Column, "The Gift of Conversation," by Haydeé Morales, Vice President of Education, Training, and Margaret Sanger Center International, Planned Parenthood of New York City, published in Spanish in El Diario (2/13/10)
Sex – when the topic comes up in conversation, it inspires giggles. When that conversation is with a partner, those giggles can turn into stomach knots.
Yet open conversations about sex are some of the most important aspects of a relationship. With approximately 19 million cases of new sexually transmitted infections (STI) each year, they’re also some of the most necessary.
So this Valentine’s Day, how can you make these conversations easier on yourself and your partner?
Step 1) What to cover. Openness is about more than just your health – it encompasses the three P’s:
• Protection. Cover the basics – when was the last time you each were tested, what type of birth control/protection you’re using, and anything relevant from your sexual history. As scary as this can be, it’s scarier to not bring it up at all.
• Problems. If something isn’t working for you, say something. Avoiding a discussion will just make the problem fester. In fact, the problem may not be working for your partner either, but neither of you will know unless you speak up.
• Pleasure. Talk about what you each like and don’t like, and what does and doesn’t work for you. This is the fun part of conversations, and a great follow-up, or lead-in, to the other two P’s.
Step 2) How to start. Sure, these are sensitive topics. But there are ways to make the conversations easier.
• Educate yourself. It’s easier to ask your partner about his or her STI risk if you already know your own. And if there’s a difficult subject you need to broach, such as your own STI or a desired new approach to intimacy, know all the facts before bringing it up.
• Pick a comfortable time and place. While it may be tempting to wait until you’re already in bed, don’t. Instead pick a safe, comfortable place, and have the conversation when your clothes are still on.
• Starting is the hardest part. It might help to let your partner know you’re nervous. Try to plan out exactly what you want to say ahead of time, and to reference something you’ve read or seen as an opener. Keep in mind that the conversation gets easier once you get going.
• Keep it honest, up-front, and calm. Don’t dance around an issue. Do your best to be open and not accusatory or confrontational, and it might encourage your partner to do the same.
• Remember – this is fun! It’s okay to use humor or laugh while talking. Although these can be difficult topics to bring up, remember that the whole point of having an intimate relationship is to enjoy it. These conversations are just a step toward that goal.
Any intimate relationship in which you’re worried about your health, or hiding your likes or dislikes from your partner, won’t end up being fun or pleasurable for either of you. So this Valentine’s Day, give yourself and your partner the best gift you can give – the gift of conversation.