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Professional Christian Counseling

                Emotionally Focused...Solution Driven Counseling

  Bulding Healthy Marriages and Strong Families


The fruits of ongoing relationships are an ever-increasing sense of understanding based on less and less talk. This is one of the great joys of intimate conversations.

— Deborah Tannen[1]

Verbal Intercourse

The Intimacy She Craves

Revised 11/30/2015

If you recall the study Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield conducted from a previous section entitled His Heart, then you will remember that the results of their experiment showed how men are more willing to become sexually intimate sooner than women would be comfortable with by a margin of two-thirds to zero. While their study was concerned with openness to sex with a stranger, my contention is that a similar experiment about openness to engaging in an intimate conversation with a stranger would reveal some interesting differences about men and women. While Clark’s and Hatfield’s study shows that a vast majority of men are willing to be sexually intimate with a stranger, women appear to be much more open to becoming emotionally intimate sooner in a relationship than a man would be. Just as women are hard pressed to open up to a stranger sexually, so men are hard pressed to open up about themselves and to share sensitive information about who they are and what they’ve done in their lives to a person they do not know well. Researchers have noted these gender differences and have categorized these male versus female predispositions into either instrumental or expressive types. The instrumental measures that men most want from a mate are; practical help and shared physical activity along with an emphasis on physical intimacy through the act of sex. Women on the other hand, focus on expressive measures that emphasize a desire for: communication, sharing feelings, and revealing personal aspects of one’s self [1] which constitute emotional intimacy. Consequently women promote relationship by being the first to reveal intimate details of their life. By doing so, they establish a basis for interpersonal communication that gives the listener permission to express those kinds of things about themselves too. By progressively sharing intimate details of self through conversation, or secrets about themselves, if you will, women continuously press the other person’s level of comfort for intimate sharing which is a way to progress a relationship through talk. Communication expert Dr. Deborah Tannen has observed that “Women typically view life as a community and conversations as “negotiations for closeness….”[2] What they appear to negotiate is the depth of sharing which equates to the depth of intimacy and the emotional closeness that they feel.

Women take the lead in this department and do so even when it comes to strangers. If you think about it, without this capability, a relationship would never go any deeper than merely exchanging pleasantries with one another. As mentioned previously women push the envelope in this manner, not to mention, male comfort zones in the process. By unilaterally introducing novel conversational topics such as; things you may not know about them or, things they know about others, by doing so they are revealing intimate details of their thoughts. The probing questions they ask others place listeners in a paradox of whether or not to share more deeply or to keep the relationship superficial. Women gauge the condition of their relationships by how intimately the other person is willing to share with them. Honest, open and forthcoming responses tell them the other person is interested in intimacy while evasive hem-hawing reluctance may communicate the opposite. Men behave similarly. They do so not so much in the context of conversation but mostly in the bedroom. They unilaterally introduce sexually novel situations for the purposes of avoiding sexual boredom and for going to more intimate parts of relationship as well.[3] Just as a man’s conversational reluctance communicates a lack of desire so does a woman’s sexual reluctance to a man. Women long for the same things from their intimate relationships that men do except that they yearn for vibrant and novel conversations that constantly help them learn new things about the people they are interested in.

This may initially sound nonsensical but conversation is a way for women to no longer know nothing of another person but to learn as much as possible of them, which equates to, “knowing and being known” ― something to which God wants in our relationship with Him. My favorite definition of intimacy would be “to know another person, as well as you know yourself,” which is broad enough to include many types of intimacy not just emotional or physical types of it. The opposite of course, would be to remain strangers of one another and to know nothing of each other.

It has become obvious that men and women hold lopsided views about what constitutes intimacy. Make no mistake, men and women each enjoy all kinds of intimacy whether mentally, emotionally, physically, socially or spiritually but each place a greater emphasis on one over the others. As far as women are concerned, while many enjoy sex (primarily due to the closeness of it), they place a greater emphasis on the expressive types of intimacy that focuses primarily on Verbal Intercourse. As we discovered earlier, it finds its basis in communication and more particularly in proto- and verbal types of conversation. For women the metamessages behind body language, spoken words and tone of speech are the vehicles they read in order to both express love and to know if they are being loved.

