Just another day at your friendly neighborhood sex shop
By: Emma Chekroun
Having a part time job in college isn’t uncommon. Some students wait tables, others have jobs through their university, and some, like Haydin Wellens, a junior at the University of Minnesota, work as a cashier at a sex shop. Similar to other students, Wellens goes through his week’s worth of classes before working eight to nine hours on the weekend. Wellens fights exhaustion and tries to keep up with homework while working his late night shifts. The highlight? Much better party stories.
Wellens revels in the opportunity to talk about his job. “People will be talking about their jobs, and I usually start out with I work at a sex shop and…” pause for reaction. What usually comes next is smiles and stares of anticipation.
That anticipation lingers. There is something exhilarating in talking about and going to sex shops. Staring wide eyed at all the toys and tools that decorate the walls is enough to make anyone feel eager and anxious.
While customers may only dedicate a few hours to browsing a sex shop, for those maintaining these glimmering palaces of self-love, it’s a lifestyle.
Not Just a Job
Vincent Valcroft, assistant manager at Bondesque near Uptown, said he loves building people up through his work at the BDSM and fetish wear specialty shop. “I get to contribute to something that helps people,” he adds, “to bring greater wellness, meaning, and pleasure into their lives and relationships.”
Wellens, cashier at Lickety Split, and Cat Charles, website manager at Smitten Kitten, both said the best part of their jobs was answering questions and giving customers a safe space to ask them.
Charles said it’s “delightful and fun” to have sex as the subject manner of work. They enjoy making sex a normal and comfortable topic for shoppers.
Education also takes an important role in working at a sex shop. At Smitten Kitten, every employee is trained in the store’s sex ed curriculum. The shop also holds periodic free sex workshops, such as “Anal 101.”
Bondesque also holds workshops centered around BDSM, which Valcroft hopes contributes to a “holistic kink experience” in the store. Meanwhile, Wellens takes on an informal education outside of work, utilizing the internet to be better informed.
“I love figuring out how the different toys and interests work,” Wellens said. “Doing research into products on my own time doesn’t really feel like work.”
Education is a major way these sex shops pay it forward to the community. A shop’s attitude also has a big impact on its workers and the community. Wellens described how his manager created a position for him when he applied to Lickety Split back in June of 2018 and how that contributed to the family-like workplace he enjoys so much.
Valcroft went as far to say at Bondesque it’s “not a sale, it’s a celebration” and described the fun and explorative setting he strives to achieve at the store. When the community you and your store are a part of branches off into a spectrum of gender identities, orientation, and age groups, it’s important to “celebrate people,” Valcroft said.
Even a community saturated with pleasure and support has its occasional negatives. From drunken shoppers to more dangerous exchanges, it’s not always easy being the purveyors of pleasure.
Wellens has had his fair share of run-ins that range from hilarious to horrifying. One particularly frightening story involves a knife and customer named Jelly; “we learned he was called Jelly after the fact,” Wellens clarifies.
Jelly became irate, yelling slurs at Wellens’ co-worker. Wellens went on to say, “He got super frustrated and pulled out a knife.” He adds, “It was more funny after the fact,” although that seems hard to believe.
Wellens’ stories only get wackier from there. At one point, a man came in waving around a sizeable chunk of marijuana for no apparent reason. Drunk frat guys have played leapfrog, Wellens added. “One time a guy bought a cock ring,” Wellens continues, “and tried to put it on in the store.” This patron wasn’t drunk or high—just “very excited,” Wellens clarified.
For Valcroft, there hasn’t really been one defining hard part of his job, except maybe when “the gimp gets loose,” he explained, only half kidding while a devilish smile spread across his face.
But all laughs aside, the world of sex shops, is just that: a world.
There’s a Whole World Out There
Even sex shop workers encounter kinks they’re not familiar with. A resounding response from all three sex workers, no matter the kink, is that sex shops are a judgment-free zone. Don’t be afraid to have questions, just leave the nitty gritty personal experience out, according to Wellens.
Your kink isn’t that weird, Charles assures. They also encouraged beginners to be open to new experiences and not be discouraged if something doesn’t work out for you.
Valcroft described BDSM and fetish as a “journey,” which the other sex workers agreed with—it’s a journey to find what you like.
Lots of communities are included, so there is a good chance you can find what you are looking for. Smitten Kitten specifically identifies as “queer-centered.” Every shop mentioned here has some form of gender expression or cross dressing inventory, gender expression involving toys, and other items for persons in the transgender community to express their identity. This can include strap-ons or realistic artificial penises.
A tour of Bondesque illuminates several kinks that fall under the radar of popular culture, such as sex toys for electrosex, which involves electrostimulation, and is surprisingly safe. There are also tools/toys for medical fetishes and latex fetishes.
And yes, for those interested in feet, Lickety Split sells silicone feet, according to Wellens.
Aside from kinks, a few new things discovered this week through interviews, an anal workshop, and a sex shop tour: silicone lube is not good for silicone sex toys, fetish parties are like raves mixed with fashion mixed with latex, and there is something out there for practically everyone. Most importantly, sex shop workers make a rewarding career not only out of selling toys but also out of making comfortable environments for sexual deviants and newbies alike.
After having sex, most people usually experience a host of positive physical, mental, and emotional feelings—a sense of euphoric high, satisfaction, relaxation, and perhaps a warm intimacy with their partner.
But sometimes, a person may instead feel the opposite. Immediately following sex, they’re hit with a wave of negative emotions: They feel suddenly sad, irritable, or isolated, and they may even start inexplicably crying. The phenomenon is known as postcoital dysphoria, and it’s actually way more common than you’d think.
What is postcoital dysphoria?
“Postcoital dysphoria (PCD) is the experience of negative affect following otherwise satisfactory sexual intercourse,” a team of researchers explained in a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Sexual Health. “Under normal circumstances the resolution phase of sexual activity elicits sensations of well-being along with psychological and physical relaxation. However, individuals who experience PCD may express their immediate feelings after sexual intercourse in terms of melancholy, tearfulness, anxiety, irritability, or psychomotor agitation.”
Importantly, PCD refers to when there is no discernible reason for the person to feel negatively about the sexual experience that just happened—it was consensual, pleasurable, and perhaps even induced some orgasms, and yet the person still feels upset afterward without a clear understanding as to why they’re feeling that way. It can happen to someone even when the person they slept with is someone they’re in a serious, committed, and loving relationship with, just as easily as it could happen when it’s with a first-time or casual partner.
There has yet to be much substantive research done on PCD, and so it’s still not a well-understood phenomenon even among sexual health professionals.
“We unfortunately don’t really understand postcoital dysphoria very well,” Vanessa Marin, a psychotherapist specializing in sex therapy, tells mbg. “We really only know that it exists. It doesn’t seem to have any relationship with the type or quality of sex that you have, or your relationship with your partner.”
The few studies that have been done show that PCD is a fairly common experience: A 2015 study found 46 percent of straight women had experienced it at least once in their life, and 5 percent had experienced it a few times in the last four weeks. Another study released last month found 41 percent of men (most of whom were straight) experienced PCD at least once, and 20 percent had experienced it in the last four weeks. (Side by side, these two studies suggests PCD happens at fairly similar rates between men and women, but the latter study actually found women were about twice as likely to have experienced PCD in the last four weeks compared to men and nearly three times as likely to have experienced PCD in their lifetime.)
What causes these negative emotions after sex?
A lot more research is needed to fully understand what causes postcoital dysphoria, but scientists have posited three main theories for what could be behind the otherwise inexplicable emotional response:
1. Your brain chemistry.
According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, it’s possible that “bonding with a partner during sex is so intense that breaking the bond triggers sadness.” Sex therapist Ian Kerner tells Health that having sex can trigger the release of oxytocin, the so-called love hormone that makes people feel attached and connected to another person. But after the sex is over, the sudden recognition that you’re not actually as connected as the hormones made you feel (either because it’s a casual sexual encounter or because there may be underlying issues in your relationship) can make you feel sad or frustrated. You go from feeling incredibly close, both emotionally and physically, to feeling alone, rejected, or yearning for what’s not really there.
