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A Two-Way Street

Even in these progressive times, sex for many remains a topic closed for conversation, for the reasons we have already expressed and others.

Aside from general shyness, a person who expresses his or her sexual desires runs many risks, including rejection, or that these expressions may be interpreted as criticism of sexual “style,” or of seeming too forward, too perverted, too deviant. We may be the generation that sparked the sexual revolution, but that doesn’t mean we always know as we get further from the recklessness of youth what to do with all that sexual freedom now.

As is the case in any marriage or long-term relationship, there’s the fear that anything either party says can become part of the permanent record, and the other party can read back that testimony at any time, now or in the future. This increases the anxiety and sense of caution. So what’s the solution? How can couples have a fruitful discussion about sex, without lighting all kinds of new, unpleasant fires? As we touched on earlier, there is no shortage of guidance for couples in this area.

One of the many sex books out there that offers some of the best advice about communication in the sexual arena is the granddaddy of them all, Sex In Human Loving, by Masters and Johnson. The basic idea that Masters and Johnson offer can be summed up in four words: know before you go. In other words, think through in advance exactly what you want to say to the partner and how. The more time you spend thinking it through, the clearer you are likely to be. It is important for us to express our feelings about our sex lives to our partners clearly, thoughtfully, gently, and not over-emotionally. We want to be specific, reassuring, and we never, ever, want to appear accusatory.

For that reason, it’s important to avoid absolutes. The words “always” and “never” have the unfortunate effect of putting the other immediately on the defensive, and for good reason: In any situation, there are no absolutes. It’s like saying “You never take out the garbage,” when what we really mean to say is, “It would help if you took out the garbage more than once a week.” By speaking to our partners in accusatory absolutes, we instill in them a sense that we believe not only have they never provided us with a satisfying experience, but we highly doubt that they could ever do so in the future.

Another word you want to omit when talking about sex is the word “you” as a launch point. When we start a sentence with the word “you,” we automatically place the other person on the defensive. Think about the other areas of your life. If anyone-a parent, a teacher, or a boss-begins a sentence with the words “you do X,” our first thought-and often our first response-will be to blurt out, “No, I don’t.” We end up with a situation in which there is more heat than lights, and the common word for such situations is “argument.” Instead, pull the focus onto yourself, simply by starting with the word “I.” And always focus first on the positive, such as “I like it when you…,” then be as specific and flattering as is possible.

Ladies, you might try: “I like the way you massage my clitoris gently at first, and then when you know I’m getting closer to coming, you apply more pressure and massage me faster and faster.” If your partner has a tendency to get too excited, like maybe he forgets where he is and what he’s doing-maybe it seems like he thinks he’s scrubbing the paint off a car with a toothbrush-don’t say, “Then you rub me much too hard, and I almost can’t come because it actually begins to hurt.”

Think about how you’d feel in his shoes. Certainly, you want to know the truth, but only in the most positive light. Try instead: “What I think might be great to try is if you continue to tease me, and press down lighter than usual as I’m about to come. I’ve heard you can make an orgasm last longer that way.” In that way, you’ll have accomplished three things:

  1. You’ll have made your lover feel really good about being able to drive you mad with ecstasy.
  2. You’ll not have needlessly hurt your partner’s feelings by making him think he doesn’t have what it takes to properly bring you to orgasm.
  3. You’ll now be able to have the satisfaction you crave.

And gentlemen, there are tactful ways for you to approach a similar uncomfortable situation with your partner. If your lover has a tendency to hold your penis incorrectly when manually stimulating you, perhaps creating painful friction by inadvertently pinching the tender skin between her fingers, don’t tell her: “Hey-quit it! That really hurts!” Instead, and maybe even at another time, try: “I love when you stimulate me with your hands. That kind of pleasure feels like nothing else. And you know, I’ve heard the slippery sensation you get from using a lubricant is amazing. Is that something you might be interested in trying?”

To sum up: Think before you speak. Don’t blurt things out in annoyance and frustration during the very vulnerable sex act; talk to your partner the way you want to be talked to. Later maybe. And remember to be as specific as you possibly can, because the clearer the instructions your partner receives, the happier you will both be.

The bottom line on asking for what you want: Take your time, think it through, be specific, don’t accuse and “kitchen sink” (throwing everything but the kitchen sink into your criticisms) it. When you avoid putting the other person on the defensive, you’ll soon be opening new ways to communicate you may never even have dreamed of.

© René Hollander, Ph.D., Francine Hornberger, and Michael Levin


Excerpted by permission from Boomer’s Guide to Sex That (Still) Sizzles, published January, 2004, by Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

About the Book: Turn up the heat in the bedroom. For any baby boomer who feels like his or her sex life is stuck in neutral, this frank and informative guide helps put the passion back into lovemaking. Authors Michael Levin, Francine Hornberger, and René Hollander show couples how to revitalize their sex lives with old and new techniques, and how to cope with the physical, emotional, and romantic changes that come with time.

  • Explores new sexual positions and techniques
  • A guide to recapturing that youthful passion for been-around-the-block boomers