You queefed. They must be disgusted. You lack an immediate erection or orgasm too quickly. They must think I’m less of a man. The attempt at a new position ends in epic failure or you hit the wrong opening. They must think I don’t know what I’m doing. You are either too dry or too wet. They must think there’s something physically wrong with me. Maybe your partner wants to have sex, you want to have sex, but you worry what they will think of your body. Will they still want to have sex with me when they see me naked?
These are the thoughts that derail sexual intimacy, reinforce negative body perceptions, close communication, and create a gap in interpersonal relationships. The easiest solution to preventing prolonged embarrassment and getting on track with open sexual communication? Humor.
Making a quick joke, even if it’s self-effacing, is the perfect way to right the ship. Laughter is already attributed to several mental and physical benefits, including relaxation of the body, boosting of the immune system, relief of stress, release of endorphins, an increase of oxygen to the brain, and improvement in mood. In addition to mental and physical benefits, laughter provides social benefits, such as those found within sexual encounters, especially in cases when things become awkward.
Erving Goffman noted the potential for embarrassment during any interactional process wherein “the individual is expected to possess certain attributes, capacities, and information which, taken together, fit together into a self that is at once coherently unified and appropriate for the occasion” (1967:105). One face-saving technique is the use of humor. Goffman views it as one of several exercises to break the ice, thereby “explicitly referring to his failing in a way that shows he is detached, able to take his condition in stride” (1963:116).
Spencer Cahill (1985) took this idea to the bathroom, literally, when he studied interactional processes in public restrooms. In the category of odor, Cahill pointed out how the use of humor diffused potentially embarrassing situations in which an individual caused a noxious odor to permeate a crowded bathroom. In making a joke of the situation, the individual not only shed himself of embarrassment or public scorn, but also reminded others that they were also capable of such human frailty and shaming was not necessary. When a comedian is self-effacing on stage, the reaction of laughter they receive is not aimed as much at the comedian, but the recognition of the commonality shared for all who have felt or acted in the given situation.
While there are several techniques to curb embarrassment, and Goffman suggests several, one must be cognizant of potential consequences. Ignoring an occurrence, such as when your partner does something awkward during sex, can act to conceal the issue. No conversation begins and your partner may be in a holding pattern wondering whether or not you noticed and, if you did, what your silence meant, thereby not resolving the issue and setting your partner up to internalize it. Even mere passing recognition of the event can seal the embarrassment. In mentioning it and moving on, your partner may perceive your reaction as a judgment.
Humor, by contrast, acts to alleviate the tension, dispel embarrassment, and add to the playfulness of the sexual encounter. Humor, however, does not include teasing or laughing at your partner in a bullying manner. Humor of this sort will certainly embed embarrassment and shame. Being able to laugh together enhances intimacy and opens up an opportunity to talk about your insecurities within an already established welcoming environment, all of which acts to intensify pleasure.
Sex should be fun and playful, but such intimacy does risk exposure to embarrassment and awkward moments. What humor succeeds in doing is to maintain the playful environment while opening up the conversation. Yes, women queef, here’s what it means. Yes, sometimes men orgasm too quickly, let’s talk about it without shame. Nothing is more important for a healthy sex life than communication. If you have to share in a laugh to get there—laugh. And it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh together about it all.
This article is originally written by David W. Wahl, Ph.D., who is a social psychologist and sex researcher. His work focuses on issues related to sexual desire and behavior, shaming and stigmatization, sex and gender, sexual violence, sex work, and human trafficking.
References: (1) Cahill, Spencer E. 1985. “Meanwhile Backstage: Public Bathrooms and the Interaction Order” in Urban Life, 14(1): 33-58. (2) Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. (3) Goffman, Erving. 1967. Interaction Ritual. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.