2. A history of unexplored trauma.
The few studies that’ve been conducted around PCD have found a history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse is correlated with a higher incidence of PCD, both among men and women. Essentially, it’s possible that having sex—even terrific, pleasurable, consensual sex—is simply a triggering experience for you because of your past traumas. It’s well-known that having experienced sexual assault and/or abuse, especially as a child, can have lasting psychological consequences as a person grows older and tries to engage in a normal sex life.
3. Feeling vulnerable.
The truth is, sex is a pretty vulnerable thing in general. You’re totally naked with another human being, sharing the most private parts of yourself that you generally don’t show to most people. That act alone can afterward trigger emotions, too, that you normally keep to yourself.
“A vulnerability hangover is most often triggered by going too fast or doing too much for what the psyche or body can handle,” sex coach Irene Fehr tells Bustle. “It is often exacerbated by a cocktail of consciousness-altering substances such as alcohol or drugs that relax and allow the drop of inhibitions, enable going faster than might be comfortable, and make crossing boundaries that would otherwise hold in a conscious state possible.”
How to handle the post-sex blues.
1. Develop an aftercare ritual.
Among people who practice BDSM, a concept known as “aftercare” is commonplace following a sexual encounter. Aftercare refers to caretaking activities in which the dominant partner offers affection, gentleness, and support to the submissive partner (and sometimes vice versa) to make sure both people avoid any negative psychological effects from the intense power play they engaged in together during sex. In an interview with mbg, clinical sexologist and psychotherapist Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., recommends a similarly soothing post-sex practice for people who suffer from PCD, even if it’s something you do alone.
“Participate in some type of self-care ritual,” she suggests. “Whether it’s a bath, reading a book, taking a nap, or meeting your friends, do something to nurture yourself.”
2. Track your experiences.
“You can always try tracking your own experience and see if you notice any patterns,” Marin suggests. “It may be that you tend to feel PCD in certain types of avoidable situations. Or you may be able to find patterns in what helps you move past your reactions faster. For example, maybe taking a shower afterward or snuggling with your partner makes you feel better.”
3. Talk to your partner about it.
Research shows a person’s connection with their partner has nothing to do with whether they experience PCD. In other words, you’re most likely not feeling sad because there’s something wrong with your relationship. That said, having one person have a negative emotional reaction after sex can be stressful and confusing for both people, so it’s a good idea to keep your partner in the loop about what’s going on, especially if you know PCD is a common occurrence for you.
“If you’re with a partner and feeling embarrassed, you can simply say something like, ‘This is something that happens to me after I have sex. It’s not tied to the sex that I’ve just had. It’s just a thing that happens. I’ll be over it soon,'” Marin says.
4. If needed, don’t be afraid to seek help.
If you can’t talk to your partner about what’s going on for whatever reason, make sure you’re talking to someone, whether a trusted friend or a therapist. Dr. Overstreet says it’s important to make sure there’s not another underlying issue (such as trauma, sexual dysfunction, or something else) that might be causing your emotional response, which a therapist or health professional might be able to help you treat.
5. Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel.
“The best thing you can do is give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel after sex,” Marin says. “If you can be gentle with yourself and allow those feelings to exist, they’ll go away on their own faster. It’s when we try to fight against our feelings that they get much stronger.”
If you need a real outlet, Dr. Overstreet suggests writing down what you’re feeling to help you acknowledge and process those emotions in a healthy way.
Whatever you do, just know that you’re not alone in your feelings, and you’re not abnormal for having them. Many people struggle with postcoital dysphoria from time to time; what’s important is developing an appropriate and healthy way to respond to your emotions and take care of yourself (and your partner) as you go through it.
Since everyone is different, there’s obviously no norm for sex-drive intensity. What is normal, however, is for your libido to fluctuate, says Emily Morse, sex expert and host of the Sex With Emily podcast. So, if you’re currently going through a dry spell of your own making, there’s no need to be alarmed—it happens!
Still, the sich can be über-frustrating, especially if your partner is ready to go at all times despite knocking boots being the last thing on your mind. To help you get your mojo back, here, Morse shares seven ways to seriously rev up your libido.
1. Seek a professional opinion (seriously)
As a first point of entry, Morse suggests checking in with your doctor because a low libido can be a symptom or a side effect of a number of different medical conditions: unbalanced hormone levels, medications you’re taking, depression, anxiety, thyroid imbalances, or arthritis. So, to be safe, go see your MD for a chat and potentially some tests.
2. Reconnect with your body
If your health checks out, the issue is may skew more psychological. “Women get aroused through thoughts,” Morse says. “If your brain is not onboard for sex, then your body is not going to follow.”
One solution? Get down with yourself (yes, that means masturbating). Doing so will help you reconnect with your body again, and it will help keep sex at top of mind. Think of it like exercise—or any other healthy habit for that matter: the more you get your sweat on, the more and more your body starts to crave it.
3. Give your relationship with sex a tough audit
A stagnant sex drive might not actually have to do with your libido at all: It could be about your relationship with your significant other. If you’re constantly fighting, or you’re growing apart for one reason or another, of course it’ll affect what’s happening (or not happening, in this case) between the sheets.
“Whatever challenges you’re having with your partner outside the bedroom are going to absolutely impact your relationship when you’re inside of the bedroom,” Morse says. She recommends taking an honest look at your relationship and focusing on fixing the non-sex-related issues. It’s totally possible these resolutions could reignite that bedroom fire.
4. Stop being samey in the bedroom
Your libido might have taken a nosedive simply because you’re bored of the type of sex you’ve been having. Hey, you might even get sick of avocado toast (which has itself been tied to a revved up sex drive, BTW) if you have it every. single. day. So, consider changing things up a bit. “Variety is the spice of your sex life,” Morse says. “It’s the novelty and the newness that enhances intimacy and will make you want to connect.”
So try out new positions. Buy some toys. Do the deed in a surprising location. Do whatever you have to do to make things fun and interesting again.
5. Implement a healthy lifestyle
If you’re not feeling so hot, of course you’re not going to be in the mood for love making, Morse says. That’s exactly why implementing healthy habits that make you feel sexy inside and out are an important part of maintaining a fired-up sexual appetite. Consider incorporating some libido-boosting foods into your diet, like avocado and honey and penciling in workouts that will help supercharge your love life.
6. Do your kegels
Not only do kegel exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles (which can translate to better orgasms—score!), they also force you to connect with yourself and your lady parts. And again, the more you think sexy thoughts, the more and more you’ll want to get it on.
And since kegels are so easy to do inconspicuously (doing mine now at my work desk!), it’s hard to find a reason not to abide by Morse’s prescribed two-a-day regimen. Just squeeze the muscles in your nether region, as if you’re trying to hold your pee, for five seconds. Then release and repeat for an effect of having things tightened up down there. Wondering how you’re possibly going to remember to do your kegels twice a day? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.
7. Engage your senses
Another way to help you get your groove back is to entice your five senses, because when you do this, “you’re no longer in your head and automatically you feel very in touch with your body,” Morse says. So the next time you plan on getting lucky, create a full-on sensory experience.
Faux moans, simulated sheet grabs, exaggerated eye rolls. Fake orgasms are unlikely to be anyone’s first choice, but it’s not difficult to see how you might find yourself in a situation where it feels unavoidable.
It’s tempting to attribute the problem to a lack of skills among women’s partners, particularly if those partners happen to be members of the patriarchy. And that does come into it — the orgasm gap between men and women is real.
