Stop Worrying About Being Normal
By far the most common thing that people who come for sex therapy say is that they ‘just want to be normal’. There is an idea that everybody else is having ‘normal and great sex’ and there is something very wrong with us if we are not. People often feel terribly upset and ashamed if they don’t think they fit into ‘normal’.
The truth is that there is no ‘normal’ way to have sex. The only thing that does seem to be normal is to worry about sex. A very recent study found that 35% of men and 54% of women said that they had problems with sex.
Even over the last few decades the idea of ‘normal’ has changed. Certainly the idea of what is normal is different in different countries and even between different groups in the same country. Imagine the kind of sex life a 21 year old heterosexual woman might be having compared to a 40 year old gay man or a married couple in their seventies. As the author Gayle Rubin says, whatever you enjoy sexually, somebody somewhere will think is disgusting, and whatever completely turns you off, somebody somewhere will find the most exciting thing imaginable. Perhaps we should allow ourselves to have exactly the kind of sex that we want, so long as everybody involved is enjoying what they are doing.
Keeping Your Relationship Fresh
The secret of keeping your sex life fresh, even in a long-term relationship, is communication and making sure that you spend time together. While this may seem obvious, many couples hit problems with their sex lives because they are rarely together in the same place. No wonder intimacy is lost!
Couples often expect their partner to KNOW what they want and get angry when their needs are not met. This is often confusing for the partner who has not met the expected need, and for the person who feels their needs were not important. Communication means being able to ask for what you need in a reasonable manner without confrontation.
Make some time and space
No matter how long you have been together you need to make time and space for each other, even if you have young children. Couples often find that when they are parents they don’t have time or money for treats. But a treat doesn’t have to be expensive. A night in with a nice meal and a bottle of wine is as valuable as a meal out. And just because you are at home it doesn’t mean you can’t make an effort to bathe and dress up. Make the effort you would have in the early days and make sure the TV, computer and mobile stay off. If you can ask a grandparent or friend to have the children overnight even better!
As children get older often this can squeeze the time you have alone together. Try to make the most of the odd moments. Teenagers rarely surface early so perhaps consider making the mornings at the weekend an intimate time. Maybe treat yourself to a week-end away so you have time for each other. Time spent on keeping your relationship alive means it will be there when the children fly the nest.
Don’t Believe the Myths of Sex
As well as the myth that there is one kind of ‘normal’ sex – and that everyone else is having lots of it – there are plenty of other myths that lots of people believe. Any sex therapist will tell you that they are just plain wrong. Here are a few commonly held beliefs about sex that you can safely ignore
- The only true kind of sex involves someone putting their penis in someone else.
- Having sex on your own isn’t really sex and it is bad to have sex on your own too much
- Sex should always involve an orgasm
- Sex should always start with lots of foreplay
- Foreplay is for kids
- Men need an erection in order to have sex
- Men should always initiate sex and should be in control of what happens
- Men are always ready for sex and always want it
- Women rarely want sex and need to be talked into it
- Men should be able to last all night
- Women should have sex with their partner otherwise they will lose them
- All kissing and touching should lead to sex
- You should never have sex on your own if you have a partner
- If you fantasize about someone else you’re not happy with your partner
- If you have had sex with someone once you have to do it again
- If you have had one kind of sex it isn’t okay to say you don’t want to do that any more
- Pornography accurately represents what great sex – and sexy bodies – really look like
What About When Sex Becomes Difficult?
The myth of being ever-ready for sex assumes that sex is unrelated to what is going on in the rest of our lives; that we should be keen for sex whether we are happy or sad, stressed or calm, tired or full of beans.
In reality, for most people, sex is a good barometer for how everything else is going. Instead of feeling bad that there is a sexual difficulty (a change in desire or fulfillment), think of the sexual barometer as a warning device that something might not be quite right somewhere else in your life. Sex therapy can be a useful place to start figuring out what that might be.
This is why many sex therapists won’t consider a sexual problem in isolation but want to know about the rest of you, your relationships and life.
Take Sex Off the Menu
Whatever your sexual issue, a sex therapist is quite likely to recommend that you start by not having sex!
Because of all the myths around sex and the desire to be ‘normal’ many of us have just lost track of what we actually enjoy. You may be trying to have kinds of sex which don’t bring you much pleasure. Often the best thing that you can do is to stop what you are doing for a few weeks and then build up again gradually, allowing yourselves to try different things.
Figure Out What You Enjoy
When you have taken sex off the menu it is a good idea to spend some time thinking about what you do enjoy, first of all alone, and then with a partner if you have one.
You might want to try some of these suggestions:
Think about your first sexual feelings when you were younger: What were they about? What kinds of things did you like doing or imagining? How do you feel about them now? What sexual thoughts, if any, come to you in idle moments? You might want to write them down somewhere private. Do you like erotic images or erotic stories? If so you can look at some of these that are available in books, magazines or online and think about which ones you find exciting. The author, Nancy Friday, has collected together people’s fantasies in books. A lot of people find it useful to read through these to see the range of different things that people find exciting and to see if any of them excite them.
Take some time alone by yourself, get yourself relaxed, perhaps by having a warm bath. Let yourself explore your own body with your hands, discovering what kinds of touching you enjoy and don’t enjoy.
Alone or with a partner write down every sexual activity you can possibly think of. Include anything however silly or unappealing it sounds. Then you can go through separately looking at each one and writing ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ to the question of whether you would like to try doing that activity. You don’t have to share that list with anybody else unless you feel comfortable doing so, but it gives you a good idea about your sexual menu. Remember though that this may well change over time as you try things.