- Jed Murphree, LPC
5 Questions to lead to "Oh So" difficult conversations worth having.
Talking about sex in the south is a no-no (and if you are unaware that I live and practice the art of therapy in the deep south, then please please read on). The topic appears to cross some line of decorum that has been judged uncrossable, and is therefore off limits to discuss, compare, or debate.
Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of talk around the subject. Men can boast, joke, and wax nostalgic about past exploits; while women will share, compare and parade their pasts as they please to one another.
Regardless of the personal history, as a cultural norm here, the world of the bedroom is meant for only two people, and what happens in there needs to stay in there, only of course when it doesn't.
When looking at any set of behaviors we as humans exhibit: like driving, brushing your teeth, writing an email, having sex - they all have internal, mental scripts associated with them, directions for the actions, just like being an actor on stage. Lots of our everyday scripts are small, like brushing teeth, making coffee, doing laundry. A good number of our scripts are bigger, like driving, writing an email, or talking with friends. The more meaningful and complex the behaviors or task, the larger the script.
Sex's scripts can be huge, dynamic, confusing, and very private. They form throughout childhood and into adolescence. They are influenced by family, friends, education, and culture. They become more anchored, or set, as we become adults, yet can continue to change and shift as we age. For most of us our sexual scripts are a highly personal, and an often secretive part of our everyday identity. Because of that many of us simply never learn how to talk about this aspect of ourselves.
When you add that a relationship's success is not solely based upon the sexual compatibility of the couple, you have another factor that contributes to the silence of what could be termed your sexual voice.
Sex's place in relationship is to affirm a connection between partners. It implies familiarity and trust, expresses meaningfulness, and at special times, becomes unique and transformative. Good sex creates memories (and sometimes children). Couples reference it in their own ways as an indication of attention paid their partnership.
In relationship that are long term, love without sex means trouble. When relationships are having difficulties, the sexual connection is frequently mentioned as a first casualty of the discord. As much as a couple's sex life does not solely account for a successful relationship, it can speak loudly for one that is ailing.
When the sexual connection feels less secure, figuring out how to talk about one's sexual scripts is no easy task. For many of us it can be downright scary. Not only because of a secretive nature of our individual sexual voice and a lack of practice discussing using it; but also because of all the mixed cultural messages we've absorbed through our lifetime. Lots of us don't know how to accurately and respectfully express ourselves. You add the pressures of how some couples have very different sexual voices (different scripts) and that's a recipe for a real hard time reconciling.
Here are 5 simple and challenging questions to answer regarding your sexual scripts. Consider:
How do you GIVE?
How do you RECEIVE?
How do you TAKE?
How do you ASK?
How do you REFUSE?
It's a way to start thinking about this very private, and honestly,
vulnerable part of ourselves. Esther Perel, in her book Mating in Captivity, calls them "the 5 verbs of sexuality", a surprisingly accurate and profound way to structure sex for couples. All those questions allow the sexual voice to explain and express itself: how it likes to get close and accept, as well as how it protects and what it guards.
It's important to understand that sex is much more than what's happening between our legs, it's really about what's happening between our ears. Answering those five questions doesn't necessarily require coarse talk or graphic descriptions. At the same time, using too cute language that is really inaccurate and belittling in its own way, is equally unneeded.
Finding and using one's sexual voice requires trust in their partner, a sense of oneself, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Everyone wants to be validated for who they are, especially for how they express themselves sexually. Awareness of how you give, receive, take, ask, and refuse helps describe the boundaries for what is and what isn't okay sexually.
Intimate relationships are as complex as they are rewarding. A part of the complexity is the couple's sexual partnership, which is generally built around rewards and feeling a togetherness. Communication is vital for maintaining a connection of that power and influence. Because it's complex, messages can get misunderstood and with too many misunderstandings comes distance.
So, if you're have trouble communicating, and feel that you are losing touch with your partner, consider getting a professional's opinion. Talking it through can be tremendously helpful. If even for just a short period of time, therapy can help decode some messages and rebuild connections.
Just remember, mental health matters.