However, it isn’t the whole story, as although faking occurs most frequently among straight women (with 68% of those surveyed by Zava Med admitting to it), it’s also common in same-sex pairings too, with 59% of lesbians saying they’ve done it.
Lack of enjoyment is one obvious reason. One woman I spoke to, Sarah*, told me: “Whenever I’ve faked an orgasm it’s mostly because I wasn’t really enjoying the sex, and wanted it to get over quickly.”
A lack of understanding around female sexual pleasure can be the cause of unenjoyable sex. It’s something Tierra, another woman who opened up to me, says has made her fake it in the past. “In my particular case, I would like to call it ‘unaware of my own body’. Most visuals of sex are of men and men only reaching climax. [I would say] most men having sex don’t know how to make a woman reach orgasm. So until she understands and feels orgasm, she doesn’t know [any] better.”
Sex and relationship therapist Krystal Woodbridge echoes the idea that certain portrayals of pleasure can make it harder for women to have a fulfilling sex life. “It could well be that [people] just have a lot of assumptions about sex that are probably a bit faulty, that come from the culture around sex in society and what the media portrays about it.
Although you might think faking is more likely to happen with a new partner or in a casual relationship, studies show it’s actually most common in long-term relationships, although less so in marriage.
This suggests that emotional factors could be at play, which is something Sarah experienced. “I didn’t stop [unfulfilling sex] midway either because I cared for the partner and felt affectionate towards [them],” she says. “If I was with a partner I didn’t really care about, I wouldn’t bother faking it.”
If you find yourself faking and start to fear the impact it’s having on you or your relationship, then it could well be time to talk. For those concerned about their partner’s reaction, Woodbridge advises being mindful about how you broach the issue.
“I think it’s important for [people] to ask themselves if it’s potentially damaging [to the relationship] to say to their partner that they have been faking orgasms,” she says. “If they make it about themselves instead, without sounding like a bombshell or as if they are blaming their partner, they perhaps wouldn’t need to overtly say they have been faking at all.”
She explains: “You can give guidance without [saying] ‘I’ve been faking it all this time’ or ‘What you’re doing is not working’. So you’re basically saying ‘I’ve got this issue that I’ve noticed more and more recently and I’m finding it more difficult to have an orgasm, so I wondered what we could do to work on that’.”
Woodbridge believes the problem can arise regardless of how skilled a partner is, so it’s crucial to feel able to discuss your individual preferences. However, faking can be caused by a lack of understanding of what those preferences actually are.
For this reason, it can be helpful to take some time alone to explore what you find pleasurable, so that you feel more relaxed during sexual encounters and better able to guide your partner on what works for you. Woodbridge explains: “An orgasm starts in the mind, so how [someone] becomes aroused in the first place is to do with their own ability to understand their pleasure.”
“We’re [all] aroused in different ways, it could be looking at erotic pictures or literature or it could be listening to certain music,” she suggests. “Then you can start thinking about physical sensations. So what actually feels nice. And then once you’ve worked that out you might feel you can then share that with your partner.”
It’s also important to ask yourself some questions about the cause of your faking. If you’re finding it difficult to unpick, or feel it’s the result of internalised sexual shame or past/present trauma, you might want to seek help from a qualified therapist. The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT) website has a directory where you can find accredited psychosexual therapists in your area.
Woodbridge states: “It depends on how long they’ve had the problem and whether it’s been with every partner or just a current partner, whether they can have an orgasm on their own but not with a partner, [and] how they feel about their own body. When they went through puberty were they able to enjoy exploring their body or was that frowned upon
An understanding of sexual pleasure outside of penetration, particularly for straight couples, can also be helpful, as only around 18% of women achieve orgasm through intercourse alone. Changing the focus and making sex less goal (orgasm)-oriented and more about a general sense of pleasure could help take the pressure off. “Even people who can achieve orgasm don’t always have an orgasm when they have sex and they don’t always want to,” Woodbridge adds.
For Olney, being able to discuss faking it with a partner has been a useful indicator of the health of the relationship. She says: “[In] my last two relationships I was aware enough of what I needed to discuss, what I would like, even if they were unaware of what my needs were. But the fact that the very last partner was not into making sure it was a mutually rewarding experience [meant] I just moved on.”
“Things don’t change when conversations are not being had. The discussion helped my partners help me orgasm, or the lack of discussion allowed me to realise [it was time] to move on.”
Woodbridge also notes that if your partner has a problem with you struggling to orgasm or not wanting to, that’s on them, not you. “If you genuinely are happy whether you have one or not then your partner shouldn’t be particularly worried about it. If they are, that is probably to do with their own pride.”
While the desire to fake can be a sign that there are deeper problems in the relationship, talking about it can provide an opportunity for greater intimacy and a more fulfilling sex life. In fact, 31% of women surveyed by Zava said their partners “decided to try harder” after they admitted they had been faking orgasms.
However this approach isn’t always successful, as Rashawn discovered: “I’d never had an orgasm before and I felt inadequate, like something was wrong with me. I told him I had never had one so he made it his mission to make me. He tried and tried and since I wanted to please him, I faked it.”
And while Woodbridge says that a partner can help, she advises that establishing a more fulfilling sex life involves owning your pleasure first.
“[That way] you’re taking responsibility for your own orgasm and you’re taking responsibility for your own pleasure and your own experience,” she says. “You have to start with yourself. You can bring your partner into it, but you have to start with yourself.”
“There’s a Connection Between Your Gut Health and Your Sex Life”
What are the most common causes of low libido?
Libido and sexual arousal is, for the most part, grounded on intimacy involving the interaction of several components, including physical trust, belief system emotional well-being, previous experiences, self-esteem, physical attraction, lifestyle and current relationship.
In addition, a wide range of illnesses, such as thyroid disease, arthritis, diabetes, neurological disorders, hormonal changes and physical changes, such as High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, menopause in women, andropause in men and pain during intercourse can cause low sex drive and/or inability to reach an orgasm. Medications, prescribed or over the counter, can also kill one’s libido.
What’s one cause that’s really surprising? Great Sex too starts in Your gut!
“All disease begins in the gut.” Hippocrates
Although most us do not necessarily think of our intestines or bad gut bacteria when we think of possible causes of low libido, an imbalance of Gut bacteria (microbiome) is more often than not, a significant cause of decreased sexual arousal. This is in addition to the more commonly known GI related causes, such as bloating, gas, acid reflux, bad breath, diarrhea, etc. In fact, because the gut contains billions of bacteria, the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the gut system, plays a major physical factor that has many unexpected effects on our ability to respond and perform sexually. The truth is that “gut bacteria is to our digestion and metabolism what a beehive is to honey”: Good working hive = great honey; well balanced gut bacteria = optimized gastrointestinal function and better sex! Gut bacteria are also responsible for producing hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which are essential for sexual health.
And then there is lifestyle…. although a glass of wine can get both men and women in the “mood” for sex, too much alcohol can actually have the opposite effect and not only kill your libido, but make you sleep, which can be devastating to intimacy.
10 Reasons Why you may not have a healthy gut?
Bad diet (sugar and processed food based diet)
Digestive Health: Unbalanced gut bacteria and lack of good probiotics
Overuse antibiotics and other medications
Sedentary life style
Disease, including autoimmune.
Mental Health and Mood.
Low/ unbalanced Hormone.
Vaginal Health/prostate issues
Weight proportionate to height issues
Decreased physical, mental and emotional energy
5 initial Steps to Take to Have Better Sex
Balance your gut health,
Eat a healthy diet and moderate your alcohol intake
Exercise more often
Do you inventory of your relationship: Are you really happy or just pretending that you are?
Work on your self-esteem and body image, if applicable.
5 Ways how your partner can help you get there:
Love you unconditionally
Help you feel that intimacy is more than just having sex
Encourage you to make the changes outlined here – free of judgment, and instead assuring you that yes, you can.
Be the change that he/she expects of you
Not make sex so serious… have fun with it.
