As someone who has been an advice columnist for almost a decade, I’ve been all up in a lot of people’s bidness. And while every situation and every couple is unique, there are many issues that come up again and again when it comes to sex. Here are some of the most common problems couples face and how to work your way through them.
1. My partner doesn’t know what I like in bed! How can I make him more "clitorate"?
Many of us are guilty of “dropping hints” about what we would like our partner to do to us in bed, rather than being explicit or straightforward about our sexual desires or needs. Sometimes this is due to shyness or frustration or a past rejection we don’t want to re-experience. And, it must also be said, sometimes a hint does indeed work: A well-timed moan or enthusiastic hip thrust can communicate to our partner: “Yes, that, keep doing that.” But more often than not, if you want to be sexed in a particular way (and especially if you want NOT to be sexed in a particular way), you have to be able to talk about it. No one is a mind-reader, and your partner rarely “just knows” what makes you hot and bothered, as opposed to simply bothered.
While you don’t need to be able to recite a detailed, bullet-pointed list of every sexual kink or desire you’ve ever had, you do need to be able to sum up your turn-ons and turn-offs, any no-fly zones or triggers, and to know yourself well enough so you can verbally or physically guide your partner to whatever gets you to cloud nine. And remember that positive reinforcement is always appreciated, even if what your partner is doing isn’t totally working for you. It can be a big blow to the ego if communicating your needs sounds like constant criticism. Hence, “I loved when you were biting my neck earlier. Can you do it again?” Or “Your tongue feels amazing, but can you use slightly less pressure?” Rather than, “That feels like I’m being run through a 99-cent car wash. Do something else.”
2. We have mismatched libidos.
Probably the most oft-cited issue when it comes to sex (particularly in long-term couples) is that one person wants sex more than the other. Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution for mismatched libidos. If the low to no sex is situational — i.e., something stressful and new, like a career or school change, moving to a new town, having a child, or dealing with problems involving a family member — it’s probably temporary. Most mismatched libidos, however, are not situational. It’s pretty rare for a couple to be perfectly aligned in their sexual desires at all points in their relationships. And because having sex with other people or breaking up are often not the desired solutions (though both are, frankly, effective options), it’s important to be as communicative as possible with your partner when broaching this issue.
Those with higher libidos: Don’t blame, nag or get nasty if your partner doesn’t want to bang you as much as you want to be banged. Take care of yourself if you’re feeling the urge and your partner doesn’t reciprocate. We all have hands and a 24/7 onslaught of erotic imagery at our disposals. Those with lower libidos: Make sure your partner knows you desire him. If something easily fixable is contributing to your lack of interest in sex, talk about it with your partner. So many women have written to me saying they wished their partner would approach them differently for sex, yet they never actually spoke up about it. So please, speak up. If it’s not easily fixable, show extra compassion and understanding to your partner when you can. And though I never advocate doing something one doesn’t want to do, if you’re on the sex-fence, it’s nice to throw your partner a bone sometimes.
3. I have body issues/insecurities.
We are all deeply insecure about certain parts of our bodies. All of us. These insecurities tend to be worse in women because we are fed constant and relentless messages (from the media, strangers, friends, and even ourselves) that boil down to, essentially, “Here’s another reason why you should hate yourself!” For men, this insecurity tends to manifest in the penile-girth-and-length form, but men are also susceptible to falling short of the masculine beefcake ideal. There’s no quick fix to tuning out the world and our own inner demons, but the sooner we can admit to ourselves that we will always be flawed and it’s not the end of the world, the sooner we can start owning it and enjoying all that our deeply flawed and amazing bodies are capable of. It also helps to confront insecurities head on and admit them to your partner, which takes away some of the anxiety and panic attack-iness that come from being alive in these trying times. Talking about one’s fears and lacks is certainly scary, but it also serves to defuse the alarm bells in our heads, leads to deeper intimacy and vulnerability, and depending on his or her reaction, can speak volumes about the person you’re about to have sex with. Consider, also, that a person who would bodily shame you is not a person you should be rewarding with orgasms.
4. I can’t have an orgasm.
Some women — and even some men — can’t come. Though this is sometimes a medical condition, it’s generally believed to be rooted in psychological issues, such as a history of abuse, anxiety, depression, guilt, or lack of self-esteem. Sometimes it’s all of the above. If you or your partner is experiencing any of these weighty mental roadblocks, it’s often helpful to talk regularly to a sex-positive therapist, especially when it comes to healing past sexual traumas. While that is happening, it’s also incredibly important to communicate with one’s partner, to make sure no one feels blamed, shamed or inadequate. It also helps to take orgasms off the table for a while, to focus not on having an end goal in mind, but to simply relax and enjoy the sensations, heat, intimacy, and so on.
Also worth noting is that some women who don’t experience orgasms are fine with that; they don’t view it as a problem, and if that’s the case, neither should you. If, however, the person does actively want to achieve the big O, and is working on overcoming any mental blocks, the next step is three-fold: masturbate, masturbate, masturbate. Do it in bed, in the shower, standing up, laying down, fast, slow, with toys, with more toys, lazily, swiftly, add pressure, take it away, do it to music, do it to porn. Do it while wearing socks, do it while watching Fox. Where or how doesn’t matter. But know thyself. Find what works. You have the keys to the castle. “If you can’t beat ‘em, beat it,” as the saying does not, but should, go.
5. I come too fast.
Premature ejaculation, like preorgasmic people above, is also often rooted in psychological causes (shame, anxiety, stress, yay!). If that’s the case, therapy can also help. For some preemies, it may or may not be a comfort to know that men view PE as a much bigger problem than women do. Also, the average timespan for p-in-v intercourse is 3-7 minutes. So, what some men deem “too fast” is actually just “all Saturday nights everywhere.” How to combat this tendency? Masturbation, yet again, can be helpful. Sex researcher Debby Herbenick espouses that certain exercises (the “stop-start” and the “squeeze”) can help men learn to control their release times. The stop-start is when you get close to orgasm and then stop all stimulation, and the squeeze is when you apply gentle pressure to the head of the penis. Both can be repeated as needed and allow arousal to decrease somewhat, and to train one’s wang to take the G train, as no one says.
Other methods exist, as I’ve said before, and include: a hippie way (meditation, deep breathing, imagery); a talking way (communicating your concerns to partners actually does go a long way in relieving them. Plus, she might not even care how long you last, as long as you’re into pleasing her). A drug way (some antidepressants have been known to combat PE); a fun numbing way (alcohol; just make sure not to drink too much, or you’ll end up with the opposite problem). And the less-fun numbing way (lubes, such as the subtly named Trojan Extended Condoms with Climax Control Lubricant, that temporarily anesthetize your beef whistle. I’m not recommending them, but they do exist).
You can’t spell come without communicate
You may have noticed that talking to your partner is more often than not the answer when it comes to sex. This isn’t meant to be dismissive or cheeky, just to reiterate that almost all sex problems are related to a miscommunication of some sort. And that’s okay; communication is hard and slippery (that’s what she said and he said) and the more we do it, the easier it gets. Practice having those difficult conversations outside of the bedroom and you’ll be better equipped to tackle them inside of the bedroom, or the living room, or shower, or even the dry-goods pantry.
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