Why is it difficult to talk about sex?

A common conversation starter can be, “What do you do?” Unless, that is, you’re a sex therapist. If asked at a gathering, I usually keep it general (I work in mental health). If there’s more interest I might say I am a relationship therapist and leave it at that. If the questions continue, I can guarantee “I’m a specialist sex therapist” will send the questioner running for the hills. It’s a real conversation-stopper!


Why do we struggle to talk about sex?

Sex is a critical human activity important for self-discovery, expression and growth. It’s vital for biological and emotional health. It’s crucial for couple bonding, pleasure, nurture and continuity of the species.

Here are seven reasons why I think it can be difficult to speak about:

1. It’s private!

Sex, solo and partnered, is (usually) done in private. Crucial privacy promotes specialness, trust and intimacy in a couple relationship. A privately formed, sexual bond is the one feature that distinguishes a couple from a friendship or a relationship with a family member.

As children, our parents (hopefully) managed to keep their bedroom door closed when they were making love. This can be a struggle, however, requiring ingenuity and determination. And if we did catch them at it - how memories can linger! Keeping healthy and robust bedroom boundaries is as important for children as it is for their parents.

2. It’s innate

Did you know that baby boys in utero can have erections and newborn baby girls can experience vaginal lubrication (Okami; Journal of Sex Research 1997)? Science confirms the innateness of the body’s sexual response. Whilst we need to find out about sex, our bodies already know. Tuning into our bodies’ innate sexuality can be a struggle for many reasons, but appreciating this idea in therapy can be a surprise and a relief for many people.

The idea of children’s innate sexuality can make some parents uncomfortable. This discomfort can mean things don’t get talked about at home, either enough or at all, leaving children anxious and confused, even ashamed and embarrassed.

3.'Private parts'

An important job that parents have is to teach their children that their genitals are private. At the same time, a person’s genitals are sources of stress release and great pleasure. Those two ideas are a bit counter-intuitive and complicated to get one’s head around. But who said parenting is easy?

Speaking appropriately about sex with children is really hard. Sometimes, parents can worry about inadvertently passing their own conflicts with sex onto their children.

4. So many myths

Whilst sex is personal and private, in the outside world and in the media and online, we are often bombarded with powerful, subtle and not-so-subtle messages about how sex might be for others. A readily accessible porn industry makes it easy to make assumptions about how much and what sort of sex “successful” people are having.

Myths such as:

  • other people are always up for it
  • people need x and y to get sexual pleasure 
  • it’s my job to know what my partner wants and please my partner

No wonder so many of us feel inadequate and anxious.

5. It’s all SO complicated

Although there are actually finite ways of having sex, sexuality is as varied as the human face. There are infinite ways of expressing sexual Identity, lifestyles and capacities. People often worry that a psychosexual therapist won’t understand their particular needs.

Our bodies and our minds are inextricably linked. “Sexual behaviour cannot be divorced from the emotional context in which it occurs“ - Janice Hiller, Sex Mind and Emotion, 2006. Our minds always look for meaning in what happens sexually with another person.

6. My body isn’t like it was!

At every stage in the life cycle, sexuality can become fraught with worries. To mention a few:

  • Puberty and body changes, early teenage sexual feelings and encounters, sexual and gender identity, am I big enough, too hairy, not beautiful enough, etc.
  • Impact of pregnancy, post-birth bodies, parenthood, sleep deprivation, Illness, anxiety, depression, work trouble, menopause, lost libido, failing faculties, etc.

...the list goes on.

7. What do I call it?

What’s the right language or vocabulary to use - medical terms or pet names? Different cultures often have different norms about sex, which can be difficult to explore or challenge openly.

A commonly held worry is that sexual problems won’t be taken seriously, won’t be understood and can’t be fixed. Feelings of shame can make us want to hide things away.

A psychosexual therapist is specially trained to listen and understand language difficulties and support growth in how you communicate sexually and emotionally with others.

It takes courage to talk but contact me and find out how I can help you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW7 & W6
Written by Elisabeth Marriner, MSc Individual/Couple Counsellor+Sex Therapist
London SW7 & W6

Elisabeth Marriner MSc, is a highly qualified, experienced psychodynamic and psychosexual Individual and couple therapist offering online sessions. She works in private practice in West London and as a Visiting Clinician at Tavistock Relationships.
0207 361 0067

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