Other 10 possible causes of low libido:
Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
Stress, such as financial stress or work stress
Poor body image
History of physical or sexual abuse
Previous negative sexual experiences
Lack of connection with the partner
Unresolved conflicts or fights
Poor communication of sexual needs and preferences
If you feel as though you and your partner are sexually incompatible, there are some things you can do.
Consider seeing a therapist or, specifically, a sex therapist, to determine the underlying reasons you and your partner aren’t enjoying sex together.
The most important thing you can do is communicate your expectations and desires with your partner.
Having a satisfactory sex life is often assumed to be had by everyone in relationships. Unfortunately, though, this is not always the case
In fact, a New York Times article revealed that 15% of married couples are in a sexless relationship. And, if you’re not familiar, the term “sexless relationship” consists of couples who have not had sex more than 10 times in one year, no sex in the last six months, or no sex in the last year. Unrecognized or disregarded sexual incompatibility is often a cause for this
If you’re in a sexually incompatible relationship, there are things you can try to fix the issue.
See a mental health professional.
Not all issues with sex are caused by physical limits. For some, mental or emotional blocks can be the cause, too. Psychotherapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling told INSIDER that you should consider seeing a mental health professional if this happens to be an issue in your relationship.
“There are all kinds of reasons that people are sexually incompatible,” she said. “If that is consistent for you, I’d suggest finding a mental health professional because it’s most likely not a physical problem, but an emotional issue that needs to be addressed. Very often, sexual incompatibility is due to one person withholding from another person; so explore that dynamic as well.”
Try visiting a sex shop.
Sex toys aren’t just meant for nights when you’re alone. Though pretty taboo in the past, many couples are taking more trips to sex shops to help spice up their time in the bedroom.
“Visiting a sex shop can help you find new ways to make sex exciting,” Smerling confirmed. “This helps with opening up the possibilities and opening up a dialogue.”
Don’t think about sex.
Not thinking about sex can be difficult when that’s the issue between you and your loved one, but according to Smerling, this could be a way to truly help the problem.
“Do something counterintuitive,” she said. “Cuddle, hold hands, touch each other — but refrain from actual intercourse. See if that takes the pressure off.”
Doing this can also build up the anticipation of wanting to be with one another intimately.
See a sex therapist.
Although Smerling suggested seeing a mental health professional to discover the underlying emotional or psychological issues dealing with your sexual performance, Heather Ebert — dating and relationship expert at WhatsYourPrice.com— told INSIDER that you shouldn’t count out seeing a sex therapist, too.
“The idea that we should work out our problems without help is slowly being deconstructed in society,” said Ebert. “Seeing a marriage counselor is becoming more and more acceptable and so should seeing a sex therapist. They can help you talk about sex and get to the root of the problem
First-time sex has a lot of logistics attached to it—like where it happened, when it happened, and who it happened with. For most of us, it’s the “when” that holds a ton of weight. As a society, we tend to place so much importance on how old we were when we first shared that intimate moment with someone else. We rarely even consider if we were mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to do it. Now, new research shows your age really isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to sexual readiness; there’s much more in-depth criteria that includes physical, emotional, and psychosocial well-being.
A study published in the journal BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health questioned 2,825 people between ages 17 and 24 about their first sexual experience, including the nature of their relationship with the person they had their first sex with, both of their ages, and how much sexual experience their partner had. The researchers also asked about their socioeconomic status, their education level, family structure, ethnicity, and how and when they’d been taught about sex.
What does it mean to be “ready” for sex?
Rather than focusing on age as a key factor, the researchers used four distinct points to gauge how ready each person was based on the World Health Organization’s standards for sexual health. WHO defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality,” which includes a “positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”
Only those who met all four criteria were considered “sexually competent”—that is, ready to have sex—at the time they first did it.
“The concept of ‘sexual competence’ represents an alternative approach to timing of first sexual intercourse, considering the contextual attributes of the event, rather than simply age at occurrence,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “This departs from the traditional framing of all sexual activity among teenagers as problematic, and recognises that young age alone does not threaten sexual health, any more than older age safeguards it.”
Here are the four main criteria:
1. Contraceptive use
Are you using birth control of some sort? A person who isn’t willing and prepared to use contraception during sex is not mature enough to be having sex. That’s why researchers included it as such a major point, especially for those doing it for the first time. Of those surveyed, most people did use reliable contraception, but around one in 10 did not.
Are you having sex because you truly want to do it, or does it have to do with peer pressure or drunkenness? Sex should always be on your own accord and not because it’s something everyone else around you is doing.
Here’s a crucial one: Did both parties verbally and physically agree to have sex? If not, neither party was ready to do the deed—one person was forced into it and experienced sexual assault, and the other person assaulted someone, which is the furthest thing from sexual competence. The researchers excluded instances of forced sex from their study, but they noted that almost one in five women had reported not being in charge of the decision to have sex for the first time.
4. The “right” timing
Do you feel like this is the “right time”? Participants reported whether they personally felt like they’d picked the appropriate time in their lives to start having sex. Though the study didn’t specify, there are many personal reasons why it is or isn’t a good time to start having sex; they weren’t ready to have sex—you might be struggling with stress or insecurity and don’t want to complicate it by introducing intimacy in your life, or you might be very erotically charged and have a lot of free time, so why not? Other factors like finding a partner they feel attracted to and comfortable with could factor into this question.
More women than men felt their first sexual experience did not happen at the right time—40 percent versus 27 percent, respectively. This was the most commonly reported negative feature of first-time sex.
You wouldn’t typically consider vibrators or lube as part of your beauty regime, but soon you might. Sexual pleasure products have been infiltrating the wellness and beauty scenes recently and are slowly becoming daily care necessities, much like a good under-eye cream or body oil.
Although demand for sex products is universal, historically very few brands have spoken honestly and respectfully to women about their sex lives. Nowadays, as society challenges taboos around sex and female-led sextech companies strive to provide retail experiences that aren’t shameful or seedy, sexual pleasure is going mainstream – so much so that products like sex toys, condoms and lube are no longer exclusive to sex shops or the pharmacy’s “family planning” aisle.
According to a recent study by the market research firm Technavio, the sexual wellness industry is growing exponentially and will be worth $32 billion in 2019 – it’s true what they say, sex sells – and the 2018 Global Wellness Summit Report states that “sexual pleasure brands are strongly aligning themselves with wellness, and sex is fast shedding its taboo status.” Products that were once sold in basement sex shops and spoken about in hushed tones have become this generation’s go-to form of self-care, and sexual pleasure is 2019’s wellness cause célèbre.
Lucie Greene, worldwide director of trend forecasting agency JWT Innovation, believes sexual pleasure will be this year’s biggest wellness trend. “We’re seeing a move away from sexual fulfilment and health as an overly eroticised tone [and] sex is being positioned as part of a 360 make-up of being a healthy person,” she tells Refinery29. “We’ve seen a marked rise in this and raised awareness that sexual fulfilment is something to focus on and optimise. What’s interesting is that the idea of sexual pleasure, rather than be dependent on your partner, is being internalised as part of self-care. It’s also being linked to skin health, appearance, and general glow and vitality – as a beauty proposition.”
That sex (solo or partnered) is good for your wellbeing isn’t exactly a revelation, and brands are finally tapping into that by marketing sexual health products like toys, lube and condoms as everyday body care, bridging the gap between sex and wellness. Cult Beauty, the beauty junkie’s online mecca, sells aphrodisiac supplements, Boots has started stocking So Divine vibrators, and body care brand Nécessaire, launched less than two months ago by Into The Gloss cofounder Nick Axelrod and former Estee Lauder executive Randi Christiansen, offers lube as one of the three products in its range.
