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Sept. 21, 2021

Why Talking About Sex is Uncomfortable

Why Talking About Sex is Uncomfortable

Talking about sex can be very awkward for a lot of couples.


Does just talking about sex with your partner make you feel uncomfortable? Anxiety talking about sex is a phenomenon that occurs all too often in our society. Men and women have been conditioned to place shame around their sexuality. In this episode, Frank talks with therapist Michelle L Manning about intimacy. 

Show Highlights

  • Sex vs sexuality
  • What do men really want in a relationship?
  • Gender roles
  • Only Fans 
  • Sexual addiction
  • Episode sponsored by BetterHelp. Get 10% off your first month of therapy. 
Transcript

Welcome to another episode of the anxiety therapist podcast. I'm your show host Frank Sasso. I'm a clinical therapist out of the windy city, Chicago, Illinois. Please make sure you hit that follow button on whatever app you're listening with today. This way you'll never miss another episode. Everyone, I created this podcast because I like to talk about a variety of issues that are related to anxiety, and there's a lot of stuff out there that can bring about anxiety. And for me, that means no topic is off limit. Look, there's plenty of other shows out there that focus on that dry clinical psychology. So I try to throw a little bit of flavor into this show by touching on subjects out there in the world that are happening right now that everyone can relate to. In today's show I want to talk about why it's so hard for a lot of people to talk about sex with their partner and for that matter with a therapist.

To help me explore this, I'll be talking with Michelle L. Manning. She's a clinical psychotherapist and host of the podcast "The 30-minute hour". How about you out there? Are you someone who becomes anxious just thinking about how to talk about sex with your partner? Maybe you're a woman listening right now who's become so disinterested in sex that you've given up on trying you've completely stopped. Perhaps you're a male. You're some guy out there and you've tuned into this show because you've had trouble maintaining an erection. And you're embarrassed to talk to a therapist about it. If that's the case, I want you to know you are not alone. Talking about sex and sexuality can bring about a lot of anxiety for a lot of people. And that's because this topic in our culture has put so much shame around it.

Yeah. There's a lot of shame around talking about sex, which if you think about it for a minute, it's just astonishing because sex is everywhere. It's on your TV, it's on your laptop. It's on your phone, it's in everything we read. And it's certainly all-over social media. Now, before I begin, I want you to know that some of the episodes on this podcast can be a little bit provocative and that's okay. You see a lot of people out there have this sort of perception of therapists being people who wear horn rim glasses. And they're sitting in this oversized chair and they're writing notes down on everything you say. And yes, there's a lot of therapists out there that fits bill, but the truth is not all therapists are monolithic. In other words, we're not all the same. 

For example, if you were to come to see me at my office here in Chicago, I'd likely be wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I probably wouldn't fit the stereotypical image of what most people sort of imagine as a therapist being. And that's because therapists are human beings. We have our own views and our own experiences. And sometimes we disagree. I think that's good because it's important to get a variety of opinions when it comes to helping people with emotional challenges. okay just a fast disclaimer. This podcast is not a replacement for mental health counseling or medical care. And I'm not your personal therapist. 

 

Yeah. Sexual anxiety. It can be a hard subject for a lot of people. You know what? Let's do a thought experiment. I want you to imagine out there, especially if you're a woman, I want you to imagine what it is that men want. In other words, what do you think turns men on? Maybe you think it's a beautiful woman with this shapely body. Perhaps you might be thinking that a guy wants his female partner to wear sexy lingerie. Now, if you had these thoughts, you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. People have all kinds of turn-ons and kinks, but you might be surprised at what I'm about to tell you. According to recent research published in the journal of sex and marital therapy, the overwhelming majority of men say that feeling desired by their partner is the most important thing to their sexual experiences. 

And think about that for a minute, that just turns everything upside down. For years, we've heard how important it is for women to feel sexually desired by their partner to feel aroused, but you barely never ever hear anything about what satisfies men. Here's some interesting tidbits from the research. And I will make sure to leave a link in the show notes.

The researchers, hunter and Brotto interviewed 300 heterosexual men, an astonishing 95% of the respondents 95% responded reported that feeling sexually desired by their partner was important. Here's what feeling sexually desired looks like for men. Okay. 40% prefer some kind of verbal affirmation. And I'm guessing that means things like saying, Hey, I want you, or I can't wait to do it with you. So that's 40% right there. They want that verbal affirmation. 17% want to be complimented by their partner. And again, it probably looks something like this, hey, you look handsome. Or I like the way you're dressed; it turns me on 17%. 30% and this probably isn't surprising to a lot of people out there. Maybe some women listening, 30% through talking dirty. And I think that speaks for itself, whether it's talking dirty in the bedroom or sending text messages to each other, whatever it is, 30% of guys like that.

