I've been practicing marital and sexual therapy for more than 20 years. As you can imagine, I've seen hundreds of couples and individuals. I've treated a large variety of sexual issues in my practice, including problems related to lack of desire, male and female sexual dysfunctions, and sexual issues stemming from unresolved conflict in the relationship.
It's my belief, and the belief of other experts in the field, that as the saying goes, "Our most important sexual organ is the brain." Communication is perhaps the most important vehicle for ensuring a satisfying sexual relationship.
Some people talk good sex, some people stutter, some people babble, some people choke up and say nothing at all. Sexuality is a language -- one of the many languages humans use to communicate. We constantly send little signals back and forth, verbal and non-verbal, consciously and subconsciously, when we relate with others. Among those signals are cues about our sexual state of mind, arousal, desire and interest. Most of us are hyper-tuned to these signals when we're first entering a relationship. But often we begin miscommunicating and misinterpreting messages and cues -- on all levels, not just sexual -- as our relationship progresses.
When any form of interpersonal communication deteriorates in an intimate relationship, sex suffers! Everything gets played out in the bedroom.
Let's examine the universal communication problems that quench the fire of sex, and talk about how we can overcome them.
Far too often we don't deal straight on with sensitive matters. If you want your partner to cuddle with you more, don't say, "You're not affectionate enough." Instead, try: "I really like it when you lay your head down on my shoulder and when you hug me and stroke my arms and chest." Try adding how it makes you feel. For example, "It makes me feel loved and appreciated." Ask for what you want. Being specific and asking for what you want helps ensure that you'll get what you want. It also helps the person asking for what they want to hear themselves -- so they know what they really want.
The common myth in relationships is, "If you really love me, you should know what I like and know what I need." This is not the condition for being loved. If you love someone, you try to meet the person where they are. It's not automatically doing what they need and feel, it's the willingness to try to understand what they need, and the willingness to try to meet those needs as much as possible, without going against who you are. When you first fall in love, you may feel like you and your partner are the same person, and you're seeing things through the same eyes. But the reality is, you're two separate people. And so, you have to keep sharing with one another, because people change. Your needs change, you keep growing, and that's why people have to keep communicating.
ATTACKING, BLAMING, HURTING
Emotional closeness is an essential ingredient in the recipe for mind-blowing sex. But you can't develop and maintain emotional closeness if you're cutting each other up with words, putting each other down, blaming and complaining, withholding information and otherwise challenging the other's right to be themselves. These things simply destroy sexual intimacy.
Don't put your partner down. And don't denigrate his or her actions or feelings. This doesn't mean you cannot disagree. It means that you learn to disagree while respecting your partner's feelings and positions as being as valid as your own.
So, how can you do this? And what are the other solutions?
SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE
It is essential for us to learn the language of feelings. When you're upset, learn how to say specifically how this makes you feel, rather than calling the other person names or resenting them because they make you feel bad. No matter how tempting it is to attack, attacking won't win you more love. But venting frustrations will build closeness. Men in particular have a tendency to listen to and respond to the words being spoken rather than the feelings being communicated. Often words are the window dressing and the feelings are the point. We need to make an effort to zero in on the feelings and comment on them.
THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Good communication requires a crucial element in a relationship: trust. You must be able to trust that your partner is committed to the relationship and won't suddenly run off with the butcher. You must be able to trust that your partner will take responsibility for his or her own pleasure and will communicate when and what you can do to help. You must be able to trust you can let your guard down with your partner and it won't come back to haunt you. You must trust your partner won't share or reveal sensitive information you've discussed together intimately, and won't take advantage, belittle, pressure or hurt you. And the reverse is true -- your partner needs to feel the same way about you.
BE OPEN MINDED
Two great keys to turning on your relationship's sexual engine if it is stalled are a) an open mind and b) direct communication. They are vital in developing and enhancing healthy, lively sex between partners. One needs to take the attitude: "I don't know everything and I accept that I don't know everything. So I need to be able to ask my partner what he or she likes. And I need to be able to tell my partner what I like." Ask questions. Become a fascinated student and ask what may seem like the silliest, most basic questions. From time to time, pretend that your partner is a fascinating stranger you want to get to know.
Learn to admire your partner's talents, strengths, successes, popularity and abilities. Try hard never to envy your partner. Envy is sex poison. If you want good sex, learn to be a good companion. A good companion listens.
The bottom line: You can't have good sex without good communication. Remember that everyone is unique. Just because you are able to please one partner doesn't mean you are a good lover for your next. Sex is always changing for any given individual and every couple, and so communication should never end. It's necessary work for successful relationships throughout your lifetime. The good news is that the potential to reawaken desire never dies.