Quick, informal poll: What percentage of actual, real (non-“This is Us”) couples are able to have realistic conversations about sex?

My guess was around 45%. When I researched this, I wasn’t that far off. It ranges from 40% to 50%, depending on how the question is phrased. Which is depressingly low in this modern world, where we pride ourselves on being open and accepting of so many things.

One extremely interesting tidbit I picked up from my research was that it was more frequently the female in the partnership who shuts down conversations. A study from 2019 showed that, “More than half of women reported they had wanted to communicate with a partner regarding sex but decided not to; the most common reasons were not wanting to hurt a partner’s feelings, not feeling comfortable going into detail, and embarrassment.”

Sidenote: The pop songs of our generation often accurately reflect our inability to frankly discuss sexual topics. You’ll notice this in my title and subheads. Or in some cases, I just stole a line from a pop song of our generation and made it fit my needs.

You Oughta Know (Alanis Morrissette)

I can unload about my sex life to strangers reading this website, but I struggle to tell my husband what I like, what I don’t like, and 20+ years into our relationship, the number of times I have faked orgasms far surpassed the entire population of Beanie Babies. I think my husband and I have probably endured every awkward sexual situation out there, and for years we never addressed any of them straight up.

These days, it seems absurd to me that the person you are supposedly closest to in the world is also the one you want to protect so much that you can’t actually be honest with them.

Here are some of the worst cases of us not communicating about sex.

Don’t You Want Me, Baby (The Human League)

My husband fully subscribed to the sexual proclivity of movie and tv show characters in the 90s. He didn’t understand why we were not having sex like … every hour when the sitcom or soapy drama ended, the way they did in pop culture. He, of course, took it personally and assumed it was because I didn’t want him. So, after being turned down one too many times, he announced he was never again going to instigate sex. As a result, I tried to be a good, proactive partner and prompt sex every other night, no matter whether I wanted it or not. His response was: “If you really want to.” Every. Single. Time.

Wow, how flattering is that?

But we never, ever took the discussion any further than that. I just sucked up his passive-aggressive response and endured it for almost two decades (which, as a self-proclaimed feminist, I hate myself for).

If only we’d been able to talk.

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want (Spice Girls)

My husband—much like many Gen X men—was raised on 1980s/early 90s porn, so his ideas of what gets a woman off is very different from reality. And for two of the almost three decades we’ve been together, I couldn’t talk to him about the fact that the jack-rabbit sex he thought was the be-all, end-all of lovemaking did NOTHING for me.

At one point, I got the book 101 Nights of Great Sex for us. It has “his” and “her” challenges to spice up a couple’s sex life. Things like “do a strip tease for your partner.” Or “take a romantic bath that leads to lovemaking.” He played along gamely for a few rounds, but eventually lost his temper because he didn’t like “relying on a book to tell him what to do.”

It was at that point, I realized I couldn’t be honest about what I like or wanted because he was way too sensitive about it. So, I again endured what worked for him and figured it was one small sacrifice in keeping my spouse happy.

If only we had been able to talk.

Don’t Speak (No Doubt)

We’ve also endured the gambit from his being drunk and not getting it up, to his not achieving orgasm due to the anti-depressants he was on. AND WE NEVER DISCUSSED IT. We simply stopped, got dressed, and carried on. What I didn’t know is he carried these “failures” with him for months and they constantly ate away at his self-confidence.

If only we’d be able to talk.

I Get Knocked Down, but I Get Up Again (Chumbabawamba)

In the last five years, we’ve both worked with (separate) therapists. I’ve been able to broach sexual topics in a sensitive and tactful way, and he’s learned that my not achieving orgasm with traditional sex is largely a biological/physical issue for (many) females and not a reflection on my feelings for him or his worthiness as a man.

I’ve introduced buzzworthy toys into our sexual encounters, which has been extremely beneficial to me. Once in a while, he still demonstrates frustration about my needing a toy to truly enjoy sex, but at the same time, we are both enjoying sex a lot more, and are more comfortable about actually talking about it. And, life is too short to spend most of your encounters faking orgasms. He’s gonna get off (almost all the time) regardless, so I see nothing wrong in adding whatever it takes to help me get there, too. His dick-pride will get over it.

Tear You Apart (She Wants Revenge)

There are still things we don’t talk about. I suspect there is a bit of an S&M side to him he has not wanted to bring up because he knows I won’t want any part of it. And I have some fantasy/desires I feel uncomfortable sharing with him. But honestly sometimes, keeping a few things in the fantasy world is good. However, being able to talk about the realities of the rest of it? Is really, really good.

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About Lily Winters

A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.

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