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Sex & Relationships > Uncomfortable Talking About Sex
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By Sheryl A. Kingsberg, PhD

Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor Departments of Reproductive Biology and Psychiatry Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Cleveland, OH

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Q: Sex was absolutely a forbidden topic when I was growing up. I'm still not comfortable with it. I'm single and in my late 40s. Anything I can do to be more open to sex when I'm dating?

Your situation is not uncommon. In fact, one sexual health pioneer recommended physicians open a sexual health discussion by asking, “What sort of sexual message did you receive when you were growing up?” Obviously, our early history and experiences have tremendous power to shape us for the rest of our lives.

But you don't have to give your early experiences such power. Admitting that you want to change your feelings about sex and develop a more fulfilling sexual life is the first step. Next is finding the right professional to help you get there. I recommend a psychotherapist who can help you work through your hesitation about sex by more closely examining the reasons behind your thinking and helping you identify new ways of thinking. This type of therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, and it can be quite effective in a relatively short time.

I also recommend that you educate yourself about sex. This might sound silly to recommend to a nearly 50-year-old woman, but all of us could benefit from learning more about sexuality. Start with your local library or bookstore, or go online to order some books. Here are a few books I recommend to get you started:

  • Sex Matters for Women: A Complete Guide to Taking Care of Your Sexual Self
  • Sex Smart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sexual Life and What to Do About It
  • Reclaiming Your Sexual Self: How You Can Bring Desire Back into Your Life.

As you read and learn, keep a journal in which your jot down your reaction and feelings to what you're reading. At the same time, try to remember more about your early sexual experiences. The following questions can help you get started:

  • What were your parents' attitudes toward sexuality?
  • What messages did you receive from your religious leaders?
  • What do you remember of your first experiences with masturbation?
  • How did you experience puberty and adolescence?
  • When did you have your first sexual experience with a partner?
  • What was that experience like for you?

The process of change is never easy, but it will be much easier for you because, as you noted in your question, you are ready to change.

This content is supported by an educational grant from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Corporation