So yeah, for a lot of you ladies out there, it's totally okay to try to talk nasty to your man. This research confirms it. 12% said they couldn't answer the question. And I'm guessing that 12% of those guys just, they didn't know what to make of it. Like they're not used to being asked that kind of question. Now I should add this research was conducted on heterosexual white males. So hopefully there'll be some more studies done on more diverse populations. Still this research is really interesting because, it clearly shows that men want to feel sexual desired by their partner.

I think it's hard for a lot of guys to talk about sexuality. I've ran into this so much in my own clinical practice. I think it's hard because we live in this culture where men get this unhealthy idea that they're weak if they talk about their feelings or their emotions with their partner. I've seen some men get so anxious talking about their sexuality, that they literally shut down and they'll just change the subject. Like I said, this can be a tricky subject for guys. All right. Well, I gave you that little bit of research and maybe we'll talk about it more in the interview. And if you will, please allow me one minute to mention a brief word from our sponsor. And then we'll begin. 

I just want to say that this show is sponsored by better help. Better help is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to get started in therapy. They offer licensed therapists that can meet with you virtually. Now imagine how good it would feel to be able to, to talk to your therapist through video chat or on the telephone, or get this, through text message. That's right you can text message with your therapist. Better help, and that's help with a P allows you to choose a therapist that's familiar with your unique situation so you can choose them yourself. Listeners to being anxiety therapist podcast can get 10% off the first month of therapy, just go to betterhelp.com/anxietytherapistpodcast. Again, that's betterhelp.com/anxietytherapistpodcast. I'll leave a link in the episode notes. 

Okay. Back to the episode, let's start the interview with my special guest, Michelle L. Manning, and talk about the anxiety associated with talking about sex. Hi, Michelle, welcome to the show. Can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself and maybe a little bit about the kind of issues that people are coming to see you for?

Hi Frank, first of all, I have to say, I am so excited to be here. I'm a huge stand, just to let you know nothing to worry about, but I am a big, big fan of your work. So thank you for the conversation. 

Thank you. 

So I am an LPCC. I am, stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have been doing my gig for many, many moons, and to be honest, I love my job. And by listening to your podcast, I can see that you do the same. So I think we have like minds as far as that's concerned.

 

Absolutely I sure do.

The type, so if I kind of take your questions, one of the things that I tell people, if anybody ever asks, you get the questions, I'm sure you can attest to this. What do you specialize in? What populations do you serve? Those types of questions that I get frequently. One of the things that I always tell people is I work with the library. If you go into the library and you see someone there that is who comes into my office. So the homeless person who's sitting there just trying to get some shade, get some, cool air from the heat. They are the person that comes to my office. The quote, unquote soccer mom. Who's there with the kids is the person that comes to my office. Anybody that you will find in the library is the person that walks into my office. So I of working with the varied populations. 

Yeah. So It's a little bit of everything. It's not just one genre. It's a little bit of everyone. 

Exactly. 

That's great. And you said you're out in Albuquerque, right? Okay. I just came across this article and of course the topic of the show today, is just talking about sexual anxiety. I just came this article, which basically the research showed that it's also men who find one of the most wanted traits in the relationship is to feel desired by their partner. Does that surprise you at all?

 It's almost laughable, it doesn't surprise me at all. And I think that the thing that I would throw right back at something like that is, well, duh, because desire, as far as I last heard, it is not gender typed. Desire is something that women can feel and men can feel. And it is something that we actually need. I know when I work with couples, not even when I work with couples, when I work with individuals and they're talking about any type of challenges or issues within their interpersonal relationships, whether they be platonic or romantic. One of the first questions I ask before we actually start getting into the meat of any conversation, is this, do you desire your partner? And then I follow it up with, if there is no, desire you have no relationship. So we can just move on and work on something else, because that is the kernel for everything. Do you desire to be physically intimate with your partner? Do you desire to be vulnerable with your partner? Do you desire to get more in tune and inquisitive with your partner? 

Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think a lot of men kind of struggle with that in the sense that they don't want to talk about the fact that they want that desire from their partner. Either verbal or physical or otherwise, it's hard for them to discuss it. At least that's what I've seen so much in my own practice. 

