When you're hanging out with your friends, you can go from casually chatting about the weather to delivering a monologue about your last sexual encounter. Or, even if you're not super close with a person, talking openly about something like sex can be an instant icebreaker that lets everyone's guard down — which might seem counterintuitive. So why can it feel so good to share such private details with your friends and with people who you barely know?
"Oversharing with a person or a group of people who are willing to have those conversations can be a helpful way to reduce your anxiety and get validation about your experiences," says Sheila Addison, PhD, LMFT, a sex-positive couples' therapist. While we live in a sex-saturated and sex positive culture, there aren't many outlets for people to have frank conversations about their own personal desires, relationships, or bodies. So, the freedom to talk, listen, and be heard and seen by your friends can feel liberating and comforting, Dr. Addison says.
Sharing details about your sex life with like-minded people can also help you bond. Research has shown that when people disclose information about themselves, and it's reciprocated, it builds trust that strengthens relationships. (That's why you clicked with that random friend at a party who was telling you about their relationship problems.) But that said, not everyone is down to divulge intimate information about their own sex life, and that's okay too.
How comfortable you are talking about your own experiences with others likely has to do with your personality type, Dr. Addison says. For example, extroverts enjoy talking through their issues with others, and get energised when socialising, while introverts might be exhausted by it. On the other hand, regardless of whether or not you're an extrovert, if you are typically concerned about the comfort of your audience, you might be more likely to hold back.
While many people enjoy talking freely about their own sex lives, in some cases it can come across in a way that makes other people uncomfortable, Dr. Addison says. Occasionally, people get into a pattern of braggy one-upmanship, or they constantly try to prove that they have "notches in the bedpost," she says. "People will use performative sharing as a way to validate their own membership, or to do a little bit of kind of jockeying in the hierarchy with other people," she says. And while no one should shame you for the type of sexual experiences you enjoy, you should be mindful of your audience. To that same point, the venue for these discussions matters: Bringing up your latest sexual conquest while you're killing time before a work meeting is very different than talking about it with friends at dinner, so be mindful of that.
The other instance where oversharing can be negative is when people in a relationship will go to their friends to complain about their sex life. It's almost as if they're "rehearsing" the discussion that they really need to have with their partner, Dr. Addison says. "They don’t talk directly with one another about sex, or they do it in this kind of indirect conflict avoidant kind of way." This isn't necessarily bad, because friends can clarify aspects of your sex life that were bothering you. But if you don't discuss issues around sex head-on, it can cause confusion in a relationship.
The bottom line about oversharing: It's up to you to decide what you want to tell your friends about your sex life. Just because you don't love oversharing about the sex you're having (or not having), doesn't mean that you aren't sex positive. "Sex positive" really just means that you have nonjudgmental attitudes about sex, and feel secure with your own sexual identity and with the sexual behaviours of others, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine. You can be sex positive and still refrain from opening up about your own sex life, as long as you keep an open mind to what others choose to do.
Ultimately, you should be supportive of your friends and the people close to you, and you might want take a risk and broach these difficult conversations about sex, Dr. Addison says. Who knows? You might learn something new about yourself or your friends. But remember to be mindful of consent and comfort, because oversharing can be a double-edged sword: "We get really caught up sometimes on how important it is to feel seen or validated particularly around sex, but we want to be mindful of being a good friend, conversation partner, or member of the community," Dr. Addison says. "Remember to sit back, ask questions, and reflect and validate other people — and not just get it all ourselves."