The Pleasure Principle: Communication

Talking about sex can be a challenge for many people regardless of age, gender identity, sexual orientation or how sexually experienced they are. And it can be difficult with a new partner as well as for people in long-term relationships.

It can be rare to see people talking about sex in an open and straightforward way. In films and TV programmes, sex scenes are stylised and edited, and don’t usually involve people talking about what they’d like to do or not do. There is also a distinct lack of talking about and actually using condoms, shown in an analysis of sex scenes by scientists in 2005.

It is strange we’re so shy talking about sex as a source of pleasure since it mostly happens for that very reason, and for intimacy and desire, rather than just reproduction. It is not even something new – cave paintings from tens of thousands of years ago show masturbation. And sex is good for us; it is a good form of exercise, reduces stress, aids relaxation and sleep, is a good pain reliever and keeps the prostate gland and genitals healthy.

Because we still don’t have statutory sex and relationships education, many young people miss the opportunity to talk about pleasure sensibly when they are growing up, so it is no wonder they can become adults who don’t really know how to tackle the topic.

Why is it important to be able to talk openly about sex? Good communication can be key to sexual wellbeing. By sharing your sexual likes and dislikes, ideas about what you’d like to try, or speaking up about things you don’t want, it is much easier to find pleasure with each other. It also means you don’t have to act as a mind reader and play a guessing game of finding what works. Being able to speak about sex also makes it easier to talk about things like using condoms, which some people can find awkward to the point of not using one, and taking care of your sexual health, for example by testing for sexually transmitted infections.

And it’s not just with partners that it can be important to talk frankly about sex. If you are experiencing sexual dysfunction or sex-related problems, it is better to speak to a doctor about it than ignore it. Remember they are used to talking about sex and are there to help, not judge.

If you just don’t feel comfortable speaking to a family GP who has known you for years, you can request to see a different doctor in the practice. And if you want to speak to a pharmacist about sexual health, you can ask to have a private word.

How we can help

Our new site FPA Pleasure includes articles and blog posts about communication, including tips on talking about sex with a partner.

If you are a parent or carer, check if our Speakeasy programme runs in your area. The course is designed to help you talk more confidently about sex and relationships with young people in a positive way.

Support for professionals

A recent survey by Ovarian Cancer Action found that 66% of women aged 18 to 24 and 11% of women over 65 said they would be shy saying ‘vagina’ to a healthcare professional. There was also embarrassment about using the word ‘orgasm’. You can play a key role in helping both women and men to feel more comfortable discussing sex.

Talking sexual pleasure with your patients may not have featured prominently, if at all, in your training, but the more you include it in conversations the more natural it will become, and the more at ease patients will feel speaking to you.

Our Sexual Health Week Professionals Briefing (PDF) includes tips for professionals on opening up conversations around pleasure, and we have some example sentence starters to get you going.

We run training courses for professionals to help you support young people, including The Pleasure Principle and you can commission us to deliver training tailored to your needs.

We can also train you to deliver the award-winning Speakeasy programme, which helps parents and carers to talk to young people about sex and relationships in a positive way.