I broke up with my last boyfriend because of sex.
I didn’t tell him that, of course. I told him other things, things that were also true. So it’s not that I lied, but I didn’t share the full truth.
I didn’t tell him the full story for the same way a lot of people don’t tell … because we don’t want to “hurt each other’s feelings.”
I’m not alone in this. A lot of people end relationships in large part because of sex, while naming something else as the culprit.
I’m not saying sex isn’t cited. Often one person will say s/he wants it more (or less) than the other. One will say the other isn’t as “open-minded” as s/he wants.
But I don’t think we’re talking about the real, underlying reason behind the sexual dissatisfaction. It’s not that we could never satisfy each other. It’s not that we’re fundamentally different and fundamentally incapable of becoming compatible.
I believe it’s because of something much more serious than we have given it credence for. I think it’s because of something that is just as much of a relationship-destroyer as cheating, yet remains something we rarely talk about. There’s a dirty little secret in most relationships, and that’s this:
We have no fucking clue how to talk to one another about sex.
I’m not talking about discussing frequency. I’m not talking about the, “Hey, it’s been a while since we had sex. Is everything cool?” conversation. I’m not even talking about the, “Hey, we need to talk about this … I feel like I want sex way more than you, and I’m afraid of what that means” thing.
No, not the how-often-we-have-it, not even details of whether or when you go down on me, or whether I am open to us having anal sex — I’m talking about the actual, down and dirty sex part.
What it feels like.
What I crave from you, and you from me.
Whether I trust you — really trust you.
Where I feel truly, extremely vulnerable sexually, and what that means for me.
Where you feel really, truly, extremely vulnerable sexually, and what that means for you.
Where we are meeting one another’s needs, and where we aren’t meeting one another’s needs.
In my case, I knew better. I knew what phenomenal, off-the-charts, haunting, mesmerizing, riveting, bed-shaking, earth-quaking sex felt like. I knew what it meant to be so totally absorbed by my my partner’s body, attention, and touch that I was rendered literally speechless.
I knew what truly great sex was, so I wasn’t willing to settle for “just OK.”
It’s not that I never tried to talk about it — at least in part. For example, I did bring up the idea of him being more gentle with his hands — a few times. He usually got more gentle for a few minutes (sometimes even one whole encounter) … then went back to doing it how he’d always done it.
After a few times, I let it go. I didn’t want to be perceived as a nag. I didn’t want to be perceived as demanding. I didn’t want to be told I was too sensitive or too much. I didn’t want to be shut down or shamed. So I let it go.
No, that’s the wrong phrase.
I gave up.
I recently conducted sex research on 1,000 people, and there were a lot of similar responses from the women. They said they’d tried to communicate with their partners about sex, then felt really discouraged when it didn’t “stick.”
So they did what I did: gave up. They’d grin and bear it, tolerate the pain when it happened, and just figure this was as good as it gets.
As good as it gets.
Now, to be fair to the men, my guess is that these women approached the conversation with as much trepidation as me, and without informing the men of the extent to which this was a problem. They probably didn’t say just how much it mattered, the same way I didn’t.
They didn’t give him the stakes.
For example: I said something like, “I would love a lighter touch. The more gentle you are with your hands, the more I feel. When it’s too much pressure, I numb out.”
The second time, I probably just said, “Lighter, lighter, lighter” — because he’d gone back to a pressure that hurt.
The third time, I squirmed and said, “Less pressure.”
The fourth time, I gave up.
Yet at no point did I say say:
“Listen, I’d love to talk to you about something really important. I’ve brought it up a few times, but I need to emphasize it: I really need a lighter touch when you touch my vulva with your fingers and hands. Right now, the pressure is often too much, and it hurts. The pain makes me cringe inside and tense my body, which then distracts me from any pleasure I might have been feeling. I end up feeling like I have to protect myself. This is really important to me. I want us to have beautiful, amazing, spectacular sex, and I want to enjoy every minute of it. In fact, it’s so important that if it doesn’t get better, I’m considering breaking up with you.”
Was I wrong to not say that?
Was I right to?
Was it my responsibility to make sure he understood the stakes, or was it his responsibility to take the direction I’d given (and not just forget about it by the next encounter)?
Whose “fault” was it?
I don’t know.
I do know that this is the dirty little secret in a LOT of relationships.
I do know that when you love someone, it’s hard to “criticize” them about something so inherently vulnerable.
I do know that when you don’t fully let yourself go during sex, it damages the intimacy of the whole relationship … and that that is the beginning of the end.
So I want to know: How do you talk about sex with a partner (if at all)? Have you ever broken up with someone because of sex? Ever talked about it with someone and had it go well?
I’m conducting a survey about this to help understand the extent of the issue and the possible solutions. If you’re willing to share (anonymously), please do.
Let’s talk about how to talk about sex.
Take the survey: Sex Talk.