Improve Your Sex Life by Recognizing Unhealthy Forms of Consensual Sex

Consent: undoubtedly the most important part any sexual activity or encounter. After all, let's not forget that without consent, it’s not sex; it’s rape. Due to the prevalence of rape culture in our society, consent has (rightfully) become a rallying point, the subject of slogans and pins, and no one can deny that it's a step in the right direction. People should be taught about consent in all situations from a young age, and should be specifically taught to respect consent. Respect is especially important when we realize that rapists use confusion about consent as an excuse. Sadly, these sexual perpetrators often know when someone isn’t consenting; they just don’t care.

However, there’s much less discussion about how consensual sex can be bad for us. Whether we'd like to admit it or not, sometimes, the sex we seek out and agree to can be equally unhealthy. Sex positivity is great and all, but it often disguises sexual behavior that is still only for men’s benefit, and forgets that sex isn’t always perfect like it is in the movies. 

For example, the first two people I had sex with wanted to call me “daddy,” in both sexual and non-sexual situations. They expected me to be dominant, bordering on abusive, during sex, simply because I’m man. Wrongfully they had assumed that being dominant in sexual contexts was what all men wanted. Little did they know, I was uncomfortable with these requests, and still am. But I wanted to do what they wanted, so I went with it. And from then on, that's what I thought sex was: complying to misconceptions. Unfortunately, our society often paints sex in an aggressive light, where men violently take control of a woman. Dominance and physical abuse is what women see, what they’re taught to expect, and it’s what men are trained to do through watching porn. There is, therefore, an inherent imbalance in expectations for sex between men and women.

Due to social expectations, among other issues, women are also expected to prioritize men’s pleasure. I mean, let's be honest, how many times have you gone down on a man, and he hasn’t returned the favor? How often does sex end with a man’s orgasm, regardless of his partner’s desires? Sex should be balanced in terms of enjoyment. It's not a reward or a prize to be won or given; it’s an expression of intimacy between people. No matter the situation, whether it’s a one-night stand or sex between people who have been comfortably married for years, that balance should be something sought by everyone involved. Sometimes, it isn’t possible or healthy for everyone involved to be satisfied, and that’s normal. The real problem lies in the fact that expectations of sex held by men and women can be drastically different--men considering it a trophy, and women seeing it as a chore.

Women sometimes outsource their pleasure to men; The sex becomes a performance, and the pleasure comes from feeling you’re performing well, rather than from physical pleasure or intimacy. This is further complicated by self-objectification. Are you enjoying the sex, or enjoying that it makes you feel sexy, feel valuable, desired, or good about yourself? If you can’t separate sex and intimacy from the performance and your self-image, it can lead to unhealthy sexual relationships.  A symptom of this is being “in your own head” too much during sex, i.e., worrying more about how you look (and how your partner sees you) than enjoying any physical pleasure.

This outsourcing of pleasure is common in young women, especially those who have sex or sexual activity with older men. Again, a key point here is that it’s not your fault; our society encourages women to be sexual at terrifyingly young ages, and young women can often feel pressured to be sexy or sexual. Add to this a culture of pedophilia, where older men specifically seek out and groom young women for this express purpose, and take advantage of insecurity. The result, then, is a plethora of sexual encounters that are painful and unhealthy for women.

But even when a woman is in an environment where she feels safe to communicate her discomfort, she may not even recognize it as discomfort. It’s just what we’re taught sex is.

Sex can manifest as self-harm, especially for those who have experienced trauma or abuse. If you feel like sex is all you’re good for, seek sex to make yourself feel better, dissociate during sex, or put yourself in situations that you later regret, you may be using sex as self-harm. Most of all, if you often feel bad after sex (a friend of mine who went through this described it as feeling “dirty” or “gross”) or immediately regret sexual activities, that’s a red flag that you may be self-harming with sex. And like any other self-harm, this can become an addiction. It can also lead to more experiences that are traumatic or painful. The most important thing to remember is, it’s not your fault. The objectification of women as sex objects and the normalization of violence against women are the major causes of this; it’s not a personal failing that causes self-harm. For those that realize they are using sex as self-harm, the next step is to figure out why.

Do you think sex is all you’re worth? If that’s the case, a good first step to recovering is to find other things that make you feel like you have a purpose, and find worth in who you already are. Ask a trusted friend for help if you have trouble with that.

Alternatively, do you feel like you deserve this? In a society that constantly blames victims, this is a common feeling for those who have experienced trauma. Your trauma doesn’t make you undeserving of love and intimacy. You didn’t deserve what happened to you, and you don’t deserve this, I promise.

 

Sadly, our modern sex culture often encourages these self-harm tendencies and perpetuates ideas that women always secretly want rough, violent sex. Women, then,  are unfairly expected to have those desires or else they’re boring or “vanilla.” While having kinks and enjoying rough or different sex is not unhealthy, perse. However, it becomes very dangerous when heavily normalized, and women can forcibly pressure women to want and enjoy it. This can also tie in with self-objectification. Do you enjoy being hurt? Or do you enjoy his reaction when he hurts you? I feel the same way about kinky sex as I do, about wearing makeup: Neither are inherently bad, but if women are expected to do it, congratulated for doing it, and punished or shamed or ignored for not doing it, can you really call it “freely chosen?”

Kinks can also cross the line of acceptable; and this happens when “behind closed doors” is anything but. There are children who know “daddy” as a sexual term. When sexual behavior is public, untagged, or includes minors, it’s including people who have not consented, and that is violating. Also, many men use kink to excuse their desire to be violent, controlling, racist, and otherwise awful. If the activity would be horrible to do outside of a sexual context, someone saying “I do it for sexual pleasure” doesn’t necessarily make it good.

 

Having healthy sex in a profoundly sexually unhealthy society isn’t the simplest endeavor. So, what can we do? First, remember that you don’t have to have sex--at all. It’s perfectly okay to exist without sex in your life. And it’s okay to not be ready. It's okay to be a virgin; your value is not tied to your sexual endeavors. If you regret certain sexual experiences, you’re not alone, and you can talk to people about them.

As for other precautions you take, stop watching mainstream porn! Not only are you often watching rape occur on camera, sexual pleasure is a powerful behavioral conditioning reward, and you’ll end up wanting what you watch despite yourself. And that’s likely going to make your sex more violent, more controlling, and more painful.  

Secondly, because sex can be more emotional and intimate than we expect, it’s necessary to unpack emotional baggage to engage in healthier sex. This involves processing trauma and having the awkward conversations. Ask your partner if it’s a one-night thing, or more than that. Ask them if they’re okay, and always pay attention to body language and other verbal/non-verbal cues. 

Next, you can hold sexual partners to a high standard. Make sure you feel safe and comfortable with that person. And if they have an issue with any of your hesitancies, they can leave and find sex elsewhere. Remember that “blue balls” or “pressure headaches” are 100% bullshit, there is no pain involved with getting turned on without having an orgasms. It actually happens all the time.

Finally, take care of yourself, and value yourself. You deserve balanced love and pleasure on your terms, no one else’s. Ditch the performative expectations imposed by toxic sex culture. Fart, sweat, get hair in your mouth, laugh, orgasm. Allow yourself to be human. Sex is dirty and, at times, funny. Bodies are all different, and that’s beautiful. Smear your makeup, bump heads when you kiss, talk and communicate, get out of your own head and lose your ego, forget your expectations of what you “should” be. Just be genuine.

 

 

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