Communicating about sex

There is generally a poor level of communication about sex between people to the extent that people who have been in relationships for over a decade still only understand about 60% of what their partners like sexually and only around 20% of what they don’t like[48]. It is often assumed that people will telepathically know what their partners will and will not enjoy. Clearly communication is not always verbal (we can demonstrate our enjoyment more physically), however it is important to let people know what one does and does not like in some way, and to make sure that they understand how to know when what they are doing is enjoyable and when it is not.

Communication with others about sex first requires communication with oneself. Many people are so worried about being normal or about whether their partner is enjoying themselves, or they are performing well, that they don’t really think about what they themselves enjoy, or would like to try, sexually.

To communicate with oneself about sex it is useful to read about the different kinds of sex which are possible (for example, in collections of other people’s sexual fantasies). It can be helpful to make a long list of all the sexual practices and situations which can be imagined (whether or not they would be enjoyable)[49]. Once it is written prospective partners can go through the list writing ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ to indicate how they feel about doing them, perhaps adding a bit more information (only with this person, or a 1-10 score of how much they would like to try it).

When suggesting something sexual to somebody else it is important to make sure that they could refuse it, accept it, or talk more about it to find a mutually agreed way of going ahead. The idea of ‘yes, no, maybe’ helps with this, as does emphasizing consent: making sure to check beforehand that both, or all, people definitely want to do this, and that there is an agreed way of pausing or stopping if anybody is not enjoying it (e.g. a specific ‘safeword’ you are going to say, or sign you are going to make). It is useful, in such conversations, to be aware of power imbalances between people, and social pressures that can make it more difficult to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to sexual activities (e.g. a big age difference between those involved, a difference in whether the bodies involved would be deemed ‘conventionally attractive’, or the social pressures on many men to be everready for sex, or on many women to please their partners).

Section 2: Changing Society & Sex

48. Miller, S. A. & Byers, E. S. (2004). Actual and Desired Duration of Foreplay and Intercourse: Discordance and Misperceptions within Heterosexual Couples. The Journal of Sex Research, 41, 301-309.
49. For an example of such a list see http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/ yes_no_maybe_so_a_sexual_inventory_stocklist

Section 2: Changing Society & Sex