Each week in February, your Work/Life team has invited therapists and dating professionals in the community to respond to questions about relationships. For this third blog in the series, we asked our experts…
How do you authentically share your sexuality in a relationship?
Kate Freiman-Fox, Ph.D.
Matchmaking, Date and Relationship Coaching
People need to be comfortable with their own sexuality in order to share it. That can be challenging if a person has suffered abuse either as a child or as a grown up or if they are unsure about their sexual orientation. If you haven’t had sex, make sure your first experience is with someone you really love and trust. As a therapist, I’ve met many people who have been shamed by their partners in sexual encounters and it is often difficult to trust again and open up sexually.
My experience is that people are having sex way too early in a relationship. There is even a “Third Date Rule” which recommends that a couple have at least three dates before having sex. I’ve heard this rule misinterpreted to mean you must have sex after three dates or forget about getting a fourth date! Either way, this rule is for the birds!! One guideline that may be useful: if you can’t talk about sex with your partner, you shouldn’t be having it! You need a level of comfort to really enjoy sex. If you are uncomfortable discussing pressing issues like safe sex and relationship expectations, you can’t fully relax into a great sexual experience.
Be aware of the messages you got about sexuality growing up in your family of origin. Also know that our culture gives incredibly mixed messages about sexuality and you have to use your own internal compass as your guide.
Social Work Graduate Student and Intern
As cliché as it sounds, communication is key. I recommend having conversations outside of a sexy context (so not right before, during, or after sex) where you discuss sexual wants and needs with your partner. If you’re wondering where to start, try completing Scarleteen’s sexual “yes, no, maybe” checklist with your partner. The checklist can help you brainstorm what you do, don’t, or might want to do sexually. I recommend that each of you completes it on your own, then come together for a “meeting” to discuss your results. Try to be honest with your own wants and needs. Allow yourself to be surprised by your partner’s answers. There is a lot of shame and stigma in our culture about certain sexual acts and fantasies. It can be incredibly scary to share a new sexual desire, even with a close partner. Honor that vulnerability. You and your partner’s checklists don’t need to align perfectly. Based on the responses, see if there are things you both want to add to your sex life. This checklist is just a starting point. Continue to do check-ins every so often to see how things are going. Sexual desires or needs can change over time, and that’s completely okay.
Nate Sawyer, LMFT
Marriage and Family Therapist
Nate Sawyer Counseling
What does it mean to be authentic in a relationship? Vulnerability in communicating is the sincerest form of intimacy. There is intimacy in knowing that your partner is safe to talk with about anything. So, what makes it so hard for us to talk about sex with our partners? In my work as a therapist I meet many couples who share with me that they are not happy with their sex life. One of my first questions to couples is do you talk about sex and almost always I hear "no, we don’t, that’s uncomfortable, awkward, talking about it makes it weird…" To which I say, how will you ever know if something is wrong or make any changes, if you avoid talking about it? So how do you communicate about sex, sexual needs, desires or challenges with your partner? Here are some tips:
- Don’t get defensive: be open to hearing what your partner has to say and try to withhold judgement.
- Listen… humans are not good at listening. We like to listen with an intent to respond and often miss what our partners might be trying to say.
- Be okay with feeling awkward when you first start talking. It will get easier with practice.
- Don’t be okay with the "status quo" just to make sure you don't hurt their feelings. Pleasure should be mutual. Let them know what you need.
- In addition to talking, pay more attention to each other’s nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, touch, eye contact and hand gestures.
- Be aware of your own needs, desires, and body. It is easier to communicate what you want to someone else if you have a good understanding of it yourself.
Tune in next Thursday for our final Relationship Series Blog... How do you thrive as a single person?