We all know that sex is supposed to feel good and be satisfying, but what happens when you’re having sex that isn’t either of those things? It’s easy to assume something is wrong with you when these problems are occurring because they often aren’t talked about, but rest easy. You are not broken, but it’s likely your situation may be. We talked to Rachel Born, PhDc in Human Sexuality about what may be making our sex suffer, and how to overcome those things.
1. You’re too in your own head
Nothing kills the mood more than anxiety does. “The most important sex organ is the brain,” Born says, though this may come as a surprise. When thinking about sex, most people don’t immediately picture the brain. But if you’re struggling physically, it may be due to something mental. Your mind needs to be “cleared of any anxiety, self-consciousness, body embarrassment, sexual shame, worries about if this person is going to abandon you at the end of it,” in order to sexually enjoy yourself. Try to ground yourself by paying attention to the senses around you—how your partner feels, the way they look or how they smell to bring you back into the moment and remove you from these anxieties. Once you get into the moment it’ll be hard to focus on the way your stomach looks or how you sound, and both you and your partner will have a better time.
Similarly to when you’re anxious, when you aren’t relaxed mentally, your body isn’t able to relax either. “A big component to sexual pleasure is relaxation,” Born tells us. When your body isn’t able to relax, it may not be able to respond in the way you’d expect it to when you are in a sexual situation, which can make sex painful or entirely unattainable. All fears “need to be cleared in order for the body to respond sexually and get the blood pumping” to where it needs to be, Born says. Try to breathe deeply and clear your mind. Once you relax mentally, your body will follow.
“If I get too in my own head while I’m having sex I totally can’t enjoy it,” says Chloe, a junior at DePaul University. “Sometimes I really just need to remember that sex is supposed to be fun and being tense isn’t making either of our experiences better. Once I let go we both have such a better time.” Chloe recommends talking to your partner if there is something specific that’s keeping you from being in the moment, such as performance anxiety. Once you lay everything out on the table “it becomes so much easier to relax knowing your partner understands your worries and is helping you to overcome them,” she says.
If you’re worrying about your performance and how “good” you’ll be, “the brain can actually shut out sexual pleasure and turn more into an endless cycle of worries,” Born warns. Rather than thinking of the big picture, try to only focus on what is happening in the moment. If each individual moment in foreplay and sex is spent listening to one another, the whole experience will come together. Just take it one step at a time.
2. You’re skipping the foreplay
Foreplay is just as important as sex, if not more. Foreplay allows the body to relax and prepare for a sexual encounter, and skipping it may make sex painful or uncomfortable for both parties. “You don’t need to go all the way to be great at sex or feel sexually satisfied,” Born tells us. “Some people are really good at (and enjoy) giving oral. Others might really enjoy massages,” Born says. “The goal of sex, and especially sexual pleasure, is to ‘set the senses on fire.’ Reaching that level of enjoyment doesn’t necessarily need to come from intercourse.”
Jane, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, says that foreplay is her favorite part of her sexual experiences. “Personally, I enjoy the moments building up to sex more than sex itself,” she says. “I like the excitement, desire and mutual give and take of foreplay. Without it, I’m not only mentally unprepared, but also physically. My body literally won’t respond.” While your mind might be totally ready for sex, it can often take your body some time to catch up. While men’s arousal can be seen almost instantly, it often takes women more time to become sufficiently aroused and lubricated. Without sufficient lubrication, intercourse can be uncomfortable and even painful because of the high amounts of friction. If you’re not skipping the foreplay and don’t feel your natural lubrication is doing the job, there is no shame in investing in some lube to give you that extra boost you need to make all things go smoothly.
3. You’re doing something you’re uncomfortable with
While this may seem like a no-brainer, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and feel scared to speak up. If your partner is interested in something that you don’t want to pursue, never feel afraid to tell them that you’re simply uninterested in participating in that act. Sex is all about being comfortable, open and honest with your partner. Stand up for what you want—and what you don’t! Consent is the most important facet of sex. You are allowed to consent to one act and not another—kissing someone (or any other sexual act) isn’t an open invitation for more. Even if you have gone to a certain sexual point with your partner before, it does not mean you are ever obligated to do it again. Additionally, you can remove consent at any time. If you thought you might want to do something specific sexually and then during that act you decide you no longer want to, you have every right to stop doing it right then and there, no questions ask.
Telling your partner you’re not comfortable with something doesn’t have to be a big deal—simply tell them you’re not interested or comfortable doing that and move on. Telling your partner what you are and aren’t comfortable with, and hearing what they’re comfortable and uncomfortable with as well, opens a door for you two to openly communicate. If you have specific things you want to try, or aren’t interested in trying, letting your partner know that before sex can make communicating during sex that much easier.
“My partner and I had an open conversation before sex where we laid everything out on the table.” Jane told us. “I told him what I was interested in trying and what my limits were, and he did the same. Having the conversation before sex made me much more comfortable going into sex because I knew we had the same expectations. It also created trust between us, and I actually found it a turn on knowing he knew and was respectful of my boundaries.” Whether you have a conversation before engaging in sexual activities like Jane or choose to feel things out in the moment, always feel confident and comfortable in what you’re doing. If you’re not, never be afraid to speak up.
4. You’re focusing too much on your partner (at the expense of your own needs)
While being a giving and attentive lover is an absolute must to any healthy sexual relationship, there is such thing as being too giving. If you’re focusing on your partner so much that you’re completely ignoring your own needs, you may be hurting both of your overall pleasures. Don’t be afraid to tell your partner what you want and what makes you feel good. They’ll appreciate your honesty and you’ll appreciate getting the pleasure you deserve!
“Sometimes I feel like girls think sex is for guys and not themselves,” Chloe says, “but it’s absolutely about enjoying yourself too! Once I realized I was allowed to ask for what I want and that that didn’t mean I wasn’t being good to my partner, our sex got infinitely better. Knowing we’re both enjoying ourselves is the best part of all.” Remember that relationships are about give and take, and that includes acts in the bedroom. Being selfless is good to an extent, but make sure you’re asking for what you need, too!
Sex should never be anything but pleasurable, satisfying and fun for both parties. If your sex isn’t, try to take a deep look into what the reason may be, and then approach your partner(s) on how to fix it. Maybe you need to ask for what you want, or maybe they can help you be more in the moment. Whatever the problem, know there are ways for you and your partner to make your sex life satisfying—or even mind blowing, if you work on the problems together. As Rachel Born ended our interview—“happy orgasms!”