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New study sheds light on the role of non-verbal communication during sex

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Sexual communication is vital to a fulfilling relationship, but it remains a complex and often delicate subject for many. A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior shed light on this question. The findings suggest that people are more likely to communicate during sex with partners they trust and feel comfortable with, primarily using nonverbal methods to avoid disrupting the intimacy of the moment. .

Previous research has found a link between sexual dissatisfaction and poor communication, suggesting that improving dialogue about sexual preferences and desires could boost relationship satisfaction. Although much is known about verbal communication about sexual topics outside of the bedroom, less is known about communication that occurs during sexual activity, particularly in its nonverbal forms. This research gap served as the basis for the current study.

“My main area of ​​interest is research on intimate sexual relationships, so this topic fits right in with my areas of interest,” said study author Alicia M. Walker, associate professor of sociology at Missouri State University and author of In Pursuit of Masculinity: Men, Validation and Infidelity.

The study methodology involved a qualitative approach, focusing on in-depth interviews with a sample of 78 participants. These participants ranged in age from 18 to 69 and included a mix of genders and sexual orientations.

For data analysis, the research team used grounded theory, a method well suited to inductive qualitative analysis. This method involves a systematic procedure in which collected data is continually compared to emerging categories and themes until a comprehensive framework is developed.

Researchers have found that effective communication during sexual activities is significantly influenced by the level of trust and comfort with a partner. Participants reported that they were more likely to communicate during sex with those with whom they felt comfortable and trusted. This communication, which tended to improve the sexual experience, was mainly non-verbal. Many participants indicated that nonverbal cues, such as body movements, facial expressions, and other physical responses, were preferable because they were less likely to interrupt the flow and intimacy of the encounter.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that participants, particularly women, often refrained from honest verbal communication about their sexual dissatisfaction to avoid hurting their male partners’ feelings. This was particularly pronounced in relationships in which the female partner perceived her male partner’s masculinity or self-esteem as fragile. This tendency to withhold feedback highlights a significant barrier to open communication, suggesting that partners’ emotional sensitivity and protective instincts play a crucial role in how sexual communication is handled.

Another crucial finding was the variation in communication patterns between different age groups. Older participants (over 30) were more likely to communicate with the goal of increasing their pleasure. This suggests that sexual communication changes with age and experience, likely due to increased self-confidence and a better understanding of personal sexual needs and desires. Younger participants were less likely to express their needs, indicating that sexual maturity and experience may contribute to more open and assertive communication during sex.

“The takeaway is that we are more likely to communicate during sex with partners we trust and feel comfortable with,” Walker told PsyPost. “We tend to communicate during sex nonverbally, and people often feel that verbal communication during sex is awkward or disruptive. “People who have sex with men tend to avoid talking honestly about sex to avoid hurting their feelings. All of this is important because sexual communication increases our chances of sexual satisfaction. So the more openly and clearly we can communicate during sex, the better our sex will be.

But the study, like all research, comes with some caveats.

“This study included a fairly diverse pool of participants. However, participants shared heterosexual experiences even if they claimed a queer identity. Additionally, our sample did not include any lesbian participants. This study used only qualitative interview data,” Walker explained.

“Issues that still need to be addressed include the role of heterosexual norms and how their internalization might impact communication during sex. We could learn more from research comparing sexual communication within and outside of relationships. Additionally, a quantitative study and a longitudinal study could reveal even more information.

“These results come from a study on the characteristics of good sex (which resulted in two papers, the second of which will be published soon),” Walker added. “I am currently expanding this study, targeting LGBTQ participants, participants of color, and anyone else interested in sharing their experiences regarding sex.”

The study titled “Patterns of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication During Sex” was authored by Audrey Lutmer and Alicia M. Walker.

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