We often hear that money is the new sex, meaning that we can talk openly about sex but people still keep their pursestrings tightly shut when it comes to specifics about money. I don’t agree. Although we’ve certainly exploded the taboo around seeing sex portrayed in the media, very few sources speak explicitly and honestly about what average, everyday people are thinking about and doing in the bedroom. In other words, we see a glamorized view of sex in films and television, which then creates an expectation that that’s what us mortal humans are supposed to replicate, but we still don’t have honest conversations about what is normal to experience and expect. This leaves most people with a sense of inadequacy and guilt when they believe that their relationship isn’t living up to the cultural standard.
What is Normal
Like love, romance, and marriage, sex is fraught with misconceptions and assumptions about what is normal. Thanks to Hollywood and mainstream media, most people develop an idea about what sex “should” be like (it would be helpful – possibly life-changing – to strike the word should from the English language – or any language, for that matter). Here’s the common list of shoulds:
- I should always feel hot for my partner.
- I should always be attracted to my partner.
- I should always want to have sex with my partner.
- We should be having sex 2-3 times a week.
- I should never fantasize about anyone else.
- We should always know how to please each other.
- Sex doesn’t count unless we both have orgasms.
- Sex doesn’t count unless we have intercourse.
Here’s the reality:
- You won’t always be hot for your partner.
- Not only will you not always be attracted to your partner, you may, at times, feel repulsed by your partner. Like love and hate, attraction and repulsion exist on the same continuum. When you soften into repulsion, you open the doorway to attraction.
- You and your partner decide what works for you in terms of frequency. If you’re both okay with once a month (or less), that’s fine. Like marriage, there’s no paradigm or model that you have to mold yourselves into. If it works for you, great. If not, you can work on changing it together. People have different levels of libido, and if you and your partner aren’t very sexual, that’s fine.
- It’s normal to fantasize about other people.
- It’s normal to fantasize about the same sex even if your preference is the opposite sex. This doesn’t mean that you’re gay or that there’s a problem with your sexuality.
- It’s okay to fantasize about the opposite sex even if your preference is the same sex. This doesn’t mean you’re with the wrong person.
- It’s normal for your mind to drift during sex.
- It’s normal not to enjoy it every time.
- It’s normal to be bored sometimes.
- It’s normal to want it to end sometimes.
- Sex comes in many difference forms. You can make love without having intercourse. You can make love without having orgasms. We live in a culture that is outcome and achievement oriented which means we only value the end result: orgasm or intercourse. A healthy sex life includes all forms of connecting with your bodies, from kissing to intercourse and everything in between.
- Many relationships have a high-desire and a low-desire partner. This can be challenging if your partner wants sex 4-5 times a week (or more) and you’re happy with 1-2 times a month. Challenging, yes; a deal breaker, no. Like any other difference in a relationship, you can work to find creative and respectful ways to handle differing needs. But it’s not a reason to walk away.
Good Sex and a Good Lover
When I ask my clients to define “good” or “bad” sex, they’re usually at a loss for words. Sometimes they mean that they’re not having enough sex. Other times they mean that their partner doesn’t turn them on enough. I generally hear confusion about their partner’s responsibility and a lack of responsibility for their own sexuality, as if it’s their partner’s job to “make them feel” aroused.
If you’re an infatuation junkie, a love addict, or have been attached to the chase in any way, you likely define good sex as the moment when the object of your longing returns your gaze. It’s a drug-like high when you finally tumble into bed with the coveted lover, and even if the chase turns into a relationship, if you’re in the pursuer position you’ll always experience sex as a confirmation that your partner loves you, which will sizzle the sex with an ecstatic quality. You may feel hot and bothered during the sex, but afterwards you generally experience a hollow pit in your belly that makes you want to cry (and you often do).
Here’s my definition of good sex: two loving people in a loving partnership showing up to express and receive their love through their bodies. Good sex is when each partner is connected to his or her own sexuality and can bring this aliveness to the partnership. Like love, no one can “make you feel” turned on. In other words, the fire ignites first inside of you, and through your love making (which may or may not always include intercourse), two flames intermingle and the fire burns brighter than it did individually. Good sex – like good love – is when you’re concerned about your partner’s pleasure: if you each put the other first, you’ll both come in first. Good sex isn’t about outcome (orgasm) but about connection. Good sex leaves you feeling close to your partner and close to yourself. You may cry because you’ve been touched in a deep place inside of you, but they’re not tears that arise from feeling used (as in the above scenario).
I often hear my clients say about an unavailable ex, “He was such a good lover.” I can only assume that to mean that, because of his unavailability and possible jerkiness, the ex flaunted an air of superiority, which translated into the image of hotness in my clients’ eyes. This, of course, has nothing to do with good love or good sex. A good lover has nothing to do with technique or tools or arrogance. A good lover is someone who can receive you and cherishes you as the beautiful person that you are. A good lover is someone who is willing to listen and explore with you. A good lover is someone with whom you feel safe to be vulnerable and peel away the layers of armor around your heart and your body. A good lover holds you when you cry and celebrates your triumphs. A good lover isn’t threatened by the fullness of your being and encourages you to become who you’re meant to be.
And yet, the best lover in the world can’t “make you” feel alive and aroused in your own body. The aliveness must begin inside of you. Good sex depends on you claiming your sexuality and developing a healthy and loving relationship to your own body. I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough: you are responsible for your aliveness, including your sexuality and your arousal. I’ll say it bluntly: if you feel hot and you have a partner who celebrates your hotness, you will have a good sex. Conversely, if you’re depressed or anxious or feel disconnected from your body and sexuality, there’s not a partner in the world who will turn you on past the initial honeymoon stage.
Again, if neither you nor your partner are naturally very sexual and you’re both fine with infrequent sex, let go of the worry! You’re fine. There’s no rule that says that a good marriage depends on frequent sex. Yes, we read things in Cosmo like, “Sex is the glue of a marriage,” and while that may be true for some people, it cannot possibly be true for everyone. We live our lives with a severe expectation of achieving “normal”, and when the reality of who we naturally are deviates from this benchmark, we feel inadequate and like something is wrong with our relationship. Claim who are you: if sex isn’t your thing, fine. Figure out what is the glue for your relationship and focus your energy there.
Final Word: A Woman’s Cycle
There’s a little tidbit of information that I’ve always thought should be included in high school curriculum: most women feel more sexual when they’re ovulating. For some women, that’s the only time of the month when they feel sexual. While men have sex hormones coursing through their bodies at an even rate 24/7, women are biologically primed to want sex for the 5-7 days of the month when they can conceive. If you’re in tune with your body, you may have noticed that on and around ovulation you think about sex, you desire sex, and you feel aroused. When both partners understand this fact, it helps them loosen up their expectations around frequency of sex and ease of arousal. This doesn’t mean that you don’t try to make love when ovulation isn’t in the air, but it means you bring a different understanding and set of expectations to the bedroom which may allow you to ease up on yourselves if the sex isn’t as effortless as it is when the egg is dropping.