Conversations about sex enhance long term relationshipsBy Camille Studebaker | 02/22/2018 9:30am
Photo illustration by Shana Oshinskie
Because they are in a long distance relationship and do not see each other often, conversations regarding sex keep Sarah Chillag and her partner happy and help their relationship go smoothly.
Because sex is a common act in long-term relationships, conversations regarding it are important in keeping the relationship healthy. While some sexual conversations can be uncomfortable, the ability to have them is significant.
“It’s important for every couple to be able to talk about sex because it really is one of the most important aspects in a relationship and it’s important to feel comfortable enough with your partner to be able to communicate about a topic like that,” said Chillag, a junior majoring in HR management who has been in a relationship for six months.
Heather Carmack, Associate Professor of Communication studies, said for most people, sex is a really important part of a relationship.
“Regardless of what stage you are in in your relationship, sex is such an intimate, vulnerable situation that if you can’t talk about anything before it happens, you’re going to find yourself in a sexual situation where one person or both people become really uncomfortable and then this damages the relationship,” she said.
Savanna Guitard, a junior majoring in public relations and English, who has been in a relationship for a year, said she and her partner have conversations about sex multiple times a week because they can both relate to the topic and joke about it with each other.
“Personally, I believe that in any relationship that you should be able to talk about anything, and sex is ultimately going to come up at some point, so I think it’s good to be able to be open and know that you can have those conversations with them,” she said. “They need to know what you’re comfortable with and you need to know what they’re comfortable with, so I just think it’s important that you talk about that.”
Lee Keyes, executive director of the Counseling Center, said a healthy sex life matches what the Counseling Center considers to be a healthy relationship, which includes reciprocity, consent and mutual understanding from both parties.
“It has to happen in the context of a generally healthy relationship first, and that’s not always easy or obtainable in every relationship,” he said. “So that’s the bedrock, everything would flow from that - not just sex, but other decisions a couple makes together.”
Alexa Scott, a sophomore majoring in psychology, has conversations about sex weekly with her partner of six months. She said it helps keep them connected.
“It’s important just so that you have open communication and kind of keep you on the same page and keep you happy,” she said.
Keyes said even middle-aged and senior people, roughly 45 and older, have difficulty with the high level communication a healthy sexual relationship calls for, so younger people generally would struggle more with it.
“It has to match, as much as possible, the preferences and wishes of each party, even when there’s incompatibility,” he said. “And every couple will have an area of incompatibility or two, having to do with any issue you can imagine, and that includes sex. So it needs a high level, more sophisticated level, of communication about what they don’t match on, what they disagree with, what they’re not comfortable with, what they are comfortable with - kind of an ongoing, ideally, day by day awareness of how this is meshing or not meshing.”
Talking about sex can make people feel shy or awkward, but Carmack said the more comfortable you both are, the easier the conversations become.
“Sometimes you just sort of have to put yourself out there even though it’s really hard, but keep in mind that the other person is probably just as shy or may be struggling with how to communicate with you about that – about their sexual history or questions they want to know about your sexual history – so if everybody just sort of sits down and understands that then it’s a lot easier,” Carmack said.
Carmack said she does not recommend having important sexual conversations over text if it can be avoided because all sense of context is lost when texting. Texts are meant to be abbreviated conversations while sexual conversations are deeper and should be done face-to-face.
The first few months of dating, occasionally referred to as “the honeymoon phase,” is important in a relationship because passion and infatuation and not being able to stop thinking of the partner are healthy responses, Keyes said.
“It’s part of the glue that brings two people together,” he said.
While the honeymoon phase makes things novel and exciting, Keyes said it passes as time goes on. However, it can come back.
“That’s one way to think about relationships, everybody has to get comfortable being together when things are hot - meaning active and all this energy is going on - but also comfortable for times when it’s cold, or cooler,” he said. “Things ebb and flow in a relationship. There’s times when we’re really tight and close, and then there’s times when we pull apart and kind of do our own thing, when we’re looking into other parts of our lives and so on. So you have to be able to tolerate both tightness and distance, and it’s like this through time.”
A couple that has been together for a long time and matured together have learned how to accept both times, he said. A mature couple knows distance does not have to make them anxious about the future of the relationship.
When those in a long-term relationship are having sex with the same person frequently, Keyes said couples can see two different responses to this. For some couples, sex gets dull, routinely, unrewarding, unsatisfying and washes out completely. In contrast, sex for some couples becomes richer and more rewarding over time, but he said this takes excellent communication, some creativity and willingness to explore.
Relationships demand difficult conversations, one being past sexual history. Carmack said there is no right or wrong answer to how much information someone wants to give to their partner, so they both have to work that out themselves. Some people really want to know others’ personal backgrounds, and some people would rather not know beyond “I have a history.”
“That’s something that partners have to negotiate beforehand, preferably before sex, because if that’s going to cause a problem, you want to be able to try to deal with those issues before you then become intimate or get into that long-term relationship where intimacy becomes more of a daily experience,” she said.
Sexual insecurities are another tough conversation to engage in with a partner. Keyes said insecurities are not simple and can be very sensitive. Some people can be dealing with traumatic history or anxieties about their own bodies. The first step is to establish a deep level of trust within the partner. Then both parties have to learn how to communicate about the insecurities.
“It’s really about confronting in a trusted relationship, first through language and then through actual decisions or behaviors so that the anxiety has an opportunity to diminish,” he said.
Chillag said it comforts her greatly knowing she can talk to her partner about sex because it shows her that their relationship is strong and healthy.
“Sex is a natural thing and being able to talk about it in my relationship is extremely important and makes us both feel comfortable with each other and our relationship in general,” she said.