Why It's Tough to Talk about Sex

Editor's Note

Rich Simon

I suspect that no matter how sophisticated we become about sex in the abstract, there’s some half-hidden, unacknowledged suspicion within most of us that sex---or at least the way we personally experience and think about it---is peculiar, if not downright bizarre. As Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfeld recently pointed out in a Networker interview, “Sexuality is weird. After all, we make new human beings by licking and touching and inserting one part of a body into another and squirting little tadpole things. But it’s also fantastic because we can lose ourselves in love and touch the timeless and the infinite. It’s magic. It’s wonderful.”

This weird-wonderful tension became very clear as we worked on our newest video series—Speaking of Sex—and our upcoming January-February issue on the same topic. During the weeks we were working on the subject, things got a little giddy and, well, weird. Meetings zigzagged between funny and strained. Double entendres abounded as we kept revealing our sense of common awkwardness around this loaded topic.

At one point during a conference call with staff in the DC office and several editors in other locations, a technical glitch suddenly cut off the phone connection. But those of us face-to-face around the table were so caught up in the conversation that for almost half an hour we didn’t notice the unusual silence from the people on the phone. It simply seemed to us that the strain of discussing such a taboo-laden topic---SEX!---had caused our out-of-office staff to swoon dead away, like Victorian maidens of an earlier era.

There were some other memorable moments during this process. My wife, Jette, ever the studious couples therapist and trainer, was interested in watching some of the interviews from the new video course---especially my conversations with Susan Johnson, Esther Perel, and Michele Weiner-Davis. So I sent her the links and one night after dinner, instead of the two of us hanging out together, I had the curious experience of watching my wife go off to watch me talk about sex with three other women.

Perhaps the heightened atmosphere in the office around this topic was due to our age---most of us at the Networker are decades past being 20-somethings. And, it’s true, our young assistant editor Chris, when asked for his take on sexual attitudes among his peers, brightened right up and exhibited far more comfort with, not to mention arcane knowledge about, the hookup culture than any of the rest of us could command. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that even the young male and female leads on the HBO hit Girls---who regularly and freely engage in and talk about sexual behaviors my generation could never have imagined---are shown experiencing in their sexual relationships the same old susceptibility to mixed signals, confusion, disappointment, excruciating awkwardness, and emotional pain that my generation knows only too well.

Overall, putting together the new video course and the magazine issue was an oddly touching experience, because I felt that there was a deep sense of camaraderie, common discovery, and shared vulnerability. I had the sense that whether we felt uncomfortable, exhilarated, or just fascinated by what is, after all, an endlessly fascinating topic, we were all in this project together. And by “this project,” I mean not just our exploration of sex, but the whole human project.

Whatever our inhibitions and uncertainties, we’re all sexual beings—“not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Jerry Seinfeld used to say.


Rich Simon
Editor, Psychotherapy Networker


Our newest video course Speaking of Sex: Integrating Couples and Sex Therapy with Esther Perel, Susan Johnson, Michele Weiner-Davis, Ian Kerner, Suzanne Iasenza, and Helen Fisher is open for registration now. Get full details here.

Topic: Couples

Tags: conversation | couples therapist | emotional pain | Esther Perel | girls | michele weiner-davis | psychologist | psychotherapy | relationships | sex | sex therapy | Susan Johnson | therapist | therapy | Rich Simon | networker | Editor's Note

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1 Comment

Monday, January 11, 2016 3:19:07 AM | posted by Al Bright Ph.D, LMFT
Bravo for taking this on, Networker!
I'm in your age group, Rich, and grew up like so many of us with many Victorian holdovers of the 1950's who either snickered with shame, or joked mercilessly about or, worse still, attacked anyone who spoke openly about their most intimate sexual concerns. That included myself as a recipient. How incomprehensible such hatred is, concerning a part of our lives that can really bring such pleasure, such love, and such personal growth into our lives. Esther Perel is one of the most refreshing voices on the matter that I've ever heard - a true pathfinder - and she represents the antithesis of our society's often poisonous attitude toward human sexuality. I'm glad she's among the presenters in your upcoming works. I hope the result of your teaching on this subject will help many more of my colleagues introduce their clients to a more loving and honoring approach to sexuality.