So if I could ask you a question, why do you think that is? When I'm working, I lead with that question, or with that issue, when does desire fold into this? When does desire something that we can talk about? So my clients pretty much know this is where we're going. And so if you ever sense any resistance with the populations that you work with or some of the men that you work with, what do they say as the reason for not wanting to discuss that?

I think for a lot of guys they've grown up in this either background or they're in this culture where they feel like they have to be machismo and that guys we don't talk about are emotions. And we don't talk about our feelings. It's yeah we want to have sex. We want to be able to have sex with our partner when we want it, but we don't necessarily, we're not the best maybe about communicating the emotional part of it that, yeah, we want to be desired. Of course, we want to be told we're attractive or, hey, I want to be with you tonight and be physical with you. But for a lot of men, it's very difficult, I think to talk about that.

So I always think, that type of challenge and being able to overcome how to talk about these things, how to actually address or even express that you want these things. Sometimes I will scratch my head and I think, do you not want to be told that you're hot? Do you not want to be told I want you right now so bad, I can't even stand it. like that is the best feeling in the world when it comes from someone that you desire as well. Because we are talking about mutual affection, mutual interest, that two people or many people can have, for one another. And I think that when people lose that sense of longing and wanting to be longed. I don't wanna suggest it becomes a deeper issue, but you do have to ask why is that not something that appeals to you? 

Yeah, a hundred percent agree because it's expected at least a lot with the couples that I've worked with in the past. And I don't do a lot of couples’ work, but I have, it's almost expected that for the female, that she is going to want to hear that she's desired either physically or sexually, emotionally, whatever it is, but for the male it's just not there. And that probably needs to change.

One of the things that I see and I noticed this very early on in my work, complacency is the killer of desire. It murders it. Complacency, absolutely murders desire. And one of the things that I've noticed in my own work, in my own, kind of observations. when they talk about relationships. I mean, if we're talking about this as a relational issue, when they talk about relationships, they always say they meaning the rhetoric, that kind of swirls around us. The conventional rhetoric that swirls around us. One of the things that they always say is relationships are hard. They require a lot of work, but what they don't tell us is what is hard about them? What does the work truly entail? And that's when complacency comes into the equation. You've got to be able to factor that in. And if you don't recognize that complacency is there, then you'll never have desire. 

That is a very difficult obstacle for a lot of couples. For example, I don't know about you, but I'll work with a couple. And the first couple of weeks, they'll sort of follow along with what we're, what sort of like the plan is in therapy. And then, oh, I don't know, the third or fourth week, as you just said, that complacency sets in and everything we talked about goes out the window, oh, we've already, worked on this enough. And then it just doesn't get done. So it is a difficult situation for a lot of people. 

In my experience, working with people and for folks who are listening, I'm just sort of going around different subjects here with this sexual anxiety topic. I found it's much easier for a male patient to talk with me, another guy about things like porn addiction or sex addiction than say a female client. So in other words, a male would feel more comfortable talking to me and females don't generally bring these issues up to me. So my question to you is it's twofold. One do you think that it's harder for a female to talk to a male therapist or vice versa? And this is the second part. Do you think that a woman can be addicted to porn or have a sex addiction? I know that's a big question.

Okay. So we'll take it from the top. So in answer to your first question, nobody talks about sex period. Now they will say things about it. Okay. You say things about it. You can say crude things about it. You can say, it kind of like provide examples of anything that you've seen. If you're talking about sexually suggestive material, you can talk about those things. Or like I say, say something about it, but nobody really talks about sex. There are three things that affect every single person on this planet, sex, money, and food. And yet in our culture, we know nothing about either one of them, absolutely nothing. And the three things, like I said, that affect every single person on this planet. And they, if we talk about sex in particular and sexuality, if we talk about those things, they have been whittled down to a specialization. So in order- if we're talking about people that work with us, for example, clients that work with us, basically what our field has inform them is if you have a sexual issue, it is so specialized that you need to go to a specialist in order to discuss it

A CSAT-Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.

Absolutely. And so then what ends up happening is this thing that we should be able to talk about very openly, very honestly, in order to be able to work through some of these issues, because there are always going to be issues in any relationship, money, food, whatever that is, there are always going to be issues. But if we feel as if it's something that is specialized, we're never going to talk about it. Talking about anxiety is hard enough.

