23/11/2017 16:58 SAST | Updated 23/11/2017 16:58 SAST

Talking About Sex Needn't Be Hard, Shameful Or Cringeworthy

If you're from a conservative or religious background, talking about sex can be embarrassing. Here's how to get over that and improve intimacy.

Getty Images


I was awash with nervous excitement as local intimacy and relationship coach Tracy Jacobs sat across from a bunch of us to talk about all things intimacy in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

I believe we need more open conversation about the topic -- especially those of us who were raised in conservative don't-talk-about-sex spaces.

But I couldn't resist the slight discomfort I also felt when we touched brazenly on certain topics, although I immediately recognised where that discomfort came from -- something Jacobs pointed out as if she was reading my mind.

"There may be cultural issues that make sex a taboo subject." Or if not "taboo", a rather difficult one to talk about -- at least when you're sober.

And throughout the course of Tuesday night's session, she echoed many concerns that women I'm closely acquainted with have also raised about sex -- starting from how we were brought up.

1. 'Nobody talks about this stuff'

She hit the nail on the head with this one. For those of us who grew up in strongly traditional communities, conservative households or churches, sex was something that was not talked about at all. Instead it was shrouded in secrecy, mystery, shame, dirtiness and even guilt.

"Our attitudes begin when we are tiny, when our mothers say don't touch..." noted Jacobs.

"'The moment we experience shame and guilt, we internalise it."

Then, as we grow older, we problematically learn –– through direct or indirect teaching –– that sex is for the pleasure of a man and procreation. It's actually quite shocking how relatively late some of my friends and I got to learn –– and eventually accept –– that sex was for the benefit of both men and women. Women are healthy sexual beings -- and there is no shame in that.

Some of my recently married friends have shared how sex was not even referred to by name –– in 2017! –– when they were advised by omama in their hometowns prior to their nuptials. "Inkonzo yasekamereni" (literally, "the bedroom service" was how "it" was referred to. Yes, it's also called "it".

So one can imagine the mental barriers that need to broken for some sexually active women, as they go into committed relationships carrying all of this baggage.

Jacobs asked: "What if you've never had an orgasm and can't talk about it?"

I immediately thought: "That's a name some of us heard in our late teens, through curious magazine reading –– or from friends who had been, dare we say it, sexually liberated at a much younger age, and could share highly illuminating information."

2. 'Friends can be the best sounding boards'

Jacobs also pointed out how some friendship spaces are not welcoming to the sex conversation, unless a glass of wine or three have been had. Or "you can't speak to your friends, because friends judge you".

Memories of schoolgirlish giggles when adult women speak about sex came flooding back.

Even in these circles, phrases like "ubaba kumele adle" ("the father must eat", code for "your man must get sex") are still used. Never mind that these phrases come laden with the cheating threat: "Akadle, or uzothola ozomdlisa" ("He must eat, or he will find someone else to feed him") -- that's just a topic for another day.

Jacobs also pointed out how some partners, especially men, may not be willing to talk about sex at all with their partners -- this is a serious problem that complicates intimate relations further.

"It could be a trust issue between you and your husband -- he'd rather die than imagine you speaking about intimacy with your friends," pointed out Jacobs.

If you can't talk to your partner freely about sex, then what must happen if there are things that may need improvement or fixing?

To say: "Darling this does not feel so good", or "A little to the right", or "What about fantasies?" should be normal in a relationship, Tracy says.

Tracy's advice:

1. "Women must know that they have a right to feel pleasure." Getting to this point may require working through past sexual influences, she cautions, but it's possible.

2. "The baggage we bring into a relationship needs to be addressed as soon as it becomes apparent that it is becoming a problem in the relationship." And if professional help is needed to solve certain issues, there must be no shame in seeking it.

3. "Know your own pleasure before you give pleasure." Know about the organs in your body that exist to give you pleasure. This may start with a self-exploration first –– but again, remember that there's no shame in this.

*This is Part 1 of Sex Talk with Tracy Jacobs. Part 2 will tackle sex and religion.