Nothing douses the spark in the bedroom quite like getting sucked into your own thoughts: How do I look from that angle? Should we try a new position? Oh jeez, how do I even ask for that? Sex is supposed to be about feeling good (like, really good), but it’s far too easy to get swept up in a wave of negativity. Even the most sexually adventurous women can struggle with feelings of guilt or shame associated with sex, sex therapist Vanessa Marin says.
“Some people have grown up in really religious or conservative backgrounds that teach specifically that sex is sinful, shameful, or something that we should be embarrassed about,” Marin says. “But all of us have internalized sex-negative beliefs in one way or another.”
According to Marin, these ideas can not only get in the way in the moment, they can also keep you from experiencing a sex life that’s as hot and fulfilling as it could be.
Here are a few common guilt-inducing hang-ups that need retiring immediately.
1. Asking for what you want (even if it’s something totally new)
Being assertive about your intimate desires can be awkward and intimidating, especially for women. You can feel like you’re being selfish, when really, your pleasure is just important as your partner’s. “Women are socialized to be caregivers and to put others’ needs before our own,” Marin says. “We receive a lot of toxic messages around sex: That we’re not supposed to be the initiators. That we’re not supposed to want it too badly. Women are really taught to take the back seat when it comes to sex, so a lot of women feel too self-conscious to ask for what they need.”
And the needs don’t have to be particularly X-rated for you to feel weird asking for them, Marin says. “I’ve seen people who feel ashamed to ask for the most vanilla, basic thing; so it’s really not anything about kink,” she says. Hopefully, your partner wants to please you just as much as you want to please him or her, so do both of you a favor and speak up about what drives you wild.
2. Taking your sweet time
Every body works differently. And everybody’s body works differently when entangled with someone else’s body. If you and your partner are operating at different speeds, there’s no shame in slowing things down or stretching things out so you both can take the time you need to enjoy yourself and each other. Again (this will start to sound familiar), women in particular tend to struggle with raising this issue. “A lot of women think that [arousal] should just happen naturally and really quickly,” Marin says. “So women will feel guilty asking their partners for attention or taking up a little bit of time.” Getting caught up in the way it “should” happen is no fun for anyone.
3. How you look
With constant messages in movies, magazines, and porn telling women how they’re supposed to look in the bedroom (and, let’s face it, just about everywhere else), feeling like you’re falling short of what your partner’s into physically can be a tough mindset to shake. But it’s a mindset that desperately needs shaking. “We get on a logical level, ‘Okay, porn sex is not how sex looks in real life,’” Marin says, “but then there’s still a part of you that kind of kicks in in that moment and feels self-conscious.” Getting out of your head and feeling more comfortable in your skin might mean spending more time naked or investing in sexy lingerie, but focusing on the pleasure instead of your negative thoughts works wonders, too.
4. Not being on the same wavelength
Marin says a lot of people feel bad when they’re into different things or aren’t in the mood at the same time as their S.O., but you and your partner are not always going to be in sync. Communicating about this openly is a good way to approach it head-on, Marin advises. With differing sex drives, Psychology Today suggests expanding what activities you and your partner might consider sexual. (Maybe you’re not feeling intercourse but a sensual massage sounds fun, for example.) A good time to bring up different desires might be right after you’ve been intimate, Marin says: “Say to your partner, ‘You know what might be fun to do next time?’” It takes the pressure off during the act while setting the steamy stage for a later date.
5. Not doing it “right”
There’s no right way to have sex. (Say it with me!) Remembering that sex for you and your partner is completely unique is key to a satisfying romp. Intercourse, for example, doesn’t have to be the default sexual experience, Marin says. In fact, for a lot of women, intercourse isn’t the thing that will bring about the most pleasure and connection. ( Research shows only about 25 percent of women consistently orgasm during vaginal intercourse.) Be open to trying what works for you, not what you think is supposed to work for you.
Originally published December 15, 2017. Updated September 13, 2018.
Proof you’re not the only one with questions in the bedroom: Here are 5 things a relationship expert wishes everyone knew about sex. And if you need more reason to talk about sex (baby), research shows that doing so can make it more fulfilling.
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