Whats So Dirty About Sex Talk

Women's Dating

What’s So “Dirty” About Sex Talk?

Chloë Hylkema

Written by: Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema uses her writing skills to create useful and up-to-date content for DatingAdvice.com. Chloë is an Emory University grad who is familiar with what it means to date in the modern age, and she works to write material that is engaging, truthful, and as helpful as possible. Being on the front lines of the dating scene, Chloë is committed to staying engaged with the ever-changing world of dating to provide the most useful content to readers.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Discuss This! Discuss This!

The Short Version: Sex isn’t an easy conversation topic for most people. Certified sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson talked to us about why this is and how individuals and couples can overcome shame, silence, and isolation and step into an empowered and embodied experience of sexuality.

We use a lot of words and phrases to describe having sex. There’s “doing the deed,” and it’s close relative, “doing the nasty.” Move over to phrases that use the word “dirty” to describe sex, and there’s nothing short of a list:

“Getting dirty.”

“Down and dirty.”

“Talking dirty.”

So much of the language we use to describe sex is euphemistic and implicitly shameful. “Dirty” and “nasty” have become words so associated with sex some people don’t have the language to describe or talk about sex outside of it. Some people may not have any language at all.

Certified sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson talked to us about the language people use around sex, why we use it, and how we can improve it. She explored her model for approaching conversations about sex, called Comfort-Inducing Sexuality Dialogue, or CISD, and shed light on the power of laughter.

“Ask yourself, why is it dirty?” Kimberly said. “It’s so baked into the cake of our culture. They’re so tied– the negativity, the shame, the dirty– and sex. It’s all so ingrained, so every talk about sex is dirty.”

Conversations Against the Grain of Purity Culture

People find conversations about sex challenging for a variety of reasons. Kimberly pointed to the cultural undertones that influence the way we approach conversations about sex. This cultural influence extends into language.

From the language someone uses in casual conversations about sex to how they discuss it with a partner, the way a person speaks about sex influences how they view it, feel about it, and have it.

“The role of sexuality in our culture as being negative, dirty, perverted tells us that it’s something that needs to be in the dark and in secret,” Kimberly said. “It’s often hard for people to talk about their desires and fantasies, even in committed sexual relationships.”

atittudes toward sex and language
Changing attitudes toward sex could start with shifting the language.

While the tide is slowly changing, many people encounter messaging and ideas that cast sex – and talking about it – in a negative, shameful, or perverse light. 

Kimberly treated patients who were struggling with sex and realized how many people don’t have the language to talk about their sexual questions, experiences, and desires.

“Through my work, I discovered how difficult it was for the average person to speak about their sexual preferences, fantasies, and expectations. It always felt so sad to me and disconnected that people, even in a therapist’s office, couldn’t say certain things out loud.”

Cultural messaging that reinforces sexual shame and guilt also reinforces silence. Kimberly said she’s treated clients who feel shame about simply thinking about sex. 

The first step in untangling sexual shame and stepping into empowerment is finding the security and language needed to have meaningful conversations about sex. This is where Comfort-Inducing Sexuality Dialogue comes in.

Talking – and Laughing – About Sex

Kimberly developed Comfort-Inducing Sexuality Dialogue to help individuals and couples struggling with this necessary first step. “It’s sort of a value system around talking about sexuality and sex,” she said. “I use that with my patients to help facilitate comfort and honest expression about their sexuality.”

Kimberly developed CISD after 30 years of clinical experience treating patients. CISD incorporates interpretation of early sexual experiences and messages, the use of clinical examples to normalize common sexual concerns, and education about human sexual response and identity.

“We all have shameful or embarrassing early sexual experiences,” Kimberly said. “Maybe they involve other people, maybe they don’t. And even in the privacy of our thoughts, we can feel uncomfortable thinking about these things. There’s a disconnect between our thoughts, our values, and our behaviors. The disconnect can cause so much shame.”

Each person has a story they live and tell themselves about sex and sexuality. CISD takes the stance that talking about sex in a therapeutic setting can be profoundly liberating. 

comfort inducing sexuality dialogue
Conversations about sex don’t always have to be uncomfortable or difficult.

Kimberly said, “Being open and honest about your sexuality– out loud, with another person– can offer insight that you could never get on your own.”

Medical settings should be safe places for individuals to talk about sexual concerns, especially therapeutic settings. Kimberly said many medical professionals aren’t equipped with the knowledge and experience to have open, comfortable, and non-judgmental conversations about sex.

“A lot of therapists can’t even talk about sex because they’ve grown up in the same culture as everybody else,” Kimberly said. “Unless you’re really intentional about it, even mental health providers and physicians can be uncomfortable discussing sex with patients.”

CISD allows clients to put it all on the table and centers humor in the therapeutic experience. “We do a lot of laughing,” Kimberly said. “Humor is very important, and even more important when discussing sexuality.” Centering humor in the therapeutic experience helps dispel feelings of judgment and shame.

Open Dialogue Improves Emotional & Sexual Intimacy

Kimberly said couples can use techniques from CISD to incorporate open dialogue into their conversations about sex. Education, honesty, and humor are all core facets of these techniques.

“I think you can extrapolate some themes from CISD and generalize them to your own relationship. It all depends on a person’s history, belief system, values, and all the things that have influenced how they view sex,” Kimberly said.

Couples who have open and regular conversations about sex enjoy higher levels of sexual and emotional intimacy. Openness about sexuality encourages honesty and a level of vulnerability that strengthens the core of a connection, and the positive effects of this can touch every area of a couple’s life.

Small connective moments are essential for the health and longevity of relationships. They can take many different forms. Kimberly pointed to one example that she says has been bastardized by some viral buzz. 

The Orange Peel ‘challenge’ involved people asking their partner for an orange and seeing whether their partner would bring them a peeled or unpeeled orange. According to the challenge’s ethos, a ‘good’ or ‘caring’ partner would bring a peeled orange.

the orange peel theory
The Orange Peel trend gets at the importance of small acts of service.

“The online trend completely lost the spirit of the idea. It’s not about recording your boyfriend and trapping them in this awkward moment. I’ve been sharing this story for 30 years,” Kimberly said. “I was dating a man who refused to peel an orange for me.”

Kimberly continued, “Even though I have this condition on my skin where the acid in the juice makes my skin blister, he didn’t want to peel the orange for me. He said I would have to figure it out for when he wasn’t there.”

Kimberly eventually ended that relationship and began dating her future husband. “I was mentioning my skin condition and sort of being passive and cryptic about asking him to peel an orange,” she said. “I was being so apologetic about it.”

Kimberly was surprised by what the man she was dating did next. He clarified that she was asking him to peel an orange, and the clarification caused her to backpedal and feel embarrassed about the question.

“And then he told me it would be his pleasure to peel an orange for me every day for the rest of my life,” Kimberly said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to marry him.”

Small acts are incredibly meaningful. Conversations about sex don’t have to be these enormous events – with practice, they can become as integrated into couples’ daily lives as other connective acts.

“My husband and I are pushing 30 years,” Kimberly said. “I tell that story not as an example of a test you can do, but as an example of how protective small meaningful acts can be in a relationship.”