Just as a woman's capacity to experience sexual orgasm and pleasure during intercourse are based on how intimately she is connected to her husband,[4] so a man’s ability to speak candidly and reach verbal orgasm is also related to how intimately connected he is to his wife. The greater his trust in her, the easier it is for him to speak openly and candidly with her. A woman’s brand of intimacy comes through exploring another person’s thoughts and feelings conversationally while men prefer to experience intimacy by exploring his wife’s body sexually. When these become blocked or stifled in a relationship, then the door is opened for dysfunction and a need for coping. There have been some longstanding misconceptions among early theorists regarding this.

Sigmund Freud was only half right when he thought that subconscious sexual urges drive humans sexually. His view implied that sexual urges meant a desire for coitus and the acts associated with sexual intercourse. Freud even went so far as to say that manual stimulation of the female was immature sex while intercourse was the more adult version.[5] We now know that his thinking was inaccurate as sexual intercourse is not the most efficient way for a woman to reach orgasm. Consequently many sex therapists recommend supplemental manual stimulation for the sake of the wife’s enjoyment too.[6], [7] & [8] In spite of some errors, due to the incomplete information available to him, Freud did get some things right. If we broaden his psychosexual definitions from implying that sexual drives refer only to coitus, and instead, expand them to define sex as meaning “gender,” then we can gain some traction with his theory of defense mechanisms. Freud’s theory becomes more tenable when we view women having urges not based on their desire for sexual intercourse per se but rather on biological pressure for Verbal Intercourse which for them, is a gender urge based on their sex. Just as the biological sexual appetites of men go unfulfilled, leading to the use of defense mechanisms, so women’s appetites for conversation can go unmet as well. Deficits of both sexual and conversational urges open men and women to dysfunction. Where Freud goes awry in his thinking is that women hold pathologically repressed desires for sexual intercourse. This idea comes from a false belief that women have an equivalent appetite for sex as men do. This was an erroneous core belief that not only tainted Freud’s work but has also infiltrated the beliefs of many other lay persons as well. For a woman to believe that her appetite for sex should match her husband’s appetite could easily lead her to feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. For a man to believe that his wife’s appetite should match his appetite, when it biologically cannot, would likely lead him to disappointment and even resentment toward her especially if he believes that she is repressing her desires intentionally. Likewise similar conclusions can be drawn when gender differences appear in conversational goals. Consequently, Freud’s ideas of repressed frustration could easily apply to subconscious female urges for conversation. Instead of women experiencing frustration from some repressed hypersexual nature like men do, their frustration would stem from a thwarted emphasis on protoconversation and verbal intercourse. When conversations are repetitive, dull and emotionally insignificant, Freud’s theory of defense mechanisms would suggest that women who experience conversational boredom may sublimate that repressed energy in some way or start looking elsewhere for the kind of stimulation they want. For women, connecting with another person conversationally is what gives them the greatest excitement. Men can and do experience similar feelings from a good conversation but usually to a much lesser degree and more infrequently than women do. Just as men abhor “vanilla” sex so women abhor “vanilla” conversation. Everyone wants flavorful intimate engagements with their spouse. Men and women not only share a desire for high quality interactions from their favorite brand of intimacy they also have shared goals of what those interactions should achieve individually for them.

Just as men prefer to use sexual intercourse to accomplish the following, so women use verbal intercourse for the same purposes as well:

  1. For experiencing deeper levels of intimacy and closeness.
  2. For expressing love to their spouse without using words.
  3. For the fun and recreation of it.
  4. For stress reduction.
  5. For self-validation.

And, just as men generally extend the duration of sex for the sake of a bigger orgasm, so women extend their conversations for bigger payoffs in the emotional connections they make with others. The thrill of a great conversation causes them to want to continue it. Bouts of conversation like these can last for long periods of time,[9] sometimes well into the night or early hours of the next day. The problem for couples is that studies indicate that men‘s brains are simply not structured for long talks,[10] but with two and half times more space devoted to sex drive, the male brain is structured for long bouts of sex.[11] Because both kinds of intimacy are addictively enjoyable, men and women usually like to prolong their favorite kind of it for as long as they can.

