Are all your friends really living the porny picture they paint?
Juan Moyano / Stocksy
You're on your third round of oddly strong brunch drinks with your pals and one of them brings it up again: their wild adventures in bonetown. While your friends loudly go on about their latest kinky exploits, you quietly sip your bloody mary, hoping no one will notice your reticence. Before you know it you're so drunk you might just divulge your own dirty secret: You're actually vanilla as fuck in the sack. Embarrassing, bland, boring vanilla. So here's the question: Is everyone but you really having crazy sex?
You know this in your heart of hearts: Everyone prefers to talk about the time they squirted across the room than say, the two-month period when their partner couldn't get an erection. "No one goes to Instagram to talk about the mediocre, everyday things that happen to them. It can be easy to forget that most folks have lives just as mundane and boring as we perceive ours to be," says Liz Powell, a practicing sex-positive psychologist in San Francisco. "I think some people sometimes have great sex, but even those of us who are sex educators and professionals still have average, boring sex sometimes."
Your friends aren't necessarily lying to you, but they're probably offering up the juiciest stories they've got. And maybe embellishing a little. You know, putting the best filters on it. In all likelihood, they have similarly ho-hum sex on occasion, and you likely have better sex than they do some of the time.
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"No one ever has any kind of sex all the time, and trying to have the kind of sex other people have will only make you miserable. Instead, it might be helpful to focus on how you can explore your own body and determine what works well for you," Powell says.
Let's say your sex life is indeed seriously, crushingly boring. Or either you or your partner(s) are having a hard time getting off.
"As a therapist, I deal with patients all the time who feel like they're missing out and the result is feeling envy, anger, frustration, loneliness and shame," says psychotherapist, sex counselor and author of She Comes First, Ian Kerner. "These negative feeling-states can really drag you down."
Powell adds that when people have sex with the emphasis on achieving goals—like orgasms, multiple sessions, or kink factor—it breeds these kinds of unpleasant feelings because we're setting ourselves up for struggle and, ultimately, disappointment. Who wants to feel like sex is an AP Stat exam, anyway?
Your exhibitionist—and likely full-of-shit—friends aren't helping either. "As Roosevelt said, 'comparison is the thief of joy.' Comparing the sex you're having to some outside standard removes you from the interactions you're actually having with your body and your partner. There is no such thing as objectively amazing sex. What one person thinks is amazing another might find repulsive. Similarly, there is no such thing as objectively boring sex," she says.
Powell says that the worst case scenario here is that it's likely you're putting yourself in a sort of sex-olympics between your real-world self and what you perceive your ideal sexual self to be, and it's stressing you out, making matters worse by constantly encouraging you to feel like you're somehow not good enough. And that stress affects your sexual performance.
"When people are under stress, their sympathetic nervous system––fight or flight––is activated. When this [happens], our body will not be able to have good sex. Our sympathetic nervous system can only be on or off, and when it's on it treats every threat as if it's life or death," says Powell. "It's not going to be putting blood flow, concentration, or energy into arousal and pleasure."
Socially, you might need to shift your attention from your friends' allegedly hot sex lives and focus in on your own less titillating one until it turns gossip-worthy or you can risk being a wet blanket and make it known that you're uncomfortable with the conversation.
As for addressing the sex elephant in the bedroom with the person or people you're getting naked with? You are in control, both experts assert, and you have the power to change the parts of your sex life that don't work for you. The real bummer here is if you decide to remain stagnant, in which case no amount of liquor or lube will help.
"Sex is natural, but it doesn't always come naturally. Couples therapists like to say that sex is only 20 percent of a relationship, but if your sex life is increasingly unsatisfying it can feel like 100 percent of the relationship," Kerner says. "Sex doesn't need to be super hot. It can also be fun, consistent, mutually pleasurable and intimate."
Add in a few new positions, or watch some really great porn with your partner. If expanding your sexual repertoire is too intimidating to consider a new sex act, consider visiting your friendly neighborhood sex shop.
When all else fails, masturbate. Because it's fun, because it feels good, it's free, and because it is part of your sex life. "Masturbation doesn't just feel good, it's good for you," Powell says. "Developing a regular, pleasure-oriented practice helps to reduce stress, increase confidence, and can even have pain reduction benefits. If you have a prostate, regular orgasms reduce the risk of prostate health issues."
If you find it challenging to get in the habit, buying a sex toy you're excited about might inspire some regular jerk off sessions. Your sex life is quite literally in your hands. As Kerner says, "a sex life is a terrible thing to waste, but an okay sex life is a great place to start."
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