By bringing sexual wellness into the mainstream, brands are destigmatising sex goods by marketing them as any other wellness product. “The other interesting thing is the design of many of these brands. The new language around sex is sophisticated, straight-up and pithy. There’s a tasteful level of humour and empathy,” adds Greene. Brands like Nécessaire are catering to the millennial zeitgeist and overcoming the taboos and misconceptions with Insta-friendly aesthetics, offering products you’d proudly display on your nightstand next to a Le Labo fragrance or a Drunk Elephant serum. Take Lelo, the Swedish sex toy company created by three designers whose popular products are crafted with the same Scandinavian sophistication that we’ve come to expect from our homeware.
“More and more women are aware how their sexual health is linked to their overall mental and physical wellbeing,” says Jacqueline Husin from Smile Makers, whose vibrators are sold only in mainstream health and beauty retailers. “Noticing this, retailers, from drugstore chains to department stores, have launched new sexual wellness categories to cater to the woman who cares about all aspects of her health, from inner to outer beauty.”
By positioning sexual pleasure in the beauty and wellness sphere, brands are promoting the idea that body care goes beyond scrubs and lotions, and aligning themselves with a more modern and sex-positive understanding of sexual pleasure. Sceptics might argue that making sex goods “trendy” is nothing more than a marketing ploy, but the bottom line is that sexual pleasure is being normalised.
“It’s great to see more mainstream retailers promoting sexual products, moving away from the narrative of sex-related items being seedy and only available in sex shops or online,” says Ruby Stevenson, sex educator at Brook, the young people’s sexual health charity. “It’s hard to tell how attitudes could change, but it’ll improve accessibility to products that should be normalised.”
“We’re taught to be aware of our physical and mental wellbeing far more than the sexual side of our identity, so it’s nice to see this being celebrated in varying ways,” adds Stevenson, who believes that making sexual pleasure more mainstream would also open up the conversation around sexual violence and consent. “In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement I think it’s important to shine a light on pleasure-focused consent. Culturally, there’s so much fear around the word ‘consent’ when in reality it’s an essential part of all sexual pleasure.”
Stevenson rightly points out that while making sex toys more available isn’t enough to eradicate sexual violence (we need to reform laws to ensure just legal systems, more support for survivors, and informative education from an early age), it’s a good place to start. “I make sure to shout about positive pleasure-related messages as well as addressing sexual violence. It’s so important to make people aware that consent is not a constraint on your pleasure, but an integral part of it. I’m excited for how these conversations will evolve in 2019!”
Female sexual pleasure has been neglected for way too long, so the more sex products enter the wellness scene, the closer we’ll get to erasing the stigma and taboos around sexual pleasure.
These results are not surprising, says Pelin Batur, MD, associate professor of medicine in obstetrics and gynecology for the Women’s Health Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who was not involved in the research. “We know connection and intimacy are important for people throughout all stages of life,” says Dr. Batur. “It is important to remember that people who are healthier are more likely to engage in sexual activity. Therefore, it may be the better state of health which contributes the most to the increased life satisfaction, as opposed to just the sexual activity itself,” she says.
Searching for a Link Between Well-Being and Sexual Trouble
The study set out to investigate possible associations between sexual activity, problems, and concerns, and how those factors might influence well-being in older adults. Researchers looked at 3,045 men and 3,834 women living in England whose ages ranged from 50 to 89, with an average age of 64 for men and 65 for women. 74 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women were married or living with a partner, and 95 percent of the study participants were Caucasian.
Frequent Kissing, Contact, Key for Women’s Well-Being
After allowing for sociodemographic and health-related issues, researchers found that among sexually active men, frequent intercourse as well as frequent kissing, petting, or fondling were associated with greater enjoyment of life. For women, frequent kissing, petting, or fondling was linked to greater life enjoyment, but frequent intercourse was not. Frequent masturbation wasn’t associated with greater life enjoyment for either sex. “Frequent” was defined as two or more episodes a month.
Measuring People’s Enjoyment of Life
Enjoyment of life was assessed with the pleasure subscale of the CASP-19 (control, autonomy, self-realization, and peasure), which has been used in previous research to measure happiness and contentment for older adults. Subjects were asked how much they resonate with statements such as “I enjoy the things that I do,” “I enjoy being in the company of others,” and “I feel full of energy these days.”
Is Sexual Intercourse More Important for Men’s Well-Being Than for Women’s?
“The most interesting finding for us was that among sexually active men, frequent intercourse or kissing, petting, or fondling were associated with greater enjoyment of life,” says Lee Smith, PhD, an epidemiologist with expertise in physical activity and exercise medicine at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, and a coauthor of the study. “However, among sexually active women frequent kissing petting or fondling were associated with greater enjoyment of life, but not intercourse,” says Smith. “It therefore appears that sexual intercourse may be more important for men than for women in terms of promoting well-being, whereas women’s enjoyment is more closely linked to other sexual activities.”
Insights Into Future Treatment for Age-Related Sexual Problems
These results could help improve the way that women’s sexual health drugs are developed and measured, says Batur. “In the past, these medications were judged based on how much increased sexual activity resulted from the use of these medications. If there were only one to two additional sexual acts over the course of the month, these medications were considered a failure,” she says.
Considering Desire, Satisfaction, and Future Treatments for Sexual Dysfunction
Studies like this highlight that it is not simply having sex that contributes to fulfillment, says Batur. “Moving forward, medications should look at sexual desire, satisfaction, pain, and other domains of sexuality that are important to women when judging whether potential new medications are helpful. Subjective quality of life benefits for women are probably more important than how often sexual activity occurs after initiation of medication,” says Batur.
“Health professionals should acknowledge that older adults are not asexual and that a frequent and problem-free sex life in this population is related to better well-being,” said Dr. Smith in a statement. “However, encouragement to try new positions and explore different types of sexual activities is not regularly given to aging populations,” he added.
Making generalizations about either sex is hard to do from the survey results, says Batur. “What we do know is that sexuality is different for each individual and can vary throughout the lifetime for the better or worse, depending on circumstances,” she says. “Each person that we see in the office has their own story of what they are looking for in life and what makes them happy. One key point, on which we can all agree, is that the healthier a person is, the more they are likely to look for fulfilling relationships, including sexual ones,” says Batur.
Promoting overall wellness in later life is a public health priority, said Sarah Jackson, PhD, a senior research associate at the Institute of Epidemiology and Health at University College London in England, and coauthor of the study. “We know that psychological well-being is intricately linked with physical health, and as the population continues to age, the burden on health services increases,” she said in a statement. Encouraging and supporting people to continue to enjoy a healthy sex life in old age could have benefits both for the individual’s health and for the sustainability of health services, said Dr. Jackson.
When you’re not enjoying sex, you might be wondering why, but the truth is that our sex drives are impacted by so many things.
Both your physical and mental health can be the cause of a low libido.
Stress, certain medications, and a feeling of shame could all be reasons you may not be enjoying sex.
Your sex drive is determined by so many factors and it can constantly change depending on what’s going on in your life, as well as your physical and mental health. Whether you’re dealing with short-term or long-term sexual dissatisfaction, it’s normal to wonder why you’re not enjoying sex.
According to experts, here are some reasons you may not be enjoying sex.
Editor’s note: This post contains some information that may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault or trauma.
You’re engaging in sexual activities before you’re adequately aroused.
Preparing your mind and body for sex can be crucial to actually enjoying it and taking time to get aroused may help prepare your body for sex.
“Foreplay gets the ‘blood flowing’ to the genitals and helps with lubrication and the ability to climax during sexual activity,” Michael Ingber, MD, Board-certified in Urology and Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery at the Center for Specialized Women’s Health, division of Garden State Urology/Atlantic Medical Group told INSIDER.
“Many people get caught up in the idea that sex is equivalent to intercourse,” added Melissa Coats, psychotherapist and owner at Coats Counseling, LLC. “Foreplay is sex and by taking the pressure off of the thought that there must be one outcome in a sexual experience, you can free yourself up to enjoy foreplay and focus on your own pleasure rather than the worry.”
