As human beings we are born communicators. Research shows that even the tiniest of babies show signs of wanting to be sociable. So why is it sometimes difficult to stand up for yourself, talk about feelings or let someone know what really turns you on? We hear lots about communication, and how important it is, but what does it actually mean?
What Is Communication?
We communicate in lots of different ways, usually with the aim of sharing information, to be sociable or to show our feelings and attitudes. Lots of communication relies on words. However, things like body-language are just as important, if not more. For example, how we look at someone (or away from them,) how we stand and our facial expressions often say much more than words about how we're feeling or what we really mean. Tone of voice can also say a lot about the messages people want to communicate (think about how you sound when you're angry or being sarcastic, chances are it's pretty obvious what mood you're in.) Communication can also happen through technology like phones, apps or social media. Sometimes this can cause issues as it's much harder to work out what someone's really trying to say when they're not in front of you.
Communication is also about being a good listener. If you hear people properly then there's less chance of a misunderstanding. If you're not sure what someone means, ask them.
Why Is It Important?
Communication makes the world go round, and being an effective communicator can help you to build positive relationships. You need to communicate so that you can learn at school, make friends, work in teams, and get a job. It also helps at home, especially as you get older and have your own ideas and opinions.
In a romantic or sexual relationship it's important to be able to tell you partner what you want and don't want. Having the confidence to speak up about your boundaries, expectations, contraception and having sex can help you have a happier, healthier relationship.
When Is It Hard To Communicate?
Lots of things can get in the road of good communication. It can feel more awkward talking to someone you don't know, someone you're attracted to or authority figures like police and doctors.
We sometimes struggle to communicate if we're worried about being judged by other people, or when we think they might not like what we have to say. It may be harder to communicate when you're in a group of people instead of one to one.
Our own feelings, and what we think people expect of us, can also get in the way of saying or showing what we really mean. Things like fear or embarrassment can impact on what you do or say. This can be especially true when it comes to talking about sex with a partner.
Low self-esteem and anxiety can also make us less able to tell someone what we really want to say.
Feeling like someone hasn't understood you properly in the past may also stop you from wanting to communicate with them.
The situation you're in can affect communication. If it's loud it can be difficult to understand people, or to be understood. Not feeling comfortable or safe can be a barrier to communication, as can being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Talking About Sex
Talking about sex can be embarrassing. But if you can't talk about sex with someone are you really ready to do something so intimate and personal with them?
Without the tools for communication people may have sex that they don’t really enjoy. An enjoyable sex life depends on being able to say what turns you on and what doesn’t. Often people feel embarrassed about expressing this for fear of what their partners will think or feel, or what they might say to other people. For example, studies have found that up to a quarter of men and half of women fake orgasm sometimes. This might be as an excuse to end sex, or a way to avoid hurting the other partner’s feelings or saving face.
Building up the courage to talk about your own and your partner's sexual pleasure can result in better, safer sex all round. Here are some tips you could try:
- Make sure the conversation happens when you aren’t actually having sex. Having a conversation about sexual behaviors is usually easier when both partners are clothed and just hanging out together. People generally will feel less vulnerable, emotionally and physically, for what can sometimes be an awkward or difficult conversation.
- But it's okay to tell someone if you like or don't like them doing something at the time they're doing it. You could say "that feels nice" or "that's a bit uncomfortable." You could move their hands, but don't force them to touch you if they don't want to.
- Use “I” statements. Statements that begin with “I think” or “I believe” let a partner know that you’re speaking for yourself and how you feel and that your conversation is about expressing your thoughts —not about accusing or attacking. Be sure that your language and thoughts are clear. You might want to work out what you want to say in your own head first before you talk to your partner.
- Practice. Like anything else, good communication isn’t something that everyone is automatically great at. Learning how to communicate effectively and in a way that each partner feels valued and respected can take some time. It gets easier!
- Keep your chats (and your sexual behaviour) private between you and your partner. Your pals can be a good source of advice, but you don't have to tell them everything. However if you're worried about your partners behaviour, or feel like you're being forced to do anything, tell someone.
- Relax. This all sounds pretty serious. But the truth is that communication can be easier when you both feel relaxed. It's okay to laugh and joke about sex, just be mindful that this won't hurt anyone's feelings.
Everyone has times when they don't communicate as well as they'd like to. If you'd like any support around what you can say to someone, or how to deal with any communication problems, then please ask us a question or access our 121 service online.