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Talking About Sex

Source: Diabetes Forecast
Author: Wendy Satin Rapaport, PsyD

Talking About Sex

Speaking out about sexual problems can help you find lasting solutions.

Imagine you're in the middle of lovemaking, and your partner loses his erection. Or she just doesn't seem to be aroused. You:

A. Think about your aging body or the weight you've gained, wonder why your partner doesn't find you attractive, and wonder if there's someone else.

B. Think of all the other people who do find you attractive.

C. Plan to avoid sex so this won't happen again.

D. Vow to not discuss it so you won't hurt your partner's feelings.

This is a trick question; none of the answer options offer a good solution. It's only human to have any or all of the thoughts and feelings I've just listed. But don't stop there.

TV and movies suggest that everyone is having sex easily and often. But in the real world, sexual dysfunction is a fairly common occurrence for both men and women. You can get through all the angst and disappointment and learn to talk about such issues without taking their personally.

Silence Is Not Golden

People are often uncomfortable talking about sex because they mistakenly think their partner knows their concerns, naively think sex should "just happen," are uninformed about how the other sex experiences sex, or are afraid of hurt feelings or rejection.

But if your sex life is interrupted, it is better to address the problem than to allow distress, anxiety, and fear to overwhelm you.

Lovemaking is more than a physical act. It can be a method of developing deeper emotions and intimacy, a forgiveness ritual, and a foundation for basic physical and emotional satisfaction. It's about intimacy, bonding, affection, sharing, fun, and friendship - gifts well worth working to keep.

Don't Assume The Worst

No question about it: Blood glucose fluctuations, poorly controlled diabetes, and related complications can all affect sexual interest and ability. But when problems arise, don't assume that a long-feared complication is here to stay. Sexual problems can happen for a variety of reasons and often are temporary or easily resolved.

However, having diabetes and fears about its complications can increase the anxiety that anyone with sexual difficulties might feel. This makes the willingness not just to talk but to communicate effectively about sexual problems more crucial.

Withdrawing, getting angry, nagging, or using sex as reward or punishment are easy and common reactions. But they aren't likely to help. Instead, try these tips for talking to your partner about sex.

1. Choose the right moment. Don't bring up sex when either partner is stressed out. (But don't let waiting for an opportune time become an excuse for not talking.) Consider talking while taking a walk. You can hold hands and not be inhibited by each other's facial expressions.

2. Use positive reframing. Try to view sexual problems as opportunities to get closer. Focus on what you'd like to have happen, not on what's already happened. If planning ahead for sex becomes necessary, think "anticipation," not "loss of spontaneity."

3. Describe problems objectively. Be specific and succinct. Separate facts and feelings. Don't judge. Instead, talk about your feelings and needs by using sentences starting with "I." Ask questions. ("What worries you most about seeing a doctor about your lack of desire?")

4. Listen. Practice empathy not reactivity, when your partner is talking. Don't be defensive. Give feedback after you have listened fully,

5. Move away from self-centeredness. If your partner is having difficulties, it's probably not about you. If you are having a problem, know that it also affects your partner.

6. Share responsibility. Don't allow yourself to think, "If he wants to have sex, he'll get the evaluation" or "If she has no desire, let her go to the doctor." Sexual problems are not "yours," but "ours," to solve.

7. Keep a sense of humor. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine. If nothing else, it helps keep things in perspective.

8. Prioritize your sex life. Sex has to compete with too many things - overeating, overweight, alcohol use, smoking, stress, busy schedules, financial worries, chronic illness, and more. Slow down, take time, and give this your full attention.

9. Don't grow accustomed to a life without sex. New issues arise at all stages of life and marriage from pregnancy and parenthood, to midlife, to menopause and beyond. Make a habit of expressing your willingness to work through whatever problems exist, whenever they appear. Ongoing communication is essential to avoid performance anxiety. Don't be afraid to get professional help.

10. Meanwhile, just do it. Don't wait until you've resolved every issue and quelled every fear to try reconnecting. Michele Weiner Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage, notes that desire does not necessarily precede arousal; it can just as easily follow. If necessary, couples can learn alternative sexual techniques to help them stay close. To emotionally connect, Dr. David Schnarch, author of Passionate Marriage, recommends simply hugging, with no intention of having sex at all.

Wendy Satin Rapaport, PsyD, is a private practice psychologist associated with the Diabetes Research Institute of the University of Miami in Florida. She also teaches at the University of Maine in Orono.


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