You’re not mentally or emotionally ready to have sex.
As important as it is for your body to be ready for sex, your mind also needs to be ready, too. “Context is everything,” said Coats. “For example, If you come home from a long day of work feeling anxious, upset, and overwhelmed and your partner tries to make sexual contact, you will most likely not be able to access your [feelings of] desire and pleasure easily.”
She said context includes a variety of things including your environment, level of stressors, or even the state of your relationship with a sexual partner.
You’re dealing with anxiety about your body or appearance.
Sex can be an extremely vulnerable situation, so if you’re not feeling comfortable in your own skin, you may find it more difficult to enjoy sex.
“Anxiety is the enemy of desire and pleasure,” Coats told INSIDER. “In order to experience sexual pleasure, we need to be present in the moment and with our bodies. If you are experiencing negative self-talk about your body, your mind is not on how much you are enjoying your body and what it is experiencing.”
You’re uncomfortable about past sexual experiences.
Whether you’re dealing with a past sexual trauma or worrying that your experience level is different from your partner’s, these feelings can understandably creep up before, during, or after sex, making it tough for you to find enjoyment in a sexual experience.
Coats said that communicating with your partner can help you to feel more comfortable during sex.
You’re not comfortable around your partner.
Since sex oftentimes involves so many layers of intimacy, if you’re not fully comfortable with your partner, you’ll likely have a difficult time fully enjoying your experience.
“By expressing these aspects of your sexuality with someone, you are trusting them with that vulnerability,” said Coats. ” If you are not comfortable with your partner, feeling vulnerable will not seem appealing and may even feel physically or emotionally unsafe.”
You feel shame or stigma about your sexual needs or wants.
Sexuality exists on such a wide spectrum and everyone has different wants, needs, and desires. Opening up about what you like and don’t like can feel intimidating, even if you’re with a long-term partner. And, feeling like you cannot express your wants or needs can be making sex less pleasurable for you.
“Shame and stigma are attacks on identity,” Coats told INSIDER. “Whether the shame is related to a sexual identity, fantasy, kink, (or something similar,) feeling attacked either by your own thoughts or someone else’s thoughts or actions, you may automatically feel unsafe and want to retreat.”
You’ve been given false or sex-negative messages about sex or sexuality.
Similarly, it can be easy to believe things you’ve heard about sex, from how much you should be having to stereotypes about the kinds of sex people have, and these can seep through to your own sexual experiences, likely without you even realizing it.
“There is an abundance of misguided, harmful, and plainly false messages about sex that people take at face value as fact. If something doesn’t feel right, allow yourself to question that message, whether it is from yourself or someone else,” said Coats. In these cases, she suggested exploring sex-positive resources to help you to feel more comfortable with sex.
You’re on a medication that impacts your libido or physical sensations during sex.
“Several medications can affect not only libido, but also the sexual experience in men and women,” said Dr. Ingber. “Antidepressants are notorious for this, causing a decrease in sexual desire and often interfering with the ability to orgasm.”
If you think a new or existing medication is causing a dip in your libido or ability to orgasm, check with your doctor.
You’re dealing with a medical condition that makes sex painful.
Even though it’s incredibly common, experiencing pain during sex can be the quickest way to put the brakes on your enjoyment in the moment. There are several medical conditions that can contribute to pain, dryness, or irritation during or after sex, as Jessa Zimmerman, a certified sex therapist and author of “Sex Without Stress,” previously explained to INSIDER.
“There are some medical causes of sexual pain, including skin conditions, autoimmune disorders, pain conditions due to overgrowth of nerves, endometriosis, and vaginismus, an involuntary clenching of the vagina that develops in anticipation of pain and is painful in itself,” said Zimmerman.
If you suspect a medical condition is causing you to feel pain during sex, check with your doctor, who can help you to find treatment options and ways to help ease your pain or discomfort.
You may be trying positions that make you feel uncomfortable or pained.
Pain or discomfort during sex isn’t always due to a chronic medical issue — some positions may not be enjoyable to you.
“If you have sought medical attention with no clear answers, try using different positions, lubricant, or talking to a pelvic floor physical therapist to help figure out what your body is trying to tell you,” said Coats
Dr. Ingber agreed, adding that everyone is different and what’s comfortable and enjoyable for one person isn’t necessarily pleasant for another.
You’re not prioritizing sleep, eating well, or exercising regularly.
As Coats told INSIDER, “Physical, mental, emotional, and sexual health are all connected. When one is being neglected, it is like trying to drive a car with the emergency brakes on. It will go, but it will slow you down a lot and it’s not great for your engine. Engaging with your sexuality when you feel physically un-aligned can be stressful and difficult.”
Taking care of your entire body by getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular exercise will help give you the energy your body needs to not just have sex, but thoroughly enjoy it, too.
You’re not sure what feels good for you and your body.
Sexual desire and preferences are different for every person. And, according to Coats, popular misconceptions about sex being a “task to be mastered instead of an activity to enjoy” could make it tough for someone to figure out what they like.
Taking time to explore your own body by way of masturbation or trying new things that you’re comfortable with, whether with new toys, positions, or other sexual stimuli, can help you learn what feels enjoyable for you.
But the same way that your cells need water to remain adequately hydrated, dehydration can cause dry, irritated skin, potentially leading to pain and irritation down below.
Similarly, Healthline notes that there’s a link between dehydration and erectile dysfunction, and your body needs sufficient oxygen to help maintain an erection. When you’re not getting enough water, you might not get adequate blood flow throughout your body, which includes your sex organs.
She said doctors typically recommend abstaining from sex for six weeks or longer post-delivery, but it depends on the patient’s body and their healing process. She also added that breastfeeding can decrease one’s estrogen levels, causing one’s vagina to be less lubricated and less elastic, thus making sex more painful.
You’re afraid of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
Even if you’re taking precautions for safe sex, it’s natural to worry about pregnancy or STIs. “Any fear that exists while engaging in a sexual encounter is going to impact how you feel about your experience,” Coats told INSIDER. “If you are afraid of getting pregnant, remember, sex does not [have to] equal intercourse. There are plenty of ways to express and experience pleasure and eroticism other than intercourse.”
You’re stressed about other things.
Few things can kill the desire for sex quite like stress. From an emotional standpoint, Coats said mental energy plays an important role in enjoying sex.
“If that mental energy is being used to assess what is going on anywhere but within your own body, it is competing with your pleasure for your brain space. Creating a context where you can put other things aside and allow yourself to focus on you, also known as self-care, is crucial in sexual satisfaction.”
Your mental stress could even cause sex to be more painful. “All of these issues will impact your natural ability to relax, get aroused, lubricate and prepare the [body] for sex,” Dr. Bohn told INSIDER.
You’re just not interested in sex, either at the moment or in the long-run.
The truth is that not everyone is interested in having sex and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“If sex is not that interesting to you, you are not abnormal. If you would like to become more interested in sex and your sexuality, there are plenty of ways to spark curiosity,” Coats told INSIDER. “But it must come from your own desire and not someone else’s expectation in order to be pleasurable.”
Since the short story Cat Person was published in the New Yorker late last year, my friends and I have spent a lot of time talking about bad sex. If consent is a spectrum with an enthusiastic, joyful yes at one end and sexual assault at the other, bad sex lives in the middle. There are lots of reasons why so many women have had so much bad sex: an impulse to please, the shame or discomfort of acknowledging your own needs, a misplaced hope that if you just go along with it, a bad experience might eventually get better. We are women in our twenties and thirties and forties and the question underlying these conversations is the same for each of us: what is the value of my desires?
