Talking About Sex

Bach and Deutsch (1970) illustrate the deception that occurs early in a relationship, using "Will" and "Carol." These two people have had a couple of dates, like each other, and are trying hard to please and impress the other. After a fun day at the beach and a romantic dinner, Will asks Carol to stay overnight at his place. She agrees. But after a long drive home, both are very tired, have sunburns, and need to go to work early in the morning. Actually, both would rather go home tonight and set aside a special night for making love the first time. However, they are pushed by their own needs to please, to impress, and to deceive the other. Each assumes (without asking) the other is horny. Each wants to give the impression that he/she is highly sexual too. The truth is that both are concerned about their sexual adequacy.

Since neither can say "let's wait," Will and Carol stay together and have intercourse. They utter the right words to each other: "I love you," "You are fantastic," "Yes, I came," "You are a real man," "You have a great body," and so on. But during sex they were thinking: "I'm too tired to come," "I feel miserable," "He will think I'm frigid," "I can't keep this up, I hope she comes soon," "My God, she wants more!" and so on. Will has a climax and Carol fakes one. After telling each other how wonderful it was (while hoping the other is ready to sleep), they struggle to be affectionate and provide a little after play. This leads to more intercourse which neither wants and both fake a climax this time. They weren't honest. The experience was much less satisfying than it could have been. By pretending, they set a high sexual standard to live up to in the future, and they increased their own feelings of sexual inadequacy. If Will and Carol do not become secure enough to be frank with each other, they will become stressed and irritated. Their relationship may be headed for trouble.

Later in marriage a common complaint is "I ain't gettin' enough." But Masters, Johnson and Kolodny (1985) say frequency is almost never the issue. What is the problem then? The complainer may feel neglected or lonely or that something is wrong with the relationship. The partner being complained about may be anxious at work, upset about adding weight, disgusted with his/her lover, or depressed. The tasks of a couple who "ain't gettin' enough" are to recognize what the real underlying problems are, talk about solving those problems, and express loving concern for each other. The freer one can talk to his/her lover about sex and other concerns, the better the sex will be (Levin, 1975). Many books discuss intimacy and communication in marriage (Gottman, Notarius, Gonso, & Markman, 1976; Rubinstein & Shaver, 1982b; Rubin, 1983). Below are guidelines for communicating about sex:

  1. Be honest, open, and direct. Don't pretend, be genuine. If you don't know what your partner is thinking, wanting, or feeling (and you probably don't), please ask, don't assume. Don't be overly eager to impress, like Will and Carol.

  2. Forget the nonsense that men know or are supposed to know all about making love. No man knows how a woman feels or what she needs to climax; each woman is different. Talk to each other, DON'T AVOID DISCUSSING PROBLEMS. Both the male and the female have to let the partner know what feels good and what doesn't, what acts are appealing and unappealing. If there is a problem, just say "I'd like to talk about our love-making," then find out when is the best time to talk, i.e. after making love, before, or at an entirely separate time.

  3. Forget the notions that men should take the initiative, that the man is responsible for making sex good, and that the woman just lies there, letting the man do things to make her feel good. These are outdated Victorian ideas. So are ideas like: "a man never gets enough" or "most women want to be loved but aren't really interested in sex." The best sexual adjustment (80% satisfied) is achieved when each spouse takes the lead equally often. When the initiative is one-sided, only 66% are satisfied (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983). A wonderful aphrodisiac is an excited, active partner.

  4. Try your best to avoid thinking negatively about the partner, especially watch out for blaming the other person for your problems. Examples: "I might have a climax if he were a better lover." "If he loved me, he'd take more time, whisper sweet nothings in my ear, and massage my back." "If she loved me and wasn't such a prude, she'd play with my penis a lot." "He/she never wants sex, he/she must have a problem (gay/lesbian, feels inadequate, ashamed of his/her body)." The stereotypes and negative thinking frequently hide our own feelings of inadequacy: "It's not my fault, he/she is the one to blame." You need to understand what is really going on.

  5. Use "I" statements when expressing a concern (see chapter 13). This shows you accept responsibility for your own feelings. It shows that you are hoping to work cooperatively to solve the problems.

  6. Use empathy responses when the partner talks about problems (see chapter 13). This helps get the true underlying problems out on the table. Remember nothing kills sexual urges as fast as resentment and depression.

  7. Use books as a stimulus for discussing sex. They may help you see the problem from another angle, suggest factors you had not thought of, and offer you a variety of solutions to consider with your partner.

  8. Often it is much more effective to show your partner how to do something, rather than trying to tell him/her. If the woman will guide the man's hand as he touches her clitoris, he will more quickly understand what she wants. Likewise, the man can show the woman how he masturbates and then guide her hands so she knows she is doing it just right.

  9. Don't expect things to stay the same; how a couple makes love tends to change from time to time. Don't expect perfection--but you do have the right to a good sex life. Talk about trying new things. And don't forget to laugh too.

Dr. Clayton E. Tucker-Ladd is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and author of Psychological Self-Help

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 31). Talking About Sex, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Last Updated: March 25, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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