Many American adults do NOT know how to talk about sex in a productive way. I think this happens for a variety of reasons. One, Americans are often educated using abstinence only education or consequence only education.
Abstinence only education encourages individuals to wait to have sex until marriage. It often does not cover the use of condoms or birth control. Abstinence Plus education may still encourage people to wait for marriage, but it at least covers the use of condoms and birth control. It gives very little information about what to do if you are interested in having sex such as how to consent to sex, how to negotiate for your needs, or how to enjoy sex.
I consider both forms of education to be "consequence only" education because it only covers the negative consequences people will experience should they have sex before marriage. While comprehensive sex education does exist, this is not the most commonly used education across the country.
Another reason Americans struggle to talk about sex is that their primary educators tend to be friends or porn. While some people did have parents who tried to educate them about sex, the vast majority of my clients had to learn by picking up pieces here and there. So friends and porn helped them learn how to have sex, but it still didn't teach them how to have a healthy conversation.
Just think about one common theme in porn-the girl who doesn't want to have sex initially but then gives in. If you learned about sex by watching this type of porn, you may have the assumption that if you pressure a girl enough, she will want to have sex with you. If you look at my clients who have sex starved marriages, the one statement every female in the relationship says is that she feels "pressured" to have sex by her partner.
America does not even rank in the top 12 countries for sexual satisfaction rates. We also have high rates of STDs and high rates of teenage pregnancy compared to other first world countries.
If we want to learn how to talk about sex, we need to start talking about sex comfortably at younger ages. We, as a country, need to offer more comprehensive sex education to children so they learn how to talk about sex in more effective ways. Even if your school system doesn't offer this education, you need to talk more directly with your kids about sex so they learn how to understand and respect it.
If you are an adult who has yet to learn what you need to know about sex, you are not alone. Many of the adults I see in sex therapy struggle to feel confident about who they are as a sexual person. When I run my adult sex education seminars, one of the most common questions I hear tends to be, "Am I normal?" Individuals will state some unique desire or sexual interest they have, and then ask if that is normal.
Often, the answer is yes. For example: 1) if you like to masturbate, you are normal; 2) if you fantasize while having sex, you are normal; 3) if you like having sex in various positions, you are normal; 4) if you want to try using a sex toy, you are normal; 5) if you have ever thought getting a spanking might be sexy, you are normal. I can't answer every question here, but the answer is often NORMAL!
If you care about this topic or just want to get more comfortable talking about sex, here are a few books that can help you as an adult learn and grow. "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie Harris; "The Guide to Getting it On," by Paul Joannides; "Sexual Intelligence," by Marti Klein. If these books start you on a long journey to educate yourself, visit the AASECT website for other suggested books and materials. You deserve to be a confident and healthy sexual individual regardless of how you were raised!