We’re getting better at talking about consent when it comes to sex. The #metoo movement has encouraged people of all genders to really imagine what an enthusiastic, joyful yes can look like—and to understand how prioritizing mutual pleasure makes sex better for everyone. But we’re missing an opportunity to consider how these more sophisticated ways of practicing consent might re-shape our relationships—and our entire culture.
One way I’ve tried to reimagine consent in my romantic life is by creating a relationship contract with my partner. It’s not a legal contract and there are no penalties when one of us doesn’t do what we’ve agreed to. It’s really an opportunity for the two of us to sit down together and discuss our expectations about everything from chores to date nights to sex. When I first wrote about our contract, I was surprised by the strong responses it elicited. Some people – often young straight women – loved the idea. Others accused my partner and me of being “robots” or “unromantic nerds.” But these readers are missing the point: being heard is the most romantic thing I can imagine.
Of course these critiques sound a lot like the complaints of those who think talking about sex beforehand – and actually asking the person you’re with if they’re into whatever you’re doing—ruins the experience. At the heart of these accusations of “ruining romance” is the notion that you shouldn’t voice your needs or desires: mutual understanding should happen all on its own—in sex and in love.
When I was young, I assumed that once I found the right person, I wouldn’t have to ask for anything—he would just understand me. I probably don’t need to say that this approach didn’t serve me well. For one thing, the assumption that the right person would know what I wanted – intuitively, telepathically – prevented me from ever bothering to figure it out for myself. In this fairy tale model of consent, mutual understanding requires nothing more than the machinations of fate to bring partners together. This promise of being uniquely and perfectly understood is seductive—and it’s baked into our language: the right person “completes you”; they are “the one,” or “your other half,” or your “soulmate.”
There’s some interesting research on “implicit theories of relationships” – which is really an academic way of describing the metaphors we use to think about love. One study found that those who thought of love as “perfect unity between two halves” (an idea as old as Plato) were less satisfied with their relationship after a conflict than those who framed love as “a journey with ups and downs.” Another study (charmingly titled “Great Sexpectations”) found that partners with high “sexual destiny beliefs” experience lower relationship quality. In other words, we are happier with our relationships when we assume that sex is something we get better at together.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that straight women are the ones most eager to reject the fairy tale of effortless mutual understanding. Same-sex couples tend to be better at communicating, which means that women in same-sex relationships are having (significantly) better sex than straight women. And same-sex partners distribute domestic labor and caregiving responsibilities more fairly than those in different-sex relationships. Maybe it goes without saying that women do more of the housework and childrearing in heterosexual relationships—and that this decreases their relationship satisfaction—but I’ll say it anyway.
The Oxford English Dictionary provides two definitions of the word “consent”: to “give permission for something to happen” and to “agree to do something.” The first – giving permission – is essentially what sex educator Jaclyn Friedman calls the gatekeeper model of consent. This model requires the person with the least power—the most vulnerable person in a relationship—to be the one to set boundaries. It also normalizes the idea that the one with more power will maximize that power in an attempt to get what they want. The second definition – agreeing to do something – sounds more mutual, but only slightly. Both definitions are the equivalent to checking the “terms and conditions” box on a new software download and hoping for the best.
But consent hasn’t always been so one-sided. The etymology of the word gets closer to the culture of consent I’m imagining. The Latin consentire literally means “to feel together.”
Often we talk about consent in terms of power: who has it and how are they wielding it? But we might also think of it in terms of attention. One reason romantic idealism is so appealing is because it suggests that love is an adequate stand-in for attention; if you are perfectly matched with someone, you don’t have the obligation of really bothering to know them.
What would it look like if we built a culture around the idea of “feeling together”? If we began with the assumption that we should shape our relationships – sexual, personal, even professional – with another person, bearing both our experiences in mind?
“Feeling together” requires us to acknowledge that privilege is, by definition, an imbalance of attention, an absence of care. And it implies that it’s the responsibility of those with privilege and power to offer more attention, to give more care. What I love about this version of consent is that demands intimacy. It ties us more tightly to one another by suggesting that empathy is not a burden, but an opportunity.
A relationship won’t always be passionate and spontaneous, therapists say. It’s normal to sometimes feel bored in your marriage.
But there are ways to spice things up, like planning to do something “illicit” with your partner.
If there’s one “problem” relationship experts hear over and over again, it’s this: The passion has faded. The routine has replaced the spontaneous.
Yet most of those experts will tell you this generally isn’t a reason to freak out. If there is a problem, it’s in how you’re handling the boredom.
Over the past few months, I’ve asked sex and relationship therapists to share their top strategies for keeping the passion alive in a romantic relationship, and preventing ennui from creeping in. Here are the best tips I heard:
Accept that the waxing and waning of passion is normal
So when couples come to see Sussman complaining about the lack of passion in their relationship, she wants them to know: This is normal.
People are worried “that something’s wrong with them,” she told me. They think “maybe something’s wrong with the couple; maybe something’s wrong with them individually.”
Chances are, there’s not. “People think, ‘Oh, [passion] should just be there,'” Sussman said. ” No ! It shouldn’t just be there. You have to create it.”
One strategy Sussman recommends? Scheduling sex dates, right there on the calendar.
Plan to do something ‘illicit’ in your relationship
Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship therapist, and the relationship expert at Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking affairs. Nelson told me the “fantasy of an affair” is simply that “you’ll have that impulsive excitement.”
So Nelson proposes that people aim to have that impulsive excitement within their own relationships. “You have to have an affair with your spouse,” she said. Meet like strangers at a bar one night, for example.
As Nelson said, “You have to make something about your marital sex feel dangerous.”
Make your own life more exciting
Ruth Westheimer — a.k.a. “Dr Ruth” — says boredom is the single biggest threat to a romantic relationship.
Perhaps surprisingly, Westheimer advises anyone in this situation to focus first on themselves.
Spontaneous sex—clandestine encounters, afternoon delights, and one-night stands—is fantastic. But more often than not, the mind-boggling orgasms of this kind of sex are a myth you read about in magazines.
The alternative, planned sex, doesn’t sound particularly exciting. Sending a calendar invite for sex is about as sexy as sending a calendar invite for Excel training.
But for people in long-term relationships, it’s probably worth sending that invite anyhow. Conscientious, plan-ahead people actually have more satisfying sex lives, according to a new study published in The Journal of Sex Research.
Researchers from Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany surveyed nearly 1,000 couples (most heterosexual) about their sex lives, asking each person to rate things like how easily they got aroused, how inhibited they were around sex, and any issues they may have with sexual dysfunction. Each participant also described their own personality and their partner’s, using the Big Five personality framework—which includes extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.
The most surprising finding? A statistically significant correlation between conscientious people of both sexes and higher sexual satisfaction. Conscientious people had fewer sexual problems–like inhibition or feeling unfulfilled. This positive correlation was particularly strong for heterosexual women whose partners were highly conscientious. “Men who are thorough and dutiful may feel the need to satisfy their partner sexually, which may in turn lead to better sexual function of their partners,” write the study authors.
“We wanted to know whether certain sexuality-related traits (i.e. traits that reflect how easily people become excited, or how sexually inhibited they are) are more or less relevant to sexual function than more broad, general personality traits (the big five),” writes author Julia Velten, a post-doctoral fellow in clinical psychology and psychotherapy, in an email to Quartz. “Studies have shown that most of these personality traits and sexuality-related traits are relevant, but it was unknown which factors are the most crucial when taken together.”
Velten defines conscientiousness as one’s tendency to be efficient and organized, as opposed to easy-going and disorderly. Conscientious people show strong self-discipline, achievement-orientation, and dependability. They display planned behavior more often than spontaneous behavior, says Velten. Which means people who are more sexually satisfied are also more likely to be having planned sex (calendar invite or not).
Most importantly, the data showed no significant correlation between relationship duration and sexual function, writes Velten. “Thus, sexual function (and sexual satisfaction) don’t necessarily decline with age or over the course of relationships. Many of our older couples were still sexually active and quite satisfied with their sexual lives.”
