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Communication is the beating heart of a fulfilled sexual relationship. The basis for growth and intimacy, it’s the key to nurturing an exciting, satisfying partnership.

Lack of communication is the main reason relationships fail.   

When communication lines are blocked, our unexpressed dissatisfactions corrode into anger and resentment. Once blazing passions fizzle to cold ash, slipping poignantly through our fingers when these feelings could ignite and burn more brightly than ever if we just knew how to reach each other and express our feelings.

Text Box: Suppressed emotions and behaviors = communication block

Suppressing your emotions and needs is a recipe for communication catastrophe - and personal misery. For example, if you've internalized the message that expressing anger or strong grief or assertiveness is unacceptable behavior, you may block the expression of these feelings and actions with others, or within yourself. The rub is that these feelings don’t really go away or stop affecting you. They internalize, acting on you in destructive ways while your expression of them become compartmentalized and disconnected. Your being, including your sexual being, becomes split, incomplete, and confused. You may experience painful or frustrating symptoms of your internal suppression such as depression, mood swings, or inappropriate social responses.

Another communication block occurs when you let emotions build up over an issue with your partner until they explode out of you. Splat! A torrent of fury spit all over your relationship, wounding you both.

Or your emotions become a source of manipulative behavior on your part, as you try to get your partner to act as you really wish them to without being direct or honest about your reasons. Have you ever withheld sex because you’re angry about an unresolved issue? Ever notice how things become worse as your choice of withholding sex causes you to grow sexually frustrated?

These behaviors undermine communication, poisoning love and sex at the root.  

thoughtful woman blackReality Check: Communication is a Skill
Like sex itself, genuine communication is skill that we need to learn. Too often instead of communicating we prevent communication: by habitually misinterpreting our partner; and by projecting our needs and expectations onto an ideal vision of them rather than seeing and accepting them as they are.

Here are some ideas and exercises to help you communicate clearly:

Starting with Yourself: The Private Release* 
Before communicating directly with your partner, it can help to have a private grouse session with yourself first. Try sitting opposite a pillow or chair, and imagine that you’re speaking to them. 

Whatever is bothering you, get it all out without censoring yourself. Amplify your emotions if you need to. Get up and move around, shout furious names at your partner. Make them the pillow and punch and kick it, or hug and stroke it. Have a full-blown rant, a stormy cry; open your heart to whatever comes up. Let go. 

*  Once you’ve got it all out, pause to tune into yourself. Do you feel any different than you did before your outpouring?

 The Revisit
Now address your pillow/partner again. Express yourself about the same issue, but with these guidelines in mind:

*  Express how you feel and what you think without telling them what they feel or think. Stick to your own experience. (The truth that is you don’t know where they’re coming from until they tell you and presuming that you do know is a communication block). 

*  Avoid blame. Don’t label them or call them names: “you’re a slob”, “you’re a cold bitch”, “you’re frigid”. What these designations really express is what you want from them. Tell them what you want and what you feel: 

“I feel like I’m cleaning up for both of us and I don’t want to do that. I want you to share the cleaning with me. I want to feel you that respect my values about neatness more.” 

“It hurts me when I feel you put me down. I want you to stop.” 

“Can you be warmer with me? I would like you to pay more attention to me and touch me more lovingly (be specific). I want to connect with you, to share our feelings.” 

Communicating with Your Partner
Now it’s time to communicate directly with your partner. Use the guidelines above to avoid getting stuck on acrimony, name-calling, or other communication obstructers.

After you’ve spoken, listen respectfully and attentively to their responses. Keep in mind that: 

What you want may not be what they want, and they are completely entitled to their own wants and boundariesThey are not a mirror of you but a separate, unique individual. They are not a fairytale character who can intuit your wishes without any need to work for communication and understanding.

Neither of you can force the other to be a panacea for your desires. You are not here to live up to each others fantasies. That is not what healthy, real, respectful partnerships are about.

Don't assume that your partner knows what you're desires are. And they may not know how to give you what you want even if they choose to. You need to help them out by teaching them how.

Looking for a compromise that gives you both what you need
You and your partner are separate people, not mirrors of each other. Your differences are one of the essential strengths of your relationships, giving it depth and resonance. This means that you may very well have different wants and needs. The secret is reaching satisfying compromises that give you each what you want without diminishing the other. For example: 

The Private Release:

Person 1 Private Release:  “I look forward to seeing you all day and when we get home from work you ignore me. I’m lonely for intimate contact and you’re not there for me”. 

Person 2 Private Release: “I work hard all day at a demanding job to provide us with security and comfort, and when I get home I need some alone time to decompress. Instead the moment I walking the door I get hit with your demands for attention. I feel guilty and resentful.”   

Communicating to Reach a Compromise: 

Person 1: “I want to feel loved. I want to connect with you when we’re at home together. I feel lonely and like I’m asking for something you don’t want to give, which feels humiliating to me.” 

Person 2: “It’s not that I don’t love you – I love you very much. That’s part of why I work so hard; so that our life together is secure from poverty and hardship. It’s just that I’m drained after work and I really need time to recharge on my own, quietly and privately, when I get home.” 

Person 1: “Okay, I understand that. When you come home, can you take a brief moment to connect with me before you go off to your study? Perhaps a hug?” 

