How do you feel when you imagine yourself asking your partner to do something particular in bed? It is important to be at ease in sexual interactions. For far too many people, the thought of asking for such things is daunting, even if they feel loved by their other partner.
Sexual inhibitions come in multiple forms. For many people, the first word that comes to mind when they think of sex is “dirty.” Some of us can’t even stand to tell ourselves what we want.
When you read what different societies teach about sexuality, it makes sense that Americans are uncomfortable talking about sex. When I have traveled in Europe and Australia, beginning in the 1960s, I’ve always been struck with the open way in which sexuality is portrayed.
In Australia, the areas where young people gather have posters on billboards, taped onto telephone poles, and pinned onto bulletin boards, that read, “No glove, no love.” The “glove” is a condom.
In the Netherlands, during an earlier era, public buses had advertisements for safe sex that showed cartoons in which a happy penis donned a condom. Being a young American college student at the time, I was simultaneously shocked and pleased to learn about the different cultural landscape.
In the United States, children are told that merely referencing sexual organs is a shameful thing.
One patient of mine, Meg, told me the story of how she was playing in a sandbox when she was about 4 or 5 years old. Meg was an outgoing, friendly child who grew up in a family with two brothers. She was playing with another little girl, with that girl’s mother sitting near them.
Meg and her friend were building sand castles. Meg took a plastic coffee cup, filled it with sand, turned it over, and said, “Oh, this looks like a penis!”
Meg’s friend’s mother turned to her and angrily said, “Meg, I’m going to tell your mother that you said that!”
Meg felt shame and horror, even though a part of her child’s mind knew she had done nothing wrong. She recounted to me how terrified she felt at that point. She intuitively knew that if this woman did tell her mother what she said, that her mother would feel so humiliated that punishment was inevitable.
If you grew up in a home which was very sex-negative, some of the shame and fear of discussing sex as a child keeps you sexually stuck in adulthood.
In a way, you’re lucky if you can pin your sexual inhibitions down to a discrete, vivid example like Meg’s.
There are specific treatments sex therapists can use to re-wire distinct, bad memories like Meg’s sandbox memory. But many people are also inhibited by much less vivid and obvious factors, the classic example being having grown up in a family where parents never mentioned sex, as if it did not exist.
For many people, techniques like my idea of creating a “disinhibition coach” are worth trying.
Just be honest with yourself about how well you are able to communicate your sexual wishes and desires. Asking for what you want — in an ongoing way — is critical to having good sex.
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