Sex advice with Suzi Godson: 'He has no right to share sexual confidences in public'

My partner boasts about our sex life with his friends, even when I’m sitting there right beside him. I find it mortifying and have asked him to stop, but he says it’s just “banter” and that I need to relax about it. I’ve noticed it has changed the way some people in our friendship group interact with me — especially some of the women. I would like our sex life to stay private. Am I wrong to react like this?

You are not wrong. Your partner is. He is broadcasting what should be a private exchange to a public audience without any consideration for the impact that it is having on you and that makes me feel very cross on your behalf. Boasting about your sex life is not “just banter” if you find it embarrassing, and telling someone who feels mortified to “relax” is insensitive to the point of insult, particularly when directed towards someone you love.

No matter what your partner says, sex is a universally private experience, and generally, sexual intercourse takes place behind closed doors.

Although we all share sexual intimacies occasionally, there is a big difference between having a quiet conversation with a close friend and having someone else indiscriminately share your private life with your entire friendship group.

Privacy can be difficult, especially in the context of a sexual relationship. The definition that is most pertinent to you and to this experience is “the control we have over information about ourselves”. When you volunteer personal information to a trusted friend, you retain control over what, and how much is said, so it doesn’t feel like a breach of your privacy. When someone else does it, with absolutely no regard for how it affects you, it feels like a violation.

Research by the psychologist Professor Terri Fisher confirms that men like to exaggerate the number of sexual partners they have had, whereas women have a tendency to play down sexual experience. When both genders are wired to lie detectors, they admit to having had a similar number of sexual partners. Research in 2013 by Harvard University’s Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab showed that self-disclosure produces a burst of activity in the regions of the brain that are associated with pleasure, motivation and reward. That explains why, on average, people spend roughly half of any conversation talking about themselves.

You seem to be particularly concerned by the impact that your partner’s bragging is having on your female friends. You feel they are judging you, but I suspect they are simply wondering why you can’t, or don’t shut him up. I can understand why you might feel a bit self-conscious with them but if you explain the situation, tell them how uncomfortable it makes you, and ask them to help, they could turn out to be useful allies. Your partner may ignore you, but it will be much more difficult for him to ignore a group of women who have been given permission to challenge his boasting.

Healthy sexual relationships involve an exchange of physical intimacy and trust. Your partner has repeatedly breached his side of that bargain, so I doubt that reiterating how upset you are and how insensitive his behaviour is would make any difference. However, it is worth trying to talk to him one more time in a more strategic way.

Instead of explaining that the more he talks about your sex life the less you will do in bed (because you are afraid that he will tell everyone down the pub), suggest that if he behaves himself and stops boasting, the opposite might happen. People are significantly more likely to change their behaviour if there is a reward involved. So, if he believes that reticence will lead to more exciting sex, he may be persuaded to zip his lips.

n Send your queries to suzigodson@mac.com


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