Men generally talk primarily to convey data and knowledge about world systems[12] particularly about how things work. They do so for helpfulness both to themselves and other people. Sometimes they use knowledge for self-validation in being able to see themselves as superior, whereas women converse mostly for exploring and developing thoughts, releasing stress, and creating intimacy.[13] Women generally do not share facts, data and knowledge to show themselves as superior intellects. They do share information about their relationships in order to intimate how they feel about such things, thus expecting the listener to fill in emotional gaps and respond with appropriate empathy. Women may also share sensitive information they know of others as evidence of their ability to establish and maintain intimate relationships. While used mostly for gaining collegiality, some women may relay what they’ve heard from others in order to feel superior at relationship also for purposes of self-validation.

Women converse because they want to know and be known. Communication is not seen by them as a way to correct someone’s understanding of the world but rather as a way of building community for mutual support. When a woman is able to detect that her listener understands her, without being blunt or direct, she finds this quite thrilling. For example, in one study of the ex­pressive aspects of love, some of the behaviors described as love were “communicating without words,” “sharing some­one's feelings,” and “letting someone know all about you”.[14] Because women have less testosterone than men, their less aggressive and more accommodating nature causes them to take fewer risks and to be more cautious. Before making decisions they prefer to explore their options with others and compare their ideas with what someone else might do before proceeding.[15] Without question, talking with others often does generate more and better ideas as well as clarifying present circumstances. Sharing ideas with others also maintains important alliances in case the unimaginable happens and a decision turns out bad. Having someone to lean on in such times becomes invaluable.

Women also talk in order to relieve stress. They often believe that the expression of strong feelings from sharing their thoughts makes a situation seem resolved simply from feeling understood. Sharing life events with others who will keep those in confidence build trust, affiliation and intimacy. When women share unattractive aspects of their lives and the listener expresses acceptance rather than condemnation, women feel affirmed for who they are rather than for what they have or have not done. In this way women demonstrate the agape nature of God.

Women also reveal painful aspects of their lives, particularly hurtful experiences in order to garner empathy. When they feel commiserated with, they feel emotionally supported, affirmed and valued. Generally women tend to look for these in conversation and have much greater skill at giving and receiving them than men do.[16] As an example of how this works, Carl Rogers developed a client centered type of talk therapy in the 1960s that is particularly appealing to women.

Client Centered therapies revolve around what women look for in conversation which includes: “Unconditional Positive Regard”, “Accurate Empathy” and “Congruence”. Unconditional positive regard involves treating people with respect regardless of behavior. Accurate empathy means trying to understand how a person is thinking and feeling about the life circumstances they have experienced. And, congruence means demonstrating genuineness, openness and honesty. It means not presenting a façade; wearing a mask or acting fake. Studies reveal that this type of therapy is helpful to 50% of the population and I suspect that the half that it is most beneficial to, are women. Because of the cognitive orientation of a man’s thinking, and due to his lower levels of emotion, he is predisposed to looking for “fixes” and “resolutions” rather than dwelling on feelings. Therapists who fail to understand this will miss the mark in couples work.