Absolutely, totally. Right. I mean, and exactly, especially in our profession, right. There's, the CSAT then there's the alcohol addiction therapist. And then there's the cocaine, drug and alcohol there's a specialty for everything. and you're right it's very difficult for people to figure out who is it safe to talk to? Who, the hell am I supposed to talk to?

Exactly. 

By the way, can you briefly explain the difference between sex and sexuality? You have just brought that up. 

So this is one of the ways that I describe it in a very crude way, and I'll try to be a little more professional after I get this crude statement out. But one of the ways that I said one of the best ways to describe a sense of sex-, excuse me, one of the best ways to describe a sense of sexuality is this. You might not look like a porn star, but you will feel like one. And so when your sense of sexuality is robust and alive and working within you, because it is very much a part of your identity, sexuality is vitality, and it has nothing to do with sex. You can feel a very strong sense of sexuality and you just simply feel alive or you feel stimulated or you feel on and vivacious. And like I said, it really doesn't have anything to do with sexual activity, or maybe even being sexually desired. Sexuality is just a life force...

Within you. It's an energy absolutely. But we are always discounted that, you know? And so since we're discounted that it makes it difficult to talk about these more, challenging issues like pornography, like addiction, like compulsive sexual behaviour, or any other threats, that can, I guess, serve as a tangent away from this route.

Speaking of such, I can't tell you how many men have come into my office and, and these are guys, their twenties, their thirties, and they'll ask me straight out, Frank, do you think I have a problem I watch porn? I like to go out there, I like to have sex with multiple different women sometimes two, three different women in a week. They'll just straight out say it to me and we'll talk about it. But I've never, ever once had a female say anything in the ballpark of that. And I'm just wondering, I'd be really interested to get your perspective. Do you think it's because it's the male female therapy dynamic, or do you think women just, they don't wanna talk about that kind of thing.

So if we talk about the male female therapy dynamic then inherent in that is also male and female, which means gender typing. And so when you start to look at that gender type and we kind of fold those scripts, back into the conversation that you and I are having, one of the things that we have to consider is if we're looking at these types, so to speak. Women never really, even today, it's the 21st century and women still do not trust that they have agency over their sexual desires, conduct behavior, and sense of sexuality. And even if they do within, it is a very difficult thing to express it because of that fear of judgment. And that judgment is still there. That's why I shake my head in exasperation. And I'm thinking, my goodness we're still judging people. 

Yeah.

 

Without ever asking questions. And one of the things, especially as I bring it into my office, the notion of sluts and slut shaming and slutty behavior is still a thing. And one of the things that I always ask is what's so wrong with being a slut before we discount- we have to be able to identify when the rhetoric is so old and when the gender scripts are so old, that they're actually hurting us for very arbitrary reasons. 

 

Yes. A woman should be able to come to you. In theory, a woman should be able to come to you and discuss based on the nature of your job, the multitude of issues that might be affecting her. Because more than likely, you're probably aware of this every bit, as much as I am, anxiety is the symptom. 

 

 It Is underneath it all that anxiety is there.

If they don't feel comfortable for fear of being judged or fear of being shamed or fear of saying something that they're quote unquote, not supposed to, because it's not ladylike. Yes. I said that. Because it's not ladylike, then they're not gonna bring that to you. And all you're ever going to be treating is the anxiety.

Exactly exactly. And not some of the other underlying issues. And I've actually had female, clients that I've worked with, which I've said to them, if you want to go out there and you want to, because they'll use the term hook-up, we all know what that means. You're an adult. You get to do that. And I'll ask them why is it okay that a guy gets to high five each other. We get to high five each other every time we go out there and we sleep with another woman, right on man. And we, we hit each other on the ass about it, because we did so great, but that's not okay for a woman. And there's big double standard there. And it, I think it's really hard for women to talk in therapy or otherwise about sex and sexuality.

Exactly. And then not to, I don't necessarily want to take the conversation too far in a different direction, but you bring up a really good point when you're talking about men either, that, professionally or probably even personally. That really take a lot of, I don't know, they find a lot of credit in being sexually promiscuous, they're growing out and being, highly, sexually active without ever asking. Okay. So first of all, are they good at what they're doing? And second of all, do they like it? And do they want that? Because performing sex is not being good at doing that. And you might not be happy performing the thing, but at least you get the notch on your bed post, which makes your street cred better for the other boys in the room or in your life, to be able to share that. But are you really enjoying yourself? 

That’s the thing.

