Sex (part 2): Talking about Sex
Possibly one of the most important things to remember when talking with your partner about sex is the high probability that guilt and shame jackals* will be lurking about.
Even with folks who claim to have a healthy relationship to sex, guilt and shame can be trigger by the simple fact that having sex can put you in a vulnerable position – mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
The most basic guilt and shame jackals are some version of this:
“Saying no to having sex with my partner is wrong. I should want to as his/her partner. S/he will pull away from me if I don’t.”
“When my partner says no to having sex with me, I think I’m not lovable, not attractive, not good enough.”
When you talk to your partner about sex, keep in mind that one or more of these jackals are likely close by for both of you. Guessing this you can immediately speak to some basic needs for:
- reassurance regarding lovability and a willingness to work to stay connected when not having sex
- support regarding your partner’s choices
- empathy around the feelings in hearing no to sex and the feelings in saying no to sex
- clarity around what “no” means
Pat: I would like to connect around what’s going on for both of us regarding sex in our relationship. Would you be willing to take an hour or so now to express what’s up for both of us and see what we both want?
Chris: I feel nervous because I want acceptance and understanding and not pressure of blame. Would you be willing to stop and restate something if I say I am experiencing pressure or blame?
Pat: Yes. I want to reassure you that I am not angry and that what’s most important to me is that each of us is taking care of ourselves in our relationship. I support you in doing what’s best for you. Can you tell me what you heard?
Chris: Yea, you’re not mad and you support me in doing what’s best for me. And it’s important to you that we are taking care of ourselves in our relationship.
Pat: Thanks, I am happy to have that heard.
Here’s what’s up for me regarding sex. I notice it has been a little over a month, since we have had sex, and I am feeling sad, missing that connection and closeness with you. Can you tell me what you heard there?
Chris: You want to have more sex.
Pat: Thanks for telling me what you heard. What I am really wanting you to hear is my sadness in missing a closeness with you. Would you be willing to try again?
Chris: You miss feeling close to me.
Pat: Thanks, yea. I am also feeling curious and wanting to understand your world. What comes up for you when you think about us having sex?
Chris: I feel tense. I have a should jackal which creates even more tension. If I am not feeling relaxed, connected, and trusting, it’s really hard for me to access sexual desire. What did you hear there?
Pat: I am hearing a should jackal and tension comes up for you. You have needs for relaxation, connection and trust. When you are tense it’s hard to access sexual desire. Is that right?
Chris: Yea, I don’t know why I am so tense and why I am having trouble trusting. It’s really frustrating for me.
Pat: Huh-uh, feeling frustrated and you would like some clarity about where that tension and mistrust comes from in you.
Pat: It seems like we could take our time here see if any clarity pops up for you if I just sit here and hold a space or we could talk about what we can do differently to help meet needs for relaxation, connection, and trust. What’s most alive for you?
Chris: Right now, the second request is most alive. I have given some thought to what might help with trust and connection.
Chris: Just letting me know you accept me as I am by acknowledging my feelings when I am upset or worried rather than giving me advice or telling me not to worry about it. Just saying something like: ‘Yea, that’s scary for you, or Yea, I can see how that would be hard,’ goes along way for me. Would you be willing to focus on doing this for the rest of the week?
Pat: Yea, I would like to do that. I know when you are upset, I just want to make it better so I try to solve it or console you and I am hearing that that’s disconnecting for you. I commit to just offering this empathy for the rest of this week. Can we check in about it on Friday after dinner?
Chris: That would be great.
What I am hoping you get from this dialogue is the sense of hearing each other at a feelings and needs level and going slow with it. Talk about sex or any other activity starts in this same way – creating connection first.
The point of NVC is not to talk a certain way, not to talk just like Pat and Chris in our example. The purpose of NVC is to create connection. One of the easiest ways to do this is just to listen for and reflect back feelings and needs whether your partner uses feelings and needs vocabulary or not. See if you can listen for feelings and needs in the next person that speaks to you.
*jackals refer to any language or thoughts that disconnect us from life.
**giraffe refers to shifting into an interest in connecting to the feelings and needs in yourself and others.