Why “Difficult Conversations about Sex” fail, and why

There’s a pervasive idea that a lot of women are having unsatisfactory sex because they can’t have an honest conversation with their male partner about their sexual needs. If only they could, runs the idea, then things would change for the better.

Generally, it isn’t true.

On the contrary, women clients will say that they repeatedly  tell their partner that they’re not happy, and the reasons why, and what needs to be different, yet nothing changes.

Why is this?

I think it boils down to one big thing:

We can’t know how someone else feels unless we’ve had a similar experience ourselves

Imagine you’re a guy for whom sex has never been problematic. You first learned, through masturbation as a kid, that you could create arousal through touch, then you learned to increase that level of arousal through making the touch faster and stronger, until you ejaculated. Then you started to watch pornography, where you see depictions of sex that likewise focus on physicality and touch, which gets stronger and faster as arousal increases, culminating, on Planet Porn at least, in deliriously dramatic simultaneous orgasms. Then you start having partnered sex. However, it’s not quite the same as on Planet Porn. What are you likely to think? [Hint: there’s not something wrong with you]. What you’re likely to conclude -bolstered by society’s views about sex – is that there’s an issue with your partner’s arousal. Maybe you should go a bit slower, or a bit softer, as she repeatedly asks, because if you do, that’ll solve the issue, and then she’ll be like you, and will like sex in the same way, so you can forget that tiresome stuff about slowness, and push on vigorously upwards towards Orgasm Peak

So it’s not that he doesn’t hear you, it’s that at some level he doesn’t believe you, because he thinks his experience of what sex is, reinforced by what society tells him sex is, is what sex is, and if you’re asking for something different, that is only valid to get you over the hump of low arousal, and once you’re over that, it’s business as usual.

What to do?

The most obvious way to change someone’s behaviour is to change their experience. How would you do that?

touch differently

I’ve written elsewhere that, contrary to what’s generally thought, there are whole areas of heterosexual men’s erotic landscape that are rarely engaged with, specifically the root of the penis, the pelvic floor and the anus. Broadening touch to include this areas helps men to widen their focus from the glands of their penis, and allows them to experience intimacy differently: deeper, more receptive, more meditative. If their experience widens, then their understanding of what your experience can be widens too, and, along with that, how they can be with you.

touch softer and slower yourself

One of the sexological bodyworkers I trained with is the excellent Libby Shepherd, who practices sensual massage and intimate bodywork in London, and has a substantial amount of  massage training material available online. She writes:

“There’s a big myth out there that the ‘right’ way to touch male genitals is to push down from the tip to the base. You know how I mean..pumping it like a soap dispenser, enthusiastically/desperately trying to trigger the ‘hydraulics and get it erect..my absolute top tip is that you try reversing the direction of your touch and massaging from the base to the tip”

In other words, don’t touch as you think you should, touch the other as you would like to be touched yourself.

switch perspectives

In Betty Martin’s pioneering Wheel Of Consent work, there is a brilliant structure called the three minute game.

The genius of it is that you have to say how you would like to be touched, and how you would like to touch your partner. And it’s up to you. Your partner isn’t expected to be telepathic. If they don’t get it, it’s up to you to explain it until they do. This is a zillion times better than trying to get to the right place by negative inference [“I hate that. And that. And that too”]

broaden your range of sexual expression

My guess is that underlying the need for that conversation is

  • boredom
  • repetition
  • a significant pleasure imbalance

One obvious approach you can take is to widen what you do together to try things like Tantra, Play and so on, both so you can try something different and can be something different. I write about this at length here.

If you’re not happy with the room, you can re-arrange it. But why not try exploring the house too?

get a clearer idea of your own sexual nature

Women’s sexuality isn’t a paler version of what society tells us men’s is. And no two sexualities are the same. I’ll be writing more about the value of erotic fantasy in uncovering the unique sexual landscape of each person, but to get a sense of how this aspect might be approached through somatic enquiry, I suggest that you read this

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