Sex. The word can evoke a kaleidoscope of emotions. From love, excitement, and tenderness to longing, anxiety, and disappointment—the reactions are as varied as sexual experiences themselves. What’s more, many people will encounter all these emotions and many others in the course of a sex life spanning several decades.
But what is sex, really?
On one level, sex is just another hormone-driven bodily function designed to perpetuate the species. Of course, that narrow view underestimates the complexity of the human sexual response. In addition to the biochemical forces at work, your experiences and expectations help shape your sexuality. Your understanding of yourself as a sexual being, your thoughts about what constitutes a satisfying sexual connection, and your relationship with your partner are key factors in your ability to develop and maintain a fulfilling sex life.
Talking to your partner
Many couples find it difficult to talk about sex even under the best of circumstances. When sexual problems occur, feelings of hurt, shame, guilt, and resentment can halt conversation altogether. Because good communication is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship, establishing a dialogue is the first step not only to a better sex life, but also to a closer emotional bond. Here are some tips for tackling this sensitive subject.
Find the right time to talk
There are two types of sexual conversations: the ones you have in the bedroom and the ones you have elsewhere. It’s perfectly appropriate to tell your partner what feels good in the middle of lovemaking, but it’s best to wait until you’re in a more neutral setting to discuss larger issues, such as mismatched sexual desire or orgasm troubles.
Couch suggestions in positive terms, such as, “I really love it when you touch my hair lightly that way,” rather than focusing on the negatives. Approach a sexual issue as a problem to be solved together rather than an exercise in assigning blame.
Confide in your partner about changes in your body
If hot flashes are keeping you up at night or menopause has made your vagina dry, talk to your partner about these things. It’s much better that he know what’s really going on rather than interpret these physical changes as lack of interest. Likewise, if you’re a man and you no longer get an erection just from the thought of sex, show your partner how to stimulate you rather than let her believe she isn’t attractive enough to arouse you anymore.
You may think you’re protecting your partner’s feelings by faking an orgasm, but in reality you’re starting down a slippery slope. As challenging as it is to talk about any sexual problem, the difficulty level skyrockets once the issue is buried under years of lies, hurt, and resentment.
Don’t equate love with sexual performance
Create an atmosphere of caring and tenderness; touch and kiss often. Don’t blame yourself or your partner for your sexual difficulties. Focus instead on maintaining emotional and physical intimacy in your relationship. For older couples, another potentially sensitive subject that’s worth discussing is what will happen after one partner dies. In couples who enjoy a healthy sex life, the surviving partner will likely want to seek out a new partner. Expressing your openness to that possibility while you are both still alive will likely relieve guilt and make the process less difficult for the surviving partner later.
Using self-help strategies
Treating sexual problems is easier now than ever before. Revolutionary medications and professional sex therapists are there if you need them. But you may be able to resolve minor sexual issues by making a few adjustments in your lovemaking style. Here are some things you can try at home.
Plenty of good self-help materials are available for every type of sexual issue. Browse the Internet or your local bookstore, pick out a few resources that apply to you, and use them to help you and your partner become better informed about the problem. If talking directly is too difficult, you and your partner can underline passages that you particularly like and show them to each other.