Biological Drives for Conversation and Reassurance

Women may be aghast to know that many husbands are capable of having sex strictly for recreational purposes. What may not be so distasteful to women is their own ability to converse intimately with other people for recreation also. When a woman reveals intimate details of herself or of her family to others through conversation, and then enjoys an emotion-filled climax, it may be just like the husband who has sex with another woman. While he may be enjoying a sexual-filled climax with someone who is not his wife, both are giving away some aspect of intimacy that belongs only to their spouse. Even though the conversational affairs that women have appear much more socially acceptable, in actuality however, they may be no less destructive to the marriage than a sexual affair might be. The truth is that women are capable of using intimate conversation for recreational purposes just like men do sexually. I suspect that most ladies might claim that their deeply personal conversations are meaningless just as the husband caught in a sexual fling might. While I could never condone a man sexually acting-out outside of his marriage, his laissez-faire indifference to using sex recreationally just as women do conversation, takes on a different light here. If a husband makes a horrible choice and does have an affair in a moment of hormonal weakness, he is likely being honest if he says that it was only sexual and that the other woman holds no significance to him. In his mind it may have been simply satisfying an animalistic need to copulate and has nothing to do with his desire to be emotionally connected with the other woman for the rest of his life. An apropos question for women may be this: “Are you capable of restricting your conversational urges only to your husband?” If not, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to condemn him for his lack of self-control. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” By all means neither spouse should not accept this behavior as the norm but should seek healthy ways of dealing with these biological sexual and emotional urges that overwhelm both spouses at times. Just as a man may feel at times, that he will burst without sex, there are times when a woman just has to tell someone about what has happened to her. When she is able to, doing so brings a feeling of release.

The release that a woman feels from a great conversation or the pressure she feels when she “just needs to tell someone” is due to the brain neurotransmitter dopamine. In the male body dopamine creates the euphoric feelings of orgasm. In the process, dopamine neutralizes testosterone thus causing the man to lose his sexual arousal while giving him a heightened mental state of contentment which also makes him sleepy after sex. Dopamine surges in the male brain upon orgasm while women have continual elevated levels of dopamine in the part of the brain that controls language.[17] Talking evidently stimulates the production of dopamine in the female brain thus causing her to associate conversation with the feelings of contentment and euphoria that men attribute to sex. Dr. Marianne J. Legato in her book Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget writes, “This love of conversation, and our ability to use it to strengthen relationships, is one of the great joys of female friendship. My friends don’t make points; they tell stories, and the ease with which we share conversation makes dinner or a drink together very enjoyable indeed.”[18]

Dr. Walt Larimore goes on to say that conversational adeptness is not learned behavior. Rather, males and females come into the world with differences in how they hear and speak already in place. The effect of testosterone in the unborn male changes his brain so that it has fewer and less connected verbal centers than does a female brain. So, it should not surprise us that girls develop proficient language skills earlier than boys. We can see evidence of these differences by the time children are toddlers. Not only do girls say their first words earlier than boys, they also tend to speak in longer sentences earlier. These differences are so profound that by three years of age, the average girl has twice the vocabulary of the average boy.[19]

She is designed to connect memories, words, and feelings, so her conversation tends to be laden with emotion and meaning. Not so with men. The biological design of men causes them to be less likely to identify and communicate their emotions. With a smaller emotional center, men remember fewer emotional experiences than women. Furthermore, the portions of his brain that process emotion are much smaller and much less connected than those in her brain. So a man’s capacity to feel and express emotions is physically separated from his ability to be verbally articulate. In conversation, men are much less likely (or even able) to talk about emotions and generally express much less emotional content than the average woman. This reality explains why male conversations are usually filled with facts and are devoid of emotion. It is no surprise to veteran counselors that the most common dissatisfaction in marriage for a woman, at least after a few years, is that her husband does not provide the conversation she needs. Yet, most of us are not aware that a woman’s sensitivity to this communication gap has a biological origin—it is connected to the calming, feel-good, bonding hormone called oxytocin. This hormone compels a woman to find others with whom she can talk it out because, when she does, it feels good and helps relieve stress and tension. Nevertheless, conversation with her husband is important because it magnifies the feelings of bonding and intimacy that she longs for in her relationship with him. However, if a wife’s expectation is that her husband will be the sole provider of oxytocin-rich relationships and conversations, she is likely to feel unloved and quite alone because those expectations are likely to go unmet. She may expect her husband to be available and able to meet all of her emotional and conversational needs, but it is just not the way he is built![20]

His brain is built to see conversation as a means to an end, whereas her brain is designed to see talking as an end in itself. Researchers have found that not only is her brain built to listen more acutely than his brain, but a woman can use up to six “listening expressions” on her face in any 10-second period of conversation. Whether women are speaking or listening, they reflect in their faces what they are feeling. A woman’s facial expressions communicate feelings to such an extent that when two women are talking to each other, it can be very difficult to tell who is sharing and who is responding.[21]

