Sometimes, it seems like sex is just too complicated. Why can’t it be easy? Why can’t husbands and wives operate on the same frequency? Why can’t real married life look like a romance novel or steamy movie?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. The only thing I know is this — my husband and I have been married for 30 years, and sometimes it still seems like we’re living on different planets! And very often, the ways to communicate across those planets seem just as elusive as they did when we were newlyweds.
I don’t like to talk about difficulties when it comes to sex, and you probably don’t either. It’s so much easier to brush them aside or assume that we’ll talk about them later. But then we get busy — or just really want to avoid the conflict — and later never comes. And we end up missing out on one of the best parts of marriage — the joy, intimacy, closeness, and fun that comes from a great sex life.
So I want to encourage you (and me!) to open up and really talk with your spouse about sex. If things are going well, talk about how much you enjoy making love, things that you especially like, or what sex with your spouse means to you. If things aren’t going well, or if you know something needs to be discussed, take a chance and get the conversation started.
Here are seven ways to communicate and open up the conversation:
1. Understand that women and men often think and respond differently.
This understanding forms the basis for good communication about sex. Our culture tends to emphasize male sexuality as the norm, so it’s easy for a woman to think something’s wrong if she doesn’t respond the way her husband does. Or for a man to be frustrated if what works for him doesn’t work for his wife.
But it’s likely that your sexual responses are very different. The husband may be ready to go at the drop of a hat, and the wife may need time to unwind and get in the mood. (Or vice versa — the stereotypes about men and women and sex aren’t always true.) He may need to connect physically in order to connect emotionally, and she may need the opposite. Or he may be aroused as soon as sex is mentioned, whereas she isn’t aroused until the two of you have been kissing, making out, and fooling around for 30 minutes. That’s usually the case for me, and I used to think there was something wrong with me. Nope — nothing wrong. Just different from my husband.
2. Figure out what’s bothering you.
Before talking with your spouse, spend some time understanding what’s upsetting or frustrating you. Is it:
- a mechanical problem — sex is always rushed, with little or no time for you to build up interest.
- a marriage problem — the two of you spend very little enjoyable time together.
- a time problem — your family runs full speed ahead all the time
- something else?
It may be a combination of two or three, and it may be difficult at first to sort them out. So really, take some time to think it through and identify specific things so you’ll be able to state them clearly.
3. Own your part.
Identify ways you’ve contributed to the problem. With most sex problems in marriage, both spouses need to acknowledge their part in creating or sustaining the problem. Even if you think your spouse is primarily to blame, the purpose of communicating about a problem is to find a solution and move forward together, not to blame the other person.
I used to think that my husband wasn’t paying attention to what I needed when it came to sex, and I think he would admit there were times that was true. But I hadn’t really thought through what I needed and wasn’t able to articulate it clearly. So think about and be able to say what you wish you’d done differently in the past and are willing to do differently in the future.
4. Be willing to say what you need.
I think this is one of the hardest things for women. Maybe we think it’s not ladylike to communicate our sexual needs, or we believe our needs aren’t valid, or we think our husband should “just know” exactly what we need. Sometimes all of those messages (and probably many others) are floating around our minds, confusing our thinking about what we actually do want or need.
If you believe that sex is primarily about your husband and not really about you, or that you shouldn’t ask for what you want, work on changing your thinking and summoning the courage to talk about it.
This is one of the hardest things for me to change. I seem to have the idea that my husband should be able to read my mind and somehow know exactly what I need. Well, sometimes that happens, but even after 30 years, sometimes it doesn’t! So if I fall back on my natural tendency not to say what I need, we both end up frustrated.
5. Open up the conversation.
Find a neutral time, when neither of you is upset or stressed out, and start the conversation. Let your spouse know that your goal is better sex and increased intimacy. Share what you’ve been thinking and feeling, and encourage your spouse to do the same. Share information you’ve learned that may be relevant (for example, information about female and male differences that could help explain the problem). This part is hard, but things can’t improve until the conversation begins.
6. Keep the conversation going.
I’d like to hash it all out once, then be done with it! Unfortunately, though, communication that leads to good sex is an ongoing process. Getting things out in the open and agreeing to work on a solution is great, but it’s not magic. Most problems didn’t develop in a day, and they won’t be solved in a day. Stay strong and keep talking over the coming weeks, months, and years.
7. Know when to seek outside help.
Many sex problems in marriage can be solved by good information, good intentions, and good communication. Sometimes it takes a while, but couples can talk through their problems and create great sex and intimacy in their marriages. Some problems, though, require outside help. If you and your spouse can’t work through some of your issues, or truly don’t know where to begin, consider seeking help from a counsellor who can help you through the process.
This article focuses on common things that can cause stress about sex and intimacy in a marriage. More serious issues, such as previous sexual abuse, depression, medication side effects, and serious marriage problems, can cause significant problems and often need to be addressed with the help of medical or counselling professionals. If you are in a difficult marriage, these simple communication strategies won’t be helpful.