Talking about sex is important in forming

Talking. We do it everyday. Some of us are quite good at it. We talk with friends, teachers, parents, landlords, grocery store clerks. We talk about plans, careers, hopes, fears, sports, sex. Well, maybe not so much about sex.

Sex is a topic most of us want to be able to “do right” but have a hard time talking about—especially to our partner(s). Somehow, “talking about it” requires greater intimacy than “doing it.”

“The inability to talk about sex is one of the main reasons why sex is not as good as it could be,” Bernie Zilbergeld writes in “Male Sexuality.” Whether sex is short-term or part of a long-term, committed relationship, one stands more to gain than lose from talking. Verbal expressions become a way, Zilbergeld says, to share one’s anxieties, concerns, feelings, joys.

Talking about sex today means more than the basic, practical fear of an unwanted pregnancy. It also means entering the “taboo” world of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. How does one address these issues except by talking? Denying that they are relevant doesn’t make them go away or lessen one’s fears.

Researchers estimate that one of every seven college students reading this column has a sex-related disease. Even AIDS is on campus. Of the several hundred cases of college students who have been exposed to the AIDS virus, it is estimated that 50 percent, possibly more, will develop full-blown AIDS. Therefore, the belief that sex with someone your own age is safe because it is unlikely he or she has been exposed to an STD can have grave consequences.

To prevent pregnancy and STDs, one must abstain from sexual intercourse or take precautions. Taking precautions requires communication. What are some apprehensions that interfere with a person’s ability to communicate with a partner about AIDS and other STDs?

* An individual might feel uncomfortable with the reality that he or she has chosen to be sexually active. Psychologists call that cognitive dissonance, when a person’s beliefs don’t match his or her behaviors. (Communication frequently helps one to clarify a position, acknowledge and be comfortable with the decision to become sexually active or not, align values with behaviors.)

* An individual might fear that mentioning the topic implies one’s partner is gay or has an STD. (Conversely, talking about sexual concerns is more likely to reflect that one is mature, realistic and caring.)

* Another fear is that introducing the subject will be offensive to the partner and jeopardize the relationship. (Communication, instead, conveys to a partner one’s honesty, directness, openness and reveals, perhaps, how valuable the relationship is.)

By talking about sexual health concerns, it becomes possible to develop a personal policy consistent with one’s own beliefs and values and to express that policy to a prospective sexual partner. The next “Well Now” column will include suggestions and comments about the intimate act of bringing up sexual health issues with friends and partners.

Note: Some of the concepts in this article were contributed by Dr. Rosemary Srebalus, a psychologist at West Virginia University.