Guest blog By Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH
In my work as a sex and relationships researcher, I continue to learn more and more about the dynamics of relationships and the ways in which sex influences, and is influenced by, those dynamics. One of the most salient messages I hear is that many people are not comfortable talking to their partners (or really anyone outside of their closest and most trusted friends) about sex. It is interesting to me that, despite being so intimate with a partner, it can be so hard to communicate about the very thing that brings such intimacy.
Relationship therapists and researchers have spent years trying to figure out tangible ways to offer to couples to improve communication. And some couples, especially those with different individual communication styles, have a hard time communicating about even the most mundane things. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when someone has trouble communicating with their partner about what they want from the grocery store, they may have trouble communicating with their partner about what they want from their sex life.
So this is established; sex is difficult to talk about. But there are ways around this. There are ways to practice talking about sex with your partner so it isn’t so difficult.
One thing I like to suggest is to use technology to your advantage. If you want to talk about something related to your sex life, maybe a need that you’d like to have met by your partner, text it to them during the work day. Not only does this allow for some space if you’re feeling shy, but it also has the potential to build heat through the day. It also provides a cushion for both you and your partner that doesn’t require you to reply on the spot. You can take time to craft what you’d like to say and let it sit before hitting send.
Another great suggestion is to blame your sub-conscious mind. When you wake up in the morning, say you had a dream about whatever it is you’re having trouble talking to your partner about. I suppose I’m telling you to lie here, but I think this little white lie is for the greater good of the relationship. And this allows you to gauge your partner’s reaction to your dream to see if it is something you can suggest you try in real life!
This is all great for talking to your partner about getting needs met in your sex life. But what about talking about sex with your partner when it involves something that society has laced with a thick layer of stigma? Something like sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? Not exactly the sexiest topic. However, sex is a lot more fun when you aren’t worried about your health. So this is a really key conversation to have with a partner. The best time to bring this up is at the beginning of a relationship. In fact, you could even make this one of your first dates! Nothing says romance like a joint visit to the STI clinic. It does build up the excitement of getting intimate with one another. You could use the technology tactic or the dream tactic to elicit conversation and communication here as well.
If either of you end up with a test that comes back positive for an STI, it is important to let your partner know ASAP. This conversation is likely to be uncomfortable (if grocery lists are an 8 on comfort level, this one might be a -8), but just get it over with. It is like pulling off a Band-Aid; the quicker you do it, the better. Being open and honest with your partner about this is critical to the relationship. Lying about something such as an STI status to someone you’re intimate with is a huge, sometimes unforgivable, violation of trust. If your partner is someone worth being with for the long haul, they will stick around through this small road bump.
Communicating with your partner about anything from getting needs met in the bedroom to getting tested for STIs can be tough to overcome. Effective communication takes practice and is a necessary component to any healthy relationship.
About Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH: Dr. Mark is an Assistant Professor of Health Promotion and Director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at University of Kentucky. She is Affiliate Faculty at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Her primary research area is women’s sexual health and well-being, sexual desire, desire discrepancy, sexual satisfaction, sex-positive sex education, and dyadic approaches to sexuality research and education. She earned her PhD in Health Behavior with a minor in Human Sexuality and her MPH in Biostatistics, both from Indiana University. Dr. Mark has published her scientific work in a number of journals, including but not limited to, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Journal of Sex Research, and Journal of Sexual Medicine and she has presented her work at over 50 international and national scientific conferences. Dr. Mark is dedicated to distributing accurate evidence-based information about sexuality and relationships to the general public and has been sought out as a sex and relationships expert and quoted in various media outlets such as CNN, Cosmopolitian, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, and O Magazine. She regularly writes evidence-based pieces about sex and relationships for Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and Kinsey Confidential. You can find out more about what Dr. Mark is working on including study abroad opportunities and opportunities to participate in her research studies at her website, www.kristenmark.com.
Notes from Patty’s Desk:
How can you achieve real intimacy when you aren’t comfortable asking tough questions? What might feel like a few minutes of awkwardness could save you from serious consequences, or paying for a mistake that could last the rest of your life! Making sure that you’re both on the same page – that’s communication. Whether it’s the first date or the fifth, before you get under the covers, don’t be scared to be up front with your new partner. Want to know the best part? The quicker you can delve into more difficult conversations with one another, the faster you will find out if your relationship is built to last!
For those of you who might feel awkward about having this conversation, even with your physician, it’s never as bas as you think. Here, I want to share Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones’s awkward conversation with her own physician to make you smile. Watch here!