Occasionally, I bring up the subject of sex with my partner, and I always get nowhere. Sex has never been something that we've really talked about. We had those first few conversations when we met several years ago: disclosures of risks, general preferences, expectations for monogamy, etc. and from there we just let it develop naturally. We need to talk about it because our sex life isn't meeting my needs, and I've asked to talk about it, but I still don't know how to talk about it, and I'm afraid this is just going to become another in a string of failed attempts to talk about sex.
posted by this *is* my happy face to Human Relations (28 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
First off, our relationship is very exciting and meets so many of my needs that I feel a little silly and selfish even harping on the sex issue. We have always been able to talk about other difficult issues without any trouble. Nobody yells in our house, no disagreement lasts more than a day or two, and our goals are so harmonized we usually end up agreeing before any given conversation has started. Also, my partner is highly responsive with those other issues, taking active steps to improve areas of concern that we've identified together. (And so am I.) So, fantastic. Typically great communication.
Just... not with sex. I try to communicate clearly, both during the act and in the rest of our life together. I have tried to bring the subject up several times in several different ways and each time, my partner either agrees that we should talk about it (but doesn't), agrees that we should follow through on what I'm asking for (but doesn't), or just shuts down completely.
Our sex life (I feel) exists almost entirely within the bounds of my partner's control. The dynamic that has developed is that I ask for sex and it is dispensed in such quantities as my partner sees fit, under such circumstances as my partner wishes. I also get the feeling that my partner views sex as a chore. Typically, our sex life consists of mutual masturbation, once a week or once every other week, usually while we are in the shower getting ready for work. I once thought that would be my ideal sex life, but in the years we've been together it has become a bit of a race to the bottom in terms of frequency and repertoire. And most importantly, the concerns I voice about our sex life go unaddressed. I know that's not a healthy dynamic, or at least it isn't healthy for me, but I can't figure out how to fix it without better communication. And furthermore, even if I had a plan I couldn't implement it alone.
Ways I've tried to bring it up:
A) Saying "I would really enjoy it if we did [x]." (For values of x typically including "have more sex" or "cuddle" or "experiment with another type of sex.") General responses range from "okay sure let's do that someday" to complete silence. Usually, I bring this type of thing up during sex and never as a suggestion that we should/must do [x] immediately. I cannot even stand the thought of demanding sex from my partner. So instead I just put my desires out there. And there they sit.
B) General inquiry into how we feel about our sex life. Sometimes I try to do a spot check, a sort of free-form-go-nuts suggestion box. This is where I get stonewalled most. My partner either says "Yes, you're right, things could be better" and then immediately lets it go, or says "I can't talk about this right now because I'm not prepared to have this discussion." It's clear that there is more to be discussed there, and I've tried gently pushing back against this type of dismissive response to no avail. I couldn't even elicit a good response by just asking, "What would your ideal sex life look like?" I hoped that I could identify areas of overlap that we could build on, but all I got in return was "this is not as much of a priority to me as it is to you."
C) Addressing issues directly. "It hurts me when you [x]." These are the most difficult conversations to have, because my partner usually becomes defensive and tries to return the subject to me and my feelings/behaviors. There's been a bit of middle school debate going on here, as when I said I felt like my sexual advances were always rebuffed. My partner said that "always" was inaccurate, completely diverting our focus from the issue that I felt like my partner was exerting inordinate control over the time, place and manner our sex life is carried out. I try to use non-judgmental language - all the "I statement" stuff - and avoid becoming defensive if/when my partner tries to deflect things back to me. In the above example, I acknowledged that "always" was an inappropriate word but that the sentiment I was trying to express remained unchanged. It didn't work. I also try to be sensitive to the fact that there may be more lurking beneath the surface than I can contemplate, and so I try to avoid any language that might be inadvertently shaming or cruel. Finally, I try to avoid any pressure, deadlines and/or ultimatums because I don't want this to turn into more of a chore for my partner.
D) Meanwhile, I try to make myself more attractive as an attempt at something of a natural cure for this. I am active in my own hobbies, am cultivating an interesting and stable professional life, and through diet and exercise I have lost 25 lbs since this time last year, which decreased my BMI from 28.3 to 25 but has seemingly made no difference in the frequency or quality of our sex. The one success I had discussing sex was when I point-blank asked if my partner found me attractive. The answer was "yes" with the caveat that I'd be more attractive if I was more slim/toned. So I set to work.
I want to be very clear that, while our sex life is not what I want it to be, "fixing" our sex life is of distant secondary concern to me. (Honestly, my needs are few.) I am shadowboxing with a sexual dynamic that don't understand and can't understand on my own. The lack of communication and the unknown factors in our sex life really terrify me, and consume my thoughts. If our sex life never changed, I might be disappointed, but so long as I understood the reasons behind it, I think I could work on becoming more comfortable with it and banishing my disappointment and anxieties.
1) What are good phrases that you use to inspire open communication about sex?
2) Am I going about this the right way? What other options do I have for moving forward?*
3) I know MetaFilter loves to suggest therapy. I don't know if my partner is amenable to therapy. (Frankly, I'm not sure if I am amenable to therapy because it hasn't ever helped me in the past.) But for the sake of getting the best possible answer and not just a chorus of "go to therapy," if we were to pursue therapy, what expertise would we want a therapist to have (eg. we are a same-sex couple), and what framework should we use to get the most out of therapy? Basically, explain couples sex/intimacy therapy to me like I'm five.
*Please don't suggest that I print this out and hand it to my partner. Or, if you think I should, please at least explain what part of this question differs from my previous attempts at communication, which are almost all in writing and cover almost all the bases discussed in this question.