The upshot? If you’re more disposed toward planning sex, that’s not weird, or unsexy. It’s a major plus. It means you’re thoughtful—not only about the amount of sex you’re having, but also about the quality of sex you’re having, and your partner’s unique desires.
“High conscientiousness can be especially beneficial when it comes to putting effort into a satisfying sexual life,” write the study’s authors, “or to postpone one’s own needs and interests to focus on resolving a sexual problem within the context of committed, long-term relationships.”
Ultimately, this all boils down to communication, says Velten. Speaking honestly and non-judgmentally about your sexual preferences is sexy. If you do it, you’ll have better sex. Conscientiously planning intimate activities is just an extension of such communication—it amps tension and excitement, and can make sex feel surprising, even with the most familiar partners.
Most of the time, the people who ask how you’re doing will be satisfied by the rote, two-word reply: I’m fine. I’m good. Really, it was the question that mattered, not the answer. Every so often, though, you’ll encounter someone who truly wants to know about the state of your emotional/physical/spiritual existence, who puts a hard emphasis on the last word to show that they’re trying to go deep: No, really, how are you doing?
It’s a question that sex researchers, too, would love to be able to ask, explains Kristen Mark, a professor of health promotion at the University of Kentucky and a sexuality researcher at the Kinsey Institute. The problem is that the vocabulary for it doesn’t really exist: Scientists have tools to measure various facets of our sex lives, from pain and dysfunction to communication and overall satisfaction, but they don’t have a tool to holistically assess all of those things together. Sexually, how are you doing? We don’t really know.
The Cut spoke to Mark about the concept of “sexual well-being,” why researchers don’t yet have a way to measure it, and why, without one, we’re missing out on a trove of information about what makes for good sex, bad sex, happy and unhappy couples, and fulfilling individual sex lives. Below is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.
Sexual well-being involves the absence of sexual problems, but to me, that’s kind of neutral. That’s baseline. My colleagues and I think about sexual well-being as going beyond risk reduction to the point where one is in a state of feeling safe, feeling trusting of their partner, feeling satisfied, fulfillment, attachment — especially in the current climate that we’re in, the safety and trust piece, I think, is quite important. Sexual well-being really plays a huge role in people’s overall sex lives, their romantic lives, and also their overall well-being. And it’s really quite crucial for the success of long-term relationships.
But it’s beyond each of those alone. And the reason it’s kind of complicated is because we do have definitions of all the constructs that I mentioned, but there’s no gold standard measure of sexual well-being, which would encompass all those things and would take this in sort of a holistic way.
It definitely can be something you have as a single person. This is not reliant on relationships. A couple may have a higher or lower sexual well-being based on how their relationship is going — certainly, if you’re in a relationship, that’s going to contribute to your sexual well-being. But being single and being happy about that, and feeling like you are sexually satisfied by being alone — you can reach a state of sexual well-being by single as well.
So much of the work that we do in the sexual-health world, or really just generally in society, looks at sexuality as being this thing that one either shouldn’t talk about, or should only talk about in the context of disease avoidance and risk reduction. And it’s quite important to our overall well-being that we go beyond that risk-reduction model, because what sort of level of satisfaction, or level of security, are we getting when we’re just looking to avoid getting pregnant or getting an STI? If you think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sexual well-being is kind of that self-actualization piece, but within the context of sex.
The idea would be to create some sort of scale to measure these things, and there are people looking to try and figure this out. If we create a comprehensive measurement tool, we have a better ability to figure out, what variables are related to this? And how can we improve well-being in individuals and couples? I would love to see an increase in the number of people using sexual well-being as an outcome measure in a variety of clinical-type uses. That could be therapeutic techniques, or it could be pharmaceutical drug development.
A lot of the research that I do looks at happy couples, well-adjusted couples — we like to be able to study them in order to learn what’s working, because we can learn a lot from these couples who are really thriving. And so if we could come up with a measurement tool, we could standardize this so that we could all be studying sexual well-being in a way that’s consistent. And then we can draw cross-cultural comparisons related to sexual well-being.
And it just improves our knowledge in this area that’s so under-studied. Sex is seen as such a taboo topic in our society, and all the funding for sexuality research goes toward risk reduction, HIV, unintended pregnancy. It’s never focused on, how do we optimize people’s sex lives? We’re not seeing any research grants go out to improve sexual well-being. But I would argue that if our society at large could become more sexually healthy through sexual well-being, and through improving pleasure and satisfaction and communication, then we would see a larger and more population-level change in some of these sexual-health outcomes that are being funded, like STIs and unintended pregnancy.
I think the measurement stuff is less relevant to the general public as opposed to the general idea that sexual well-being is quite multifaceted, and having people realize that sexual well-being is important. Our society doesn’t really acknowledge that, and doesn’t really place an emphasis on that, especially for women. When we look at statistics of the level of sexual pain than women experience, that alone is so much higher than what we would hope for women’s sexuality. Women have always been taught not to prioritize a sex life, not to really make pleasure a priority, and sexual well-being provides a framework within which women can prioritize their sex lives. And men as well, but women have so regularly and historically been told, Pleasure is not part of sex for you.
So I think just acknowledging sexual well-being is a really important piece, and that sexual well-being is beyond just feeling satisfied. It’s not about that. It’s about this fulfillment, and feeling you’re in a relationship where you feel safe and feel like you can express yourself in a meaningful way that enriches your life. So it’s about going beyond, Okay, let’s get rid of the pain during sex. It’s going beyond that and going into the fulfillment and excitement and really valuing sex as a part of your life. I feel like people don’t think about sex in this way, and I wish they would more.
There are a number of health benefits that have been associated with having sex, both physical and mental. And new research suggests having sex could also give you a greater sense of meaning in life.
A team of researchers at the George Mason University set out to explore the relationship between sex and wellbeing, which included mood and sense of meaning in life, in a small study that was published in the scientific journal Emotion.
They conducted a three-week study involving 152 college students who were told to keep a daily diary of the frequency and quality of their sexual activity, along with their moods and feelings.
The results of the study suggested that sex on a given day predicted an enhanced mood and improved meaning in life for the participants the following day.
David Ludden, professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College, says in a Psychology Today blog post that this finding is “consistent with other research which have found that the ‘afterglow’ of sex extends for a day or two after the act.”
Interestingly, the time-lagged analysis suggested that the reverse was not the case: feeling happy one day did not predict sexual activity or intimacy the next day. The researchers conclude that it’s the sexuality activity – which respondents were allowed to define themselves as anything from passionate kissing to intercourse – that is making people feel happier.
Todd Kashdan, lead author of the study, is quoted in TIME as saying that it’s probably down to our natural desire to belong and that sex can translate as a sign of acceptance and inclusion.
“There is something profound about someone else giving you access to their body and accepting access to yours,” he said.
Those of the participants in relationships (a little over 60 per cent) who said that they felt close to their partners also predicted a greater sense of meaning in life and positive mood afterwards. Kashdan said that this is down to the feeling of reaffirmation that a person in a close relationship feels after having sex with their partner.
Sex, he said, is a remedy for loneliness and isolation, a “therapy without therapists.”
Ludden writes in his blog post that when you think about sex not only as sensual pleasure, but as a social act “we can understand why it boosts our mood and sense of fulfilment beyond the gratification of the moment.
“After all, what could be more affirming to another person than to willingly engage with them in the most intimate acts of human experience?”
The study is limited in its sample size, but also in that it examines the relationship behaviours and sexual activity of students, which is likely to differ to those of older people, psychologist Christian Jarrett points out. It nevertheless provides a snapshot into the relationship between sex and wellness, a topic the authors believe warrants further research.
“To understand the full scope of human flourishing, research on well-being needs to incorporate more rigorous scientific inquiries of sexual behaviour,” the authors are quoted as saying.