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When it comes to sex, we often hear about how we can be better. How can we be dynamite in bed? How can we intensify our orgasms? How can we deepen our partner’s pleasure?
Literature in popular magazines tends to load us up on advice as to how we can advance our skills sexually and bring more passion into our sexual lives: Follow these 5 tips to make your sexual escapade hot AF! 12 ways to get there faster! The more of this advice we consume, the more we may be convinced that the pathway to a satisfying sex life is achieved by reading up on and knowing the hottest tips and tricks to ignite passion in our relationship and blow our partner’s mind.
While the tips and tricks showcased in magazines certainly serve a suggestive purpose for sexual inspiration, the messages they promote can encourage us to believe that in order to experience sexual satisfaction, we need to be good at sex. We need to be knowledgeable about sex and what we like. We need to know precisely what to do physically, and when to do it, and for exactly how long. We need to know how to touch our bodies and also how to stimulate our partner’s body to experience pleasure.
So what happens if we don’t know much about sex? What if we have never had an orgasm? Or if we have had few to no previous sexual partners? Or if we have never engaged in solo sexual exploration -- a.k.a. self-pleasuring or masturbation?
The reality is that we might not have much feedback to inform our sexual repertoire. Basically, we may not have a solid grasp on what combination of ingredients boost or dampen our sexual desires or what specific types of touch facilitate optimal sexual arousal (turn us on).
Let’s explore an example...For the person who has never engaged in self-pleasuring, it makes sense that it may be difficult to identify exactly what type of touch and where would feel pleasurable to you. The reality is that, without feedback (from our experiences, our bodies, or our partners), we are likely to be in a place of not-knowing. And sitting in this place of not-knowing can feel rather uncomfortable. Especially when we are constantly being fed messages that say that we need to be knowledgeable about the latest tips and tricks AND that the quality of our sexual interactions depend on that knowledge.
Ooof. Is anyone else sweating yet? So much pressure.
We live in a culture where we are socially groomed to believe that being knowledgeable about all the sexual bells and whistles are essential to having a satisfying sex life. When most popular sources of sexual knowledge promote ways to increase sexual performance, it is easy to feel anxious about having to live up to those standards. And for those of us who do not feel like we are the most adept when it comes to sex, we may even feel insecure about being sexually inexperienced.
Literature published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior examining the prevalence of sexual inexperience in adulthood estimated that roughly 3% of adults surveyed were considered sexually inexperienced. [FYI this study measured sexual inexperience based on whether participants’ engaged in specific sexual acts]. We know that the number of people’s sexual encounters does not exactly counteract their anxiety when it comes to sex because anxiety disorders are so common. While the prevalence of performance anxiety or ‘sex anxiety’ is statististically unknown, we do know that anxiety disorders commonly affect 40 million adults (ages 18 and older) in the United States population annually. That is more than 6 times as prevalent as sexual inexperience!
Whether someone is struggling with anxiety about sex and they have had few sexual partners or they have had many partners, the felt sense of not-knowing (about sexual desires, arousal, pleasure) can lead to feelings of insecurity around sex.
We do not need to be sexually inexperienced to feel sexually inexperienced.
If we perceive ourselves as less sexually experienced, we might also feel less confident about our sexual skills. This lack of confidence can also show up as feelings of inadequacy, timidness, confusion, guilt, shame, awkwardness, worry, insecurity, curiosity, or anxiety.
Needless to say, this focus on thinking sexual performance as a competitive sport is not helping us much when it comes to sex. So, let’s consider some other ways of thinking about sex through a pleasure-oriented lens.
- You can adjust your expectations. Remind yourself that you cannot think your way through to pleasure. Reading up on the hottest new sex tips may provide some great inspiration, but there’s no guarantee that it will be pleasurable for you as pleasure is such an individualized experience. Pleasure is a sensation that you feel and embody. It requires an engagement of the senses (think stimuli you can see, smell, touch, taste, or hear).
- You can explore sensations and notice what feels good. This is going to take some time and practice and that is to be expected. Trying something and finding out that it does not feel pleasurable to you is NOT a failure. Rather, that is simply just information for you to take in. Consider it another stop on your explorative journey towards pleasure town.
- You can specifically choose to engage in activities that are pleasurable. Once you have a sense of what feels good to you physically, then you will be able to communicate that information to a partner, if partnered sex is your thing.
- You can practice being patient with yourself. If you hear a friend talking about their latest mind-blowing sexual experience, try not to compare your sexual journey to theirs. Remember, people are generally more-likely to share their steamy stories before their sob stories.
There’s no need to soak up all the tips and tricks to try to be the best of the best at sex. As long as you cross the finish line of pleasure, then you’ve come in first.