Q. My boyfriend and I have been going out for just over six months. The sex is great, but he is so quiet when we’re in bed that it makes me uncomfortable.
I don’t want him to talk dirty, but just communicating — laughing, basically being in a conversation — makes me feel so much more comfortable. How can we reconcile this?
A. I’m not sure that anyone really laughs and chats their way through sexual intercourse. It is a rather intense physical experience, and it is also relatively brief.
When two researchers from Penn State University analysed optimal timings for satisfactory sexual intercourse, the most desirable duration was seven to 13 minutes.
Most people go quiet during that time because it increases the sensory experience.
Silence creates an erotic space where the world ends and physical sensation begins.
The sounds of sex, breathing, touching, kissing, pulling, sucking, licking, become an unspoken acoustic connection, and loving couples remain in constant communication through eye contact and facial expression.
The synchrony of aural and physical sensation is deeply intimate, however, it only works if both partners are willing to let their fingers do the talking.
When sexual silence creates distance rather than intimacy, it is usually because one partner is trying to screen out distraction in order to achieve orgasm.
It is a problem that can arise as a result of masturbatory habits developed in adolescence. Young people are intensely sensitive about their emerging sexuality, and learn to stifle the urge to make noise during masturbation for fear of being found out.
It is a habit that can be difficult to unlearn. Silent sex can also arise because young people learn to hold their breath when they masturbate.
Not breathing, particularly prior to orgasm, can help to increase muscle tension, and this can both hasten and intensify orgasm.
In contrast, breathing deeply tends to slow things down, however, ultimately it leads to a longer, stronger orgasmic response.
Both of these techniques serve to assist adolescent masturbation, but by the time a young person makes the transition from solo sex to sex with a partner, the association between silence and climax may be so deeply ingrained that communication impedes fantasy and inhibits orgasm.
It is, of course, ironic, that you are the one who can’t stand the silence, yet you feel unable to voice your discomfort.
If you had explained how you feel in a straightforward way at the beginning of your relationship, it may have been a relatively simple conversation.
Six months down the line, it is more difficult to challenge a behaviour that has been an integral feature of your boyfriend’s sexual performance from day one.
The sex we have is coloured by a wealth of inherited assumptions, gender differences and past experiences, not to mention sociocultural baggage.
Sex is also complicated by the assumption that it is “instinctive”, and therefore there is an expectation that the “right” partner should somehow be able to intuit our sexual preferences without any direct instruction.
In reality, there is a bidirectional relationship between couple communication and sexual satisfaction. Multiple studies have shown that couples who have close loving relationships engage in more extensive sexual communication.
These relationships were defined by research by Illinois State University, which concluded that “greater sexual self-disclosure leads to greater sexual satisfaction by making sexual interactions more positive as individuals learn the needs and desires of their partner and clarify and express their own needs”.
It’s a long-winded way of saying that if you break your own silence, you will get to the bottom of his.
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