When they listed “communication” as an essential component of “optimal sexuality,” participants in the groundbreaking study published last year in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality were talking about a lot more than talking.
Their descriptions of “extraordinary communication” often suggest a state of “heightened empathy” in which partners share themselves with each other completely, using touch and other senses as well as words. Nonverbal communication, the ability to convey and understand feelings and desires purely through physical contact, was considered essential—before, during, and after a sexual encounter.
In fact, the kind of communication the study participants refer to seems to have little connection to the conversations about sex that therapists and doctors like me recommend to couples experiencing problems with their sexual relationships. That kind of talk—I like when you touch me here, how does it feel when I do this, would you like to try something new?—may be important, even necessary, to achieve the “extraordinary communication” that makes for great sex. But the actual experience of it takes place in the moment, in the acute and continual awareness of how partner and self interact and respond.
As one study participant puts it, extraordinary communication is the ability to recognize “even if you’re not told, that one kind of touch elicits a certain response in your partner and another does not.”
It occurs to me that this deep empathy is what my patients are expecting, looking for, hoping for when they protest that talking about sex diminishes or even ruins the act itself. We all wish our partners could know exactly what we want and how we feel without being told.
But in my experience, this kind of extraordinary communication doesn’t happen unless couples first invest time and effort in a lot of pretty ordinary communication—honest and explicit talk about sex and feelings and desires.
What’s your experience?
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.