Last week I gave a talk on relationship communication at Fascinations in Boulder. I was worried that the topic would be somewhat lackluster. At Fascinations, I’m usually asked to talk about captivating cunnilingus and fabulous fellatio. “Communication” seemed a little vanilla for a store that prides itself on spicing up sex.
But in truth, communication, verbally or nonverbally, is absolutely essential for any kind of sex — vanilla, chocolate or rocky road with hot fudge and peanut butter chips. Basically, the more you can talk about sex, the better your sex will be.
That said, communication around sexuality can be tricky. Sexuality has its own language — one that is dripping with social, familial and religious messages, connotations and projections. How and how often you have sex conveys a message all its own. Even celibacy has a strong message behind it.
No sexual contact often illustrates that sex is an activity burdened with pain, shame, guilt or fear. For example, last week, National Public Radio covered the Catholic Church’s celibacy debate. Female lovers of Italian priests came out of the closet with an open group letter pleading to Pope Benedict XVI to reverse the celibacy rule. The women in the letter advocated for their Catholic priest partners to have the freedom to express love.
The NPR story discussed how the majority of priests who have companions share their love in secrecy; however, the irony is that it’s an open secret that priestly celibacy is often violated. The story continues to discuss how communication around celibacy is poorly constructed. Priests are not given sufficient coping skills or techniques to talk about celibacy and how to manage it.
The church’s underlying message is that sex is dirty and that taking a more sacred and spiritual path means refraining from all sexual activity. It’s like we forget that God (or whatever higher power you may or may not believe in) made us sexual beings. Remember that women have a clitoris — a beautiful and biological body part that serves no function other than pleasure.
But priests are not the only ones receiving inadequate techniques for how to approach sexuality. The majority of us, especially in the United States, struggle with how to talk about sex, particularly when the values of religion become intermingled in the mess. Many evidencebased research studies have shown that parents who discuss sex and sexual safety with their youth have a greater impact and efficacy rate for the delay of an adolescent’s sexual debut. However, talking about sex and giving your child a pack of condoms can be a scary activity. Our society has socialized us that doing so will only give our youth the message to start having sex ASAP — even though the research shows otherwise.
Whether you subscribe to religion or research, the messages surrounding sex are often loaded. In their letter to Pope Benedict XVI, the Italian women state: “The reasons that, over time, prompted the church hierarchy to introduce [the celibacy] discipline in the canonical legal system itself are commonly known: economic interest and expediency. Then, over the centuries, everything has been marinated in a certain amount of misogyny and hostility toward the body, psychological drives and its primary needs.”
Stefania Salomone, an office manager in Rome, challenges the sacredness of the celibacy rule. As a previous lover of an Italian priest, she started a website for women in relationships with priests. She wanted to advocate and communicate that “sacred” is the right of people to share love and get married. In my opinion, that goes for all people of any gender or sexual orientation.
Whatever form your relationship takes, it’s important to communicate. Whether you are a parent or a priest, sex need not be a secret. And so, I applaud all the parents who have the courage and take the time to discuss sex with their youth. And I certainly applaud the brave Italian women who came out of the closet to fight for love. These women fearlessly illustrate that communicating love, with words or through sexual intimacy, is healthy — and a human right.
This week’s column is dedicated to my friend Eric Brown, who passed away last week. He always communicated how grateful he was for the people in his life. When you love someone, let him or her know.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.