As Midlife Boulevard’s sexual health columnist I write about sex and matters related to our sexual journeys through midlife and beyond. This article isn’t really about sex and yet, when things aren’t working well in one aspect of our life there’s a good chance that our intimate relationships will reflect that imbalance. So, it is about sex.
I wrote an article recently about my ‘word’ for 2016 and how life was unfolding for me, as I reflected on the past year. I talked about a series of emails I wrote clarifying issues and relationships. They might be loosely categorized as ‘setting the record straight’.
One of the conversations I referenced had to do with sex—more specifically—my wish for open communication about what the two of us were embarking on. I was, indirectly, taking care of my own issues and setting the stage for a healthier, more satisfying intimate relationship.
Here’s the thing. Women have a hard time talking about what they want. We have trouble saying no, or considering our personal needs as important as those of the people around us. We may have been labeled aggressive at some point in our lives when the better word might have been assertive. Parents and teachers who felt that young women should be less direct may have scolded us for speaking up. That was my experience.
“When we clam up. When we let our fear get in the way. When we feel too unworthy to share our own feelings. When we want “this” or “that” too much to be honest about what we really need. They all get in our way and keep us from being ourselves.” – Walker Thornton
Not speaking up can be bad for our health. Holding back emotions and concerns can make us sick. Emotionally and physically. The lack of communication causes relationships to wither – because if we’re not speaking our truth in any given moment our communication is incomplete. Our silences may give those around us the impression that everything is just fine. When women can’t voice their feelings in sexual encounters the lack of communication can lead to a variety of issues, from serious, even criminal, to mild annoyances. Divorces happen when we aren’t communicating.
How, where, and why we must use our voices:
- We need to learn how to talk about sexual health with healthcare professionals.
- Sharing knowledge of our bodies and our sexual response gives our partner the skills needed to please us.
- Asking for what we need, in any relationship, is tied to our self-respect and our willingness to be vulnerable.
If you’re ready to practice using your voice here are a few suggestions, based on my experience:
- Think about what you want to say to this person. Anger or overly emotional language only clouds the issue, making it harder to be heard.
- You cannot control or predict their response. What you have to say may not be easy to hear and your intended audience may not handle it well. Remember they are processing their emotions. You don’t need to do anything about it. Give them time. If there is no response, that is a response. That person is for some reason unwilling or unable to handle your communication. You can ask why or you might just let them go, depending on the nature of the relationship.
- If you’re not ready to speak it, practice. Write it in a letter that you won’t send. Practice in the mirror. Practice at the grocery store by asking for help. Ask a friend to listen to what you have to say. If you’ve been a lifelong people-pleaser or the quiet one this won’t be easy. Take baby steps and congratulate yourself on making these moves.
This is about you saying what you need. This is about you coming to terms with how you want to live your life. You are the only one who can create the kind of life you want. Those who care for us should want to work with us—not set up barriers that serve to weaken the connection.
I’m still finding my voice. We all are. As our lives change different issues take on more importance. Our needs change. No one can do the hard work for us. We are responsible for our happiness. Trust that you can do this.