Works Cited:

[1] Gender-related sexual attitudes: Some cross-cultural similarities and differences, U. G. Foa; B. Anderson; J. Converse Jr.; W. A. Urbansky; M. J. Cowley III; S. M. Muhlhausen and K. Y. Tornbloom, Sex Roles, 16, 1987. (pp. 16, 511-519) In Elizabeth Allgeier & Albert Allgeier, (Eds.) Sexual Interactions, 5th Ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. (p. 153).

[2] You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation Deborah Tannen, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990. (p. 24). In Beverly LaHaye, (Ed.) The Desires of a Woman’s Heart, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993. (p. 34).

[3] Desire Problems: A Systemic Perspective, Chapter 1, David Schnarch, In Sandra Leiblum and Howard Rosen (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000. (p. 30).

[4] Orgasmic Disorders in Women, Chapter 5, Julia R. Heiman, In Sandra Leiblum and Howard Rosen (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000. (p. 128).

[5] Ibid. (p. 120).

[6] An evaluation of sexual performance―comparison between sexually dysfunctional and functional couples, Z. Hoch, M. R. Safir, Y. Peres, and J. Sopher, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 7, 1981., (pp. 195-206., In Julia R. Heiman, (Ed.) Orgasmic Disorders in Women, Chapter 5, In Sandra Leiblum and Howard Rosen (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000. (p. 131).

[7] The new sex therapy, H. S. Kaplan, New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1974., In Julia R. Heiman, (Ed.) Orgasmic Disorders in Women, Chapter 5, In Sandra Leiblum and Howard Rosen (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000. (p. 131).

[8] Treatment of sexual dysfunction, J. LoPiccolo and W. E. Stock, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 1986. (pp. 158-167). In Sandra Leiblum (Ed.) Orgasmic Disorders in Women, Chapter 5, In Sandra Leiblum and Howard Rosen (Eds.) Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 3rd Edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000. (p. 131).

[9] His Brain, Her Brain: Communication Differences, Walt Larimore, Christian Counseling Today, Volume 20, No. 3, Forest: American Association of Christian Counselors, 2013. (p. 54).

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006., (p.5).

[12] Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget, Marianne J. Legato United States: Rodale, Inc., 2005. (p. 72).

[13] New Rules Make Men Underdogs in Game of Love, Karen S. Peterson, USA Today, 31 July 1992. In Beverly LaHaye (Ed.) The Desires of a Woman’s Heart, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993. (pp. 63-64).

[14] Gender-related sexual attitudes: Some cross-cultural similarities and differences, U. G. Foa; B. Anderson; J. Converse Jr.; W. A. Urbansky; M. J. Cowley III; S. M. Muhlhausen and K. Y. Tornbloom, Sex Roles, 16, 1987. (pp. 16, 511-519) In Elizabeth Allgeier & Albert Allgeier, (Eds.) Sexual Interactions, 5th Ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. (p. 153).

[15] The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, New York: Broadway Books, 2006., (p.22).

[16] Sexual Interactions, 5th Ed., Elizabeth Allgeier & Albert Allgeier, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. (p. 153).

[17] Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget, Marianne J. Legato United States: Rodale, Inc., 2005. (p. 63).

[18] Ibid. (p. 72).

[19] His Brain, Her Brain: Communication Differences, Walt Larimore, Christian Counseling Today, Volume 20, No. 3, Forest: American Association of Christian Counselors, 2013. (p. 54-57).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

Verbal Intercourse Page

The Birds and Bees Talk 

You've Never Heard...

Mikel Kelly, MA, LMHC

AACC World Conference

Nashville, TN

September 24, 2015


The Genesis 2:24

Cycle of Marital Intimacy

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24 — NIV



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Heading Quote:

[1]That‘s Not What I Meant!: How Conversation Style Makes or Breaks Relationships, Deborah Tannen, Harper, New York, 1986, 2011. (p. 41).