note to your partner describing what you like about it. You can use porn in a similar way; erotic inspiration can come from many places.

During sex, asking your partner “Does this feel good?” or “Do you like this?” or “Do you want me to…?” can open the door for communication. Most people want to please their partners and appreciate feedback that helps them do this. Dirty talk during sex can also be a hot way to tell a partner what you like. Check out Ruth Neustifter’s new book, The Nice Girl’s Guide to Talking Dirty, for tips.

Many people are newly interested in domination and submission after reading the Fifty Shades trilogy. If you are trying any kind of kinky play, you should be discussing boundaries beforehand (possibly using the yes/no/maybe lists linked above) and choosing safewords that will immediately stop the action if one person no longer wants to participate. You can also use dominant/submissive scenes to increase communication about sex—for instance, making a submissive (especially one who is embarrassed talking about sex) describe and beg for what they want sexually before they can get it.

In short, talking to a partner about sex doesn’t have to be awkward and might actually be fun.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than 15 years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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