Communicating about sex

In this part of the website we will add information and advice about communicating about sex, consent, and ethics. Here is a brief introduction to why this is an important area.

By far the most common concern that people have about sex is whether they are sexually normal. They are very worried that there might be something ‘wrong’ with their sexual desires or bodies. Particularly many women are worried if they find sex painful or don’t get very turned on, and many men are worried about ‘performing’ sexually (e.g. they are frightened about orgasming too quickly or slowly or not getting erections). Also lots of people worry about how they look in general, and how their genitals look in particular.

The media gives us the idea that there is a ‘one size fits all’ kind of sex that everybody should be experiencing, and that puts a huge amount of pressure on people. Think about all the magazine articles on how to give your partner ‘mindblowing sex’, all of the ‘perfect’ sex and bodies in Hollywood movies, and all the documentaries about sexual ‘problems’ and how to ‘fix’ them. There is actually a whole lot of variation in how much desire people have, who they are attracted to, what turns them on, and all kinds of other aspects of sexuality. The anxiety that the idea of sexual normality creates compounds the problem because it is really hard to have sex, and to enjoy it, when you’re anxious.

First of all it is important to remember that thinking that you have a sexual problem is actually what is normal! In the most recent national survey, 41% of men and 52% of women reported that they had a sexual problem. Those people don’t need to be fixed, but rather we need to change our idea about ‘normal’ sex if so many people don’t fit it.

The vital steps that you can take to help with sexual anxieties and other problems are as follows:

  1. Stop worrying about being normal (easier said than done, I know!)
  2. Start communicating honestly with yourself about sex. Spend some time thinking about what turns you on. If you’re not sure, then read some erotic fiction, watch some porn or sexy movies, allow yourself to fantasise. It can be useful to make a ‘yes, no, maybe’ list of all of the sexual activities you’ve ever heard of (however weird or wonderful) and then go down the list writing ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ about whether you’d be up for trying them. Spend time on solo sex (wanking) learning about what physical sensations your body enjoys.
  3.  Communicate with the people you have sex with about what you enjoy and don’t enjoy. Remember that this will change over time, and also that it is fine not to want sex (sometimes or even all of the time – many asexual people have great relationships without sex). People often think that they have to want all the same things sexually as a partner. Actually this would be very unlikely! Instead, lay out all the things you each like and find the common ground. If there are some things that turn one of you on and leave the other cold they can always keep enjoying that in their fantasies and solo sex.
  4. Try to come to sex with no assumptions, just be in the moment. Sex can be far more than the usual foreplay-penetration-orgasm script. It can be sharing fantasies or cybersex, it can be mutual masturbation or rubbing bodies with clothes on, it can be sensual massage or experimenting with different sensations. It doesn’t need erections. It doesn’t need penetration. It doesn’t need orgasms. Those things can happen but they are not essential. Focus instead on ensuring that everyone involved really wants to be there, and on pleasure and fun.