Person 2: “That I can handle. Can you handle that I feel a need for privacy and separation from other people, even you, for a while after work?” 

Person 1: “Yes. I can wait to spend time with you until after you’ve had time to yourself and are ready to share.” 

Person 2: “Being with you after I’ve had time to myself would work out much better. Let’s try it.”

Communicating Sexual Needs

Keep in mind that even the most empathetic partner cannot read your mind, anticipate what you want, or know your desires. It’s up to you to let them know. Nothing is more important to a happy sexual relationship than learning how to communicate your sexual needs freely and comfortably.

For some people communicating their sexual needs is easy. For others, it’s a big wall to climb over.  Common refrains we tell ourselves that prevent communication and satisfaction are:

 “I’m too embarrassed”

“It’s an imposition on my partner to ask”

“I’ve already asked for my fair share”

“It’s a burden to my partner when I keep asking”

“They’ll think I’m vulgar if I ask for that”

“They’ll think that I don’t think they’re a good lover if I ask for more”

“It’ll break the mood if I ask”,

“I know I want something but I don’t know quite what, so how do I ask?”  

All we are accomplishing is the frustrating reality of crushing our desires and denying ourselves and our partners intimacy and satisfaction. To enjoy sex comfortably we need to let go of this obstructive inner dialogue and stop putting the brakes on the expression of our needs.

Naomi: “If there is one key to good sexual rapport, it’s the art of communication.  Really hearing and being heard is essential to closeness. Both partners expressing equally how they feel and how they want to be touched honestly is potentially very vulnerable – and very hot!”

Exercise:  Asking for What You Want During Sex
In this exercise you and your partner take turns asking and giving. Choose which one of you is the asker first. 

*   Asker, it’s your job to ask for everything you want (and tell your partner everything you don’t want) until you have an orgasm (if you want an orgasm. If you want something else, then that's what you ask for: I want to be held and caressed tenderly, I want us to look deep into each other’s eyes, I want more affection, I want to soul kiss for an hour, etc.

You are the center of attention, and you should be as minutely detailed and specific as humanly possible in your requests. Tell them what  and where and how, and keep it up as much as you can during your love-making session. Articulate every desire and impulse. 

*    Giver, it’s your job to be as responsive as possible.  

*    Now switch places. 

The Deadly Charade of Nice

One of the worst sexual misconceptions anyone can be burdened with is the belief that it is “nice, kind, good”, or “sporting” to tolerate a sexual activity with a partner that you don’t actually want. Sex under those terms becomes something to get over with, and you’ll want it less and less until you don’t want it at all. You are not achieving anything positive for yourself or your relationship by forcing yourself to ‘service’ your partner with your body when your heart opposes your actions. 

When the urge to service arises, remember the following tenets: 

*  It’s ALWAYS okay to say no to ANY sexual activity you don’t enjoy. 

*  It’s ALWAYS okay to stop sexual activity if your feelings change and you no longer want to continue. 

*  It’s crucial NEVER to be coerced, forced or manipulated into engaging in a sexual exchange that you don’t wholeheartedly desire. 

*  What you choose to share with another person intimately is your decision at all times. It’s your responsibility to define own your boundaries, and to respect your partner's. 

Exercise: Defining Sexual Boundaries

* Repeat the Asking for What You Want exercise but concentrate on saying what you don’t want, physically and emotionally.  

* Asker, it’s your job to clarify everything you don’t want until you have an orgasm, or have gotten what you want from the exercise.  

You are the center of attention, and you should be as minutely detailed and specific as humanly possible in your requests. Tell them what you don’t want and where and how you don’t want it, and keep it up as much as you can during your love-making session. Articulate every desire and impulse. 

Giver, it’s your job to be as responsive as possible. 

When you’re done, share any feelings you found meaningful about this experience with each other. What did you get out of it?

 * Now switch places.

Notice if you start to repress your awareness of negative or positive feelings; for some people saying either yes or no is a lot of work. Keep at it. You are entitled to express your feelings and expect them to be respected. 

Seeking Counseling When Communication is at a Dead End

Communication is just not viable in every relationship, even if there's love. Love does not cure everything. There is a time to accept that you've come to an irreconcilable impasse and let go.   

However, if you’re in a relationship that both people still value but your efforts at communication are at a dead end, a trained counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist may be able to help. Have the wisdom and courage to ask for help when you need it.


San Francisco Sex Information
www.sfsi.org415-989-7374 (Hours: 3-9 Monday-Thursdays; 3-6 Friday; 2-5 Saturday)
Ask_us@sfsi.org s. 

Go Ask Alice


New World Sex Education

Coalition for Positive Sexuality

I Wanna Know (A program of the Social Health Association)
Betty Dodson / Ask Doctor

Dr. Lonnie Barbach
A pioneer sex therapist and educator, Dr. Barbach answers questions about sex after 60 directly through her website. 

Kinsey Confidential

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United Stated (SEICUS)

Planned Parenthood

It’s Your (Sex) Life

The Kaiser Foundation

 Guttmacher Institute

An interactive exploration of the human body 

The Sexual Health Network
Information, education, support and other resources 

Professional Organizations:
American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists

American Board of Sexology

American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists



Photo Credits: Love in Wiesbaden Jacob Appelbaum from san francisco, USA and www.kozzi.com
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