Secret to Good Sex? (cont.)

In sharp contrast, most men and women in same-sex relationships said it was easy to discuss sex. The institute's survey, conducted on its web site, included questions that probed the frequency with which people told their partners what they wanted sexually and asked them to identify the reasons when they felt they could not. Seven of 10 gay men said sex was easy to talk about, and 2 in 3 lesbian women said the same, making the gay and lesbian respondents dramatically less reluctant to communicate sexual desires than the straight respondents.

Survey Imitates Life

While critics and the survey takers alike say the study, because of online data gathering, is not scientific, the findings do reflect what therapists hear in practice. "I see couples married 20 or 30 years and they're still having problems, says psychologist Linda Carter, director of the Family Studies Program at New York University Medical Center. "People have told me they've never talked about how they wanted sex, where they wanted it, and when they wanted it."

The good news? Shortcomings can be remedied and the lines of communication opened, experts say, if both partners are willing to work on it, change some bad habits, and talk, talk, talk. First, it's vital to understand why it is so difficult to talk about sex in the first place.

What's the Problem?

Co-authors of Renew Your Marriage at Midlife, the Brodys make it clear that learning to talk intelligently about sex is doable, not impossible.

But deep down, most people are conflicted, at least a little. "There's an idea in this society that a lot of people are engaging in sex freely, without inhibition -- it's the Playboy philosophy," says the Midwest Institute's director, psychologist Barnaby Barratt, PhD, professor of family medicine, psychiatry, and human sexuality at Wayne State University's School of Medicine. "In fact, everyone has conflicts. Though many of us try, strenuously, to make it appear that we don't, we do."

On one hand, he says, everything in our culture is greatly sexualized. On the other, we feel profoundly guilty and ashamed about sex and think that talking about it in detail is despicable in personal relationships.

Easier for Some?

Why do gays and lesbians fare better than straights when it comes to straight talk, at least in the survey? Barratt ventures a guess, but stresses that it is pure speculation. If your sexual orientation and preferences are those of the minority, he says, you may learn to speak about your sexual wishes as you develop them. You have to work out your shame and guilt. "You have to own your sexuality," he says. This attitude of course, probably applies most to those who are "out" and comfortable with their orientation. Those who are just beginning to realize they are gay or lesbian may think about what they want but not speak openly about it.

More Difficult for Others?