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My girlfriend was raised very conservative (both parents were in ministry) and I have a really hard time getting her to talk about sex with me. Our sex life hasn’t changed at all in the 6 months we’ve been together, and I don’t think it will as long as we avoid the topic. How do I help her get comfortable talking about it?

Sarah: I will attempt to answer this without a lengthy diatribe about sex negativity and organized religion, though it’s going to be a challenge. What you’re fighting, friendo, is a system of values that equivocates sexual purity with spiritual worth, so you’re both really going to have to chip away at some logically unstable bedrock here (the contradictory nature of which she is no doubt feeling the brunt of right now). Help her focus on the fact that sex is a chance to deepen your intimacy and just make your partner relax and feel good for a while. If I were you, I’d start with examining your language choice when it comes to talking about sex. Instead of saying “it would be hot if…,” try “It might be fun to…” which is subtle, but it takes the kind of tawdry language out an inserts a universally positive word; similarly, instead of “You’re so sexy when you (explicit sex act),” try “You’re so beautiful when you’re enjoying yourself in bed.” Start with positive, fairly PG-13 compliments until she eases into it. It might take her a while to get comfortable letting herself completely let go during naked playtimes, but you could show her that you appreciate her vulnerability and sensuality—and that "sexiness" isn't the performative, tongue-waggling horror show that it advertises itself as in on TV.

Debby: You’re right! If you keep ignoring sex conversations, you two are unlikely to become more comfortable. This is a shared problem though - it’s not just about her. She may have been raised in a more conservative home but ultimately the issue is that you two might benefit from learning to share intimacy, not just physically but with words, too. Why not try reading a fairly gentle book about sexuality together? I like Becoming Orgasmic due to its gentle tone and even if she is orgasmic, you two still might benefit from reading it out loud to one another. For Each Other is another lovely book about sexuality. Both of those are older books but still good. Of the books I’ve written, Because It Feels Good (published in 2009) and Sex Made Easy (2012) probably have the most “gentle” approach and, again, reading them together may be helpful whatever book you choose. I say this because the simple act of saying sexual words to one another can be a huge leap forward. It can also be easier for many people to start saying things about sex that aren’t about them per se. So you can talk about sex, without talking about yourselves (at first). Reading about sex may also give her (and you) a better sense of the diverse and interesting ways that people experience their sexuality. Over time, she may feel more comfortable talking with you about sexuality without feeling judged or mocked. Remember: humans develop with time and with gentle encouragement and nurturing. If you help create a space together where you can support one another, you’re likely to see real growth together. 

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