by Johnny Murdoc
Whenever sex educators or advice columnists are confronted with problems between partners, their first recommendation is going to be communication. Recommending communication is easy because it’s true: there’s honestly nothing more crucial for correcting problems or making a change within a romantic or sexual relationships than communication. We all know that we need to communicate, right?
It’s easier said than done, though. Even in long-term relationships, bringing new interests up can be challenging (if not more challenging; while you may know your partner better, the stakes certainly feel higher.) Thanks to the complexity of human sexuality, this isn’t a conversation that just needs to happen once in a relationship, either. Our fantasies, obsessions, and turn-ons grow and develop as we get older and long term relationships have to be prepared to weather those changes.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer up a few practical recommendations for lubricating conversation between partners, as well as some of the core reasons for keeping communication open and recontextualizing the idea of compromising. I’m going to start the series by telling you guys the number one trick that my partner (for privacy’s sake, I’ll refer to him as “Evan,” although some of you have already been introduced to him by another name) and I had for communicating, especially in the early days.
We read Savage Love.
Am I really advising you to read an advice column? Yep. That kind of compromises my status as an advice-giver, huh? I’ll admit that I rarely feel equipped to give relationship advice, but I’m going on eight and a half years in a monogamous relationship, and I’m not even 30, yet. I can’t promise that what worked for me will work for you, but I can promise that it has worked at least once. Or twice. And reading Savage Love worked.
It’s really not just as simple as reading Savage Love, though. The trick is, Evan and I read Savage Love to each other. Out loud. Every week. For a very long time. We don’t do this so much anymore, but in the beginning of our relationship, this was crucial to our growth. Reading Dan Savage’s column out loud to one another provided us with a regularly scheduled forum for discussing sex.
|If you’re reading this and you live in St. Louis (chances: high), then you can find Savage Love in the back pages of the Riverfront Times. If not, you can find it in most urban alt-weeklies or on-line at http://www.thestranger.com/savage|
The safety net provided by discussing the letters featured each week was multi-layered. First, we usually did this on a Saturday afternoon while running errands. This meant that we were discussing things “outside of the bedroom,” as it were, while we weren’t directly engaged in sexual activity with one another. It’s hard to contextualize requests or recommendations while having sex without seeing them as a reflection on our current performance. Discussing new ideas or problems is always easier when our brains aren’t clouded by sex-fog.
Second, we were discussing other people’s sex lives, so it was easy for us to be vocal about our feelings and reactions without having to ‘fess up that we were also discussing our own sexual feelings. There’s certainly a part of this that feels like a cop-out, but it provided hours of discussion that might not have happened otherwise and made it easy to address issues without making them personal.
Third, we weren’t limited to discussing sexual topics that we knew to be safe with one another. One of the biggest concerns a lot of people face when it comes to expressing their desires isn’t the fear that their partner won’t personally be interested in said desire, it’s that their partner will be disgusted that they brought it up in the first place. This is what I call the taboo roadblock. Unfortunately, the taboo roadblock isn’t a bright yellow concrete wall, it’s a weird, squiggly grey area between what one person feels is taboo and another feels is standard issue. Dedicating yourself to reading and discussing every single letter in a Savage Love column, regardless of its content, though, is a great way to throw ideas into the the arena. You can test the waters, so to speak, without having to admit that you want to pee in them first.
You may discover problems within your relationship that you weren’t really conscious of. Whether the problem is something your partner is afraid to discuss or something you hadn’t even really considered about yourself, Savage Love acts as a veritable dictionary of problems, many of them coupled with a possible solution. (I wouldn’t be recommending Savage Love if I didn’t frequently agree with Savage’s advice.) You may find yourself relating to letters when you least expect it. It’s just as important that you’re honest with yourself when communicating as it is that you’re honest with your partner.
An added benefit to reading an advice column is that it can also highlight just how good your relationship is. Nothing builds self-esteem like reading about other people’s problems. A little piece of schadenfreude pie goes a long way and it feels good to say “Hey, at least it’s not that bad, huh?” Relationships take work, and celebrating the good things is just as important as addressing the bad things.
Keep in mind that it’s important that you do more than just discuss other people’s problems, though. Eventually, you’re going to have to segue into your own. The point of this exercise is to build a forum for discussion where you grow to be comfortable talking about a variety of sexual practices, ideas, and fantasies.
In upcoming weeks, I’ll discuss a few more practical suggestions for making communication easier, as well as discussing why communication is so important and how to consider compromise as a good thing, not a bad thing!
(To give credit where credit is due, some portions of this series will be greatly influenced by the conversation between the hosts and guests of KinkOnTap episode #55. There is a twenty minute stretch of this podcast that literally changed the way that I think about communication and compromise in a relationship. You can spoil my entire series now just by clicking on the link and listening for yourself. But then you’d deny yourself my take on certain topics, and who would want to do that?)