Yeah. And that's where the sexuality comes in because sexuality plays a part equally for men and women. And if they don't know how to desire this kind of getting back to that word or how to move that energy in a way that feels mutually fulfilling then they're just performing.

 

Well I agree with you in that respect because I've worked again with guys where it's like, it seems like you're doing it just to do it. Like, what is the motivation behind it? Because you're a guy and you feel like, oh, this is the thing I have to do. Are you enjoying it exactly to your point there? Okay here's another question I have many people assume that sexual perform anxiety is just a guy issue. So I kind of wrote this out, but we know that women too, they struggle with sexual performance anxiety. It can show up in different ways. Like maybe they're not interested in sex or they're having trouble getting aroused or even having an orgasm. How do you help women talk about their own kind of sexual anxiety issues?

 

So that is such a huge question. And it goes, I mean, honestly it goes back centuries because when you have, been conditioned, especially, as women, when you have been conditioned to relate to sex and sexuality in a certain way talking about it, addressing the issue, especially around any anxiety is almost impossible to do. Now Fortunately because I love my job. I love what I do. I'm able to kind of crack that open and let's really get in there and do the work. But I definitely can see a lot of the resistances because it is, and this is something that I hope to change. If I revolutionize not only the field, but the way that we think about these things as well. 

 

We have to make sure that I think women understand, not only the difference between sex and sexuality, but also the challenges, if not the negative consequences to being a passive participant. Women can engage in sexual activity, we can participate and yet be incredibly passive. And that creates a whole series of problems in and of itself. Because if quote unquote it is so easy for us to be passive, well, do we really want to bring up the issues? Do I really want to confront it? Because that's going to be a conversation that I might not be ready to have, cause he's going to think that I want to leave the relationship and I don't really want to leave the, I just don't know how to, you know? It's problematic.

 

Absolutely. And for, for a guy, it is what it is either that penis is going to get erect and he can see it and she can see it. So I mean, have to at least talk about it or it's noticeable. There's a difference there for a woman. I totally agree with you. It is hard to talk about it and then that passive, maybe sometimes passive aggressive attitude goes on and then it all can blow up. Do you talk with women about this? Does it eventually come up in some of your sessions?

 

Oh, it'll come up immediately because I know, okay, we're going to get through this right now. and I hate to say or generalize, my client base, but I can generalize my client base. That's one of the reasons why I wrote two books about these generalizations that we'll get to at some point, I'm sure. But in generalizing my client base, that's one of the things that just keeps walking into my office, this shame blaming guilt that they have around certain issues. And if we're talking about sex and sexuality or sexual performance and the anxiety around that, well rather than address the anxiety it's just going to be easy enough for me to be passive. And so, because I know that that troupe exists it's one of the things that I try to factor out immediately. And so it's like, I almost will ask questions that purge the issue as opposed to waiting for it to present.

 

Okay. Speaking of which you do have a couple of books out, can you tell our audience about your books?

 

So the books are really interesting, especially as we are talking about some of the, issues that we're talking about today, because one of the things that I've seen time and time again, is it's not the anxiety that brings people to my office. It's not the depression or the trauma. It's conventional wisdom that puts pressure on how we address the anxiety and the depression and the trauma. So going back to what I said before, there is conventional rhetoric and ideologies that talk about what a woman's place is within sexual desire and sexual activity, but nobody ever questions that conventional wisdom. like what's so wrong with being a slut. If you can tell me what is wrong with being a slut I will listen. But if you just dismiss sexual promiscuity, if you want to call it that, if you just dismiss that as being a bad thing and you don't tell me why that's not going to fly, you have to tell me why.

 

It's so embedded into the culture. And it's awful because I think there is a double standard there. I actually say it to a lot of the people I work there totally is a double standard that shouldn't be there. Here's another question. I've had the opportunity to work with people who come in for support around this performance anxiety that we just talked about. Why do you think that one of the first thing so many therapists go to is childhood trauma. Oh, it's childhood trauma. When someone says I'm having a hard time getting an erection or having an orgasm.

Yeah. So, in my very salty response therapists are lazy. That's why they always go back to.

 

michelle manning

Author/LPCC

Michelle L. Manning is author of Crazy and Functional and Functional and Crazy. Her work as a therapist inspired the question: What really makes people crazy? And her books are the answer.
She is also co-host of The 30-Minute Hour podcast which takes a crude and irreverent look at the difference between quality therapists and therapists who simply "phone it in." To learn more about Michelle, visit michellelmanning.com.