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Why do I find it so awkward to talk to my friends about sex?

WORDS BY HANNAH COLE

It’s time we challenged conversational norms.

I’ve always looked at the Sex and the City women as the pinnacle of female friendship. They argue and bicker, and they may harbour resentment at times, but, for the most part, there is a palpable sense of love – they’re always ready to chat. No topic is off the table: money, morality and, of course, sex.


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But I’m not sure that all friendships have this openness and willingness to discuss the nitty-gritty (think Miranda’s infamous butt licking escapade). In my experience, it comes naturally with some and with others, it’s downright awkward (or not addressed at all). Which makes me wonder, how should we be talking about sex with our friends? I spoke to Melbourne-based sexologist Kass Mourikis of Pleasure Centred Sexology to find out.

Why the awkwardness?

If we can’t talk to our friends about sex, then who can we talk to about it? We might feel similar anxiety when thinking about chatting with our sexual or romantic partner, and even a sex therapist, Kass notes. “Sex is such a loaded, complex topic,” she tells me. “It can be awkward or uncomfortable because nobody has ever modelled or shown us how to do it, we’ve never been encouraged to talk about sex, we may not know if it’s an appropriate topic of discussion.”

There is a lot of social moulding at play here, where we are taught to keep things in the bedroom hush-hush for fear of judgement, shame and exclusion. To take that leap feels daring and brave, opening ourselves up to potential ridicule and rejection. Each friendship is unique and intricate, messy and beautiful in its own way.

We may have lifelong friends who discuss everything but their sex life, and new buddies we have spent a single night with who divulge all the details instantly. I ask Kass what this says about our friendships. “For the people where it is easier to talk about sex with, they probably started to unlearn some of that sex-negativity and shame for themselves and, therefore, they feel able to talk about sex.” Essentially, we may perceive them as a ‘safe’ person to have these conversations with.

On the other hand, those friendships rife with discomfort likely feel more vulnerable because we’re unsure of the response – whether they will judge, criticise or shame us. They might not feel comfortable talking about sex at all. It doesn’t mean your friendship is doomed, though. “It can be very easy to put it down to how solid your relationship is with someone, but it’s probably more likely a result of their own relationship with sex.” 

The importance of the sex conversation

Launching into these topics with certain friends can feel like navigating a ‘no man’s land’. It’s a wedge in the friendship that seems intimidating to navigate. But fortune favours the brave and there are plenty of upsides to talking about sex with your friends. As Kass mentions, we are often moulded to believe that sex is a “weird, private thing you don’t talk about” or is wrong or dirty, when it’s a common part of many people’s lives.

Opening up and initiating the conversation encourages a process of  “normalising, validating and probably naming what your friends could be going through too”. This is how we change the culture, how we move forward and remove the stigmas that haunt society. Having these conversations – with honesty, vulnerability and curiosity – can also “highlight the diversity in experiences and validate that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing”.

Talking about sex with friends can be a safe starting point. As we normalise sex as a topic of conversation, it can bubble over into other relationships. Importantly, this includes our sexual partners, so we can then have those necessary discussions about consent, pleasure, our needs and our wants. 

“Ultimately, when we talk about sex as a pleasurable experience or [tell] someone how we showed courage and talked with our sexual partner about our preferences and boundaries, that can show someone else how to do it too,” says Kass.

Practical steps for normalising the conversation

The first thing to remember is that it’s natural (and completely okay!) to feel a bit ick when launching into the conversation. “It doesn’t necessarily have to feel natural or carefree to have a good conversation,” notes Kass.

It’s important to practice consent, even when it comes to only talking about sex. Kass suggests these starters: “How would you feel if we made sex the topic of conversation in our chat sometime?” or “How would you feel if I shared some of my thoughts and experiences on sex? Would you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts/experiences with me?”.

You might kick off the conversation referencing something you have listened to or read recently – a podcast like In Bed or a book like Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are. These serve as healthy conversation starters and introduce a topic to consider and engage with. Or, share that podcast episode with your friend. Send it their way and ask for their thoughts. It will help you gauge whether they’re open to the discussion. 

Breaking down the barrier, removing the frog in the throat that inhibits anything starting with S-E-X, might be about you making the first move. Kass says that it may simply involve giving your friends permission to talk about sex with you, should they wish to. “If you ever want to talk about sex or any of your experiences in relationships, I want you to know that it’s okay to talk to me about them. I think it’s important to talk about pleasure and sex.”

The ultimate bucking of cultural norms might just start with a simple conversation between friends. And really, with consent on either side, it shouldn’t be that hard, should it? I love my friends for their flaws and their quirks and everything in-between, so what is there to be afraid of? I’ll take my brunch with a side of Carrie’s “colouring” euphemisms any day, thank you. 

For more on talking to your friends about sex, try this.

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