Every parent dreads having “the sex talk” with their kids. There’s something about discussing human sexuality with children that creates fear in even the most stout-hearted parent.

In reality, though, husbands and wives have just as much trouble discussing sex with each other. I’m talking face-to-face, with no kids in the room! Maybe we think the subject is just too embarrassing. Or we’re harbouring past sexual baggage or hiding an addiction. Maybe we don’t want to hurt our spouse’s feelings or rock the boat. Or maybe we just feel like talking about sex will dilute some of the mystery and romance of the act itself.

Whatever the case, many couples can go through their entire marriage without ever discussing their sexual relationship in any great detail. They want their kids to be able to come to them openly and honestly to address their questions about sex in an environment of safety. But they don’t expect the same thing of each other!

Marriage is designed to be a place of trust, security and commitment, and nowhere is this more critical than in the sexual relationship between husband and wife. We can’t give ourselves away completely to another person unless we feel safe doing so. Only within the shelter of the protective covering marriage provides is it possible for man and wife to become “one flesh” without reservations.

For women, in particular, open communication about sex is critical. A history of sexual trauma, abuse, addiction, abortion or disease, as well as menopause, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and caring for infants and children, can have profound effects on a woman’s sexuality. Some women avoid sex because they fear becoming pregnant (again).

These are not topics to be swept under the rug! In every case, the important thing is for husbands and wives to sit down and talk about what each partner is feeling and what each wants. Take time to listen and understand each other. Here, as in every other area of marriage, good communication is the key to a healthy and mutually fulfilling relationship.

But it’s not just important to talk about “maintenance” when it comes to sex. You need to talk about your likes, your desires and your turn-ons. Admittedly, newlyweds are better at exploring this territory than those who have been married for years or decades. But this should not be a one-time conversation that you only have during the energetic and passion-charged days of being newly married. After the initial stages of discovery and exploration, many couples simply fall into a lifelong sexual routine or rut with little variation in the formula. But this is something you need to revisit throughout your marriage. No matter what stage you’re at, don’t be afraid to talk about things you’d like to try sexually (assuming they are biblically permissible and mutually edifying to both partners). And don’t hesitate to reflect on your past sexual adventures as a couple. Reminisce about those fun sexual experiences early in your marriage. And ask your spouse, “What did you like about our intimate time together last night?” Even as you pose that question, be ready to answer when it is asked of you.

Conversations like these might seem awkward at first if you’re not in the habit of having them, but again, the ability to safely and openly talk about your sexual relationship outside of the bedroom is critical to your enjoyment of your relationship inside the bedroom. (I’m speaking metaphorically here, of course — sex certainly doesn’t have to be confined to the bedroom!)

One communication tool you might consider as you learn to talk about your sexual relationship is called “heart talk.” People in marriages and other close relationships typically communicate in two ways — “work talk” and “heart talk.” Work talk is task-oriented and focused on problem-solving and the accomplishment of goals. Heart talk, on the other hand, is concerned with the relationship and driven by feelings and a desire for understanding. Instead of a task or a goal, it aims at cohesion, attachment and the strengthening of the interpersonal bond.

Whether you’re discussing your sex life or another aspect of your relationship, heart talk essentially entails caring about the other person’s feelings and taking turns as speaker and listener. This can be summed up in the acronym ICU. First, Identify (I) your feelings and the feelings of your spouse. Second, decide to Care (C) about those feelings. Third, seek to Understand (U) those feelings with the assistance of your mate. Then keep on talking and listening until both of you are on the same page.

Again, while heart talk and ICU can apply to different topics of communication in your marriage, I think you can see how they might be especially helpful as you and your spouse endeavour to create a place of safety and transparency to discuss your sex life. Give it a try! Keeping the lines of communication open can deepen your experience of marital intimacy considerably.

© 2017 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Published at focusonthefamily.com.

Dr Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.

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