Talking About Sex in Austria

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I’ve been in Graz, Austria since Friday, teaching a couples seminar on Authenticity. We spent today discussing sexuality.

Actually, I did most of the discussing. Talking about sex is not something people in Austria do easily. When they did talk about sex today, it was mostly to discredit talking about sex.

“Asking your boyfriend questions about sex takes the fun away,” said one 30-something businesswoman. “Yes,” agreed another, “it takes time. And it makes everything too slow.” “You just get into hassles,” said a tall man from Slovenia in his late twenties. “You say something, she disagrees, and soon you can forget about sex.”

As in all my teaching, I used lots of stories and examples about food and eating. “Well, Christina,” I ventured, “Say you invite me to your home for dinner. Don’t you want to know what I like to eat?” “No,” she said, “I’m the cooker, you’ll enjoy what I make.” “But what if it turns out that I’m allergic to the thing you cook?” “Then you’ll tell me when it comes to your plate, and we’ll make some change,” she said confidently.

“What if you don’t have anything else in the refrigerator,” I gently persisted, “Or your own food is getting cold while we fix mine, or we both feel disappointed and then we don’t enjoy the evening?” “It’s not like that here,” she said plainly. “People are eating what you make, and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to always say so.” “Wouldn’t you rather avoid all this frustration in advance,” I asked, “and make it easier for everyone to enjoy the meal?”

“You make too much trouble out of eating,” Christina announced. When I reminded the group that this wasn’t just a conversation about eating, a Viennese dentist named Hans said, “You make too much trouble out of sex.” Everyone laughed at what they felt was the obvious truth of his remark.

* * *

“For most people, emotional isolation is the enemy of sexual satisfaction,” I said after lunch. “Let’s talk about how we create or maintain isolation.”

And we did, mostly in the abstract. Thinking about work or household chores. Worrying about how you look or smell. Nagging concerns about birth control or physical pain.

Then I asked more personal questions—anxiety about erection or lubrication?

People became silent.

Distress about fantasies? About climaxing too quickly, too slowly, not at all?

The silence deepened.

Remember, this is day three of our seminar. And some of these couples have been to my previous seminars in Croatia.

OK, we needed an exercise. “Everybody pair up with someone you don’t know,” I suggested. “Get a partner, take your chairs, and spread out around the room. Now take turns with this person,” I instructed, “And please name a sexual subject on which you and your mate disagree. Each of you take 5 minutes and talk it over.”

I poured myself a cup of tea and waited for the magic.

Within seconds the room was animated with talking—German, Croatian, English. When time was up, they didn’t want to stop.

“OK, now change your seat so you’re in a pair with the person you came with,” I said. “C’mon, find your husband, your girlfriend, whatever. You do remember them, right?” I teased.

“Now continue the conversation you were just having,” I requested. “You know, talk about those one or two of those disagreements you’re having about sex.”

And magic happened—the animated talking resumed. Then it faded to an urgent hush. They really were talking to each other.

When I finally ended the exercise—most of the couples just didn’t want to stop at first—there were some smiles, some hand-holding, and some tears. I asked people to share what they felt.

“We discovered a misunderstanding,” said Johann, beaming. “We each thought the other wanted something that no one really wants!” Great. “We decided to get serious about his vasectomy,” said Nadia. Perfect.

“I don’t want to say what we talked about,” said Fabio firmly. “But we decided it’s crazy that you can talk to a stranger but not to each other. We talked honestly and think this may be better. So we’re going to do it, starting tonight.” “Actually,” said Christina, “We already started. I told him I wanted fish instead of schnitzel.”

“And,” she winked at the group, “I don’t mean food.”

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