- Many women feel uncomfortable talking to their intimate partners about sex and their sexual desires.
- Reasons for women not communicating their sexual desires include embarrassment and not knowing how to ask for what they want sexually.
- Open sexual communication with your partner is essential for sexual well-being.
People who identify with any gender and sexual orientation (with the exception of some ace identities) have issues with communicating to their partners what they want sexually. The unwillingness or inability to express one’s sexual desires has a direct association with sexual satisfaction. For some, sex remains a taboo topic of conversation, even with an intimate partner.
It’s one thing to hide away sexual fantasies and quite another to fail to disclose sexual desires. There is a difference. Sexual fantasies are things that inspire arousal. However, just because one is aroused, this does not mean that they actually want to shift the fantasy to reality. One research participant (Wahl, 2020) told me that his greatest fantasy, and most assured route to sexual arousal, was to think about catching his wife having sex with another man. In the scenario, he watched them have sex from a partially opened door to the bedroom before busting them. This is a cuckold fantasy. The would-be cuck, however, did not actually want to catch his wife having sex with another man. It was pure fantasy. If he wanted this to happen, then it would be sexual desire. With sexual desire, one is motivated toward sexual behavior. One may not disclose their sexual fantasies because they don’t want to complicate situations with something they have no desire to actualize. But, why would someone not want to disclose a sexual desire that they do want to actualize and are motivated to shift the desire to a sexual behavior?
Unwillingness to disclose sexual desires are not limited to women, and yet, women are often the focus of discussions and research when it comes to inhibited stances to sexual desire. Sexual scripts have long been the root of women denying themselves what they want sexually. Women’s sexual development has included limitations to sexual expression, perceived and actual. Many women continue to believe that they have no autonomy in terms of sexual power, sexual self-expression, sexual pleasure, or even their own orgasm. The focus on women and their ability to communicate sexual desire was part of a study by Herbenick, Eastman-Mueller, Fu, Dodge, Ponander, and Sanders (2019).
Herbenick, et al., surveyed 1055 women from the ages of 18 to 70+ about sexual satisfaction, orgasm, and sexual communication. Fifty-five percent of the survey respondents reported that they chose not to talk about sex with their intimate partner, despite wanting to. Reasons for this decision, which often limits sexual satisfaction, include:
- Not wanting to hurt their feelings (42.4%)
- Didn’t feel comfortable going into details (40.2%)
- Embarrassment on their part (37.7%)
- Didn’t know how to ask for what they wanted sexually (35%)
- Didn’t want to seem demanding (18.3%)
- Didn’t feel it was important (17.9%)
- Fear of rejection (11.7%)
- Didn’t think partner would understand (10.2%)
- Didn’t want partner to think they were “perverted” (10.1%)
- Didn’t think partner cared about their pleasure (7%)
The age grouping of 18-24 year-olds significantly indicated that:
- They did not know how to ask for what they wanted sexually
- They feared rejection
- Discussing sexual desires did not matter as they were uncertain they would have a sexual encounter with the intimate other again.
The study also found a relationship between lack of sexual communication and faking orgasms. Women in the study who were able to talk more openly about sex were found to be less likely to fake orgasms. Those who indicated that they were unable to discuss sex and sexual desire with their partners, due to such reasons as embarrassment, were more likely to continue to fake orgasms and had a history of pretending. The study found that comfort in sexual communication was associated with greater sexual satisfaction for women and the ability to experience orgasm. Finally, the authors of the study found that younger women have more difficulty finding their sexual voice, or believing they have a sexual voice. Women in the study were in their mid-twenties before they felt comfort in voicing what they wanted sexually. Still, 1 in 5 women in the study continued to feel uncomfortable telling their partner what they wanted sexually, and 1 in 10 were not confident that their sexual pleasure mattered to their intimate partner.
There is a direct relationship between sexual satisfaction and sexual communication. And what is true for women, as suggested in the Herbenick, et al., study, is true for everyone. Not only does openly discussing sex with your partner increase sexual satisfaction, trust, and confidence, it also broadens relationship satisfaction and enhances the effectiveness of general communication between partners. Open sexual communication is critical for robust sexual selfhood development and overall sexual well-being.
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Herbenick, D., Eastman-Mueller, H., Fu, T., Dodge, B., Ponander, K., & Sanders, S.A. (2019). Women’s sexual satisfaction, communication, and reasons for (no longer) faking orgasm: Findings from a U.S. probability sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(1), 2461-2472.
Wahl, D.W. (2020). Speaking through the silence: Narratives, interaction, and the construction of sexual selves. Iowa State University. Proquest Publishing.