We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: signs you have an unhealthy relationship with sex.
Q: I keep winding up dating people who don’t have very good relationships with sex. It has become such a pattern that now I’m wondering if there’s something I’m not recognizing about myself. Like, am I actually the one with the problem if I keep dating people with problems? What are the warning signs of an unhealthy sex life?
A: Thanks for the question. While sex can be one of the best parts of being a human, there are also lots of ways that our relationships with it can get complicated. Here are nine (non-exhaustive) signs of an unhealthy relationship with sex to watch out for, in yourself and your partners.
1. You Put Yourself In Dangerous Situations
Let’s start with one of the most obvious signs of a problematic relationship with sex: not being safe. Sex comes with lots of risks, including pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. If you want to have a healthy and happy sex life, you have to educate yourself about the risk levels of your preferred sexual activities. You have to use protection and insist that your partners use protection. You have to get tested regularly, share your results with your partners, and ask them to share their results in return.
2. You’re Not Picky Enough
Your body is your temple! Cheesy but true. You should be choosy about the people you let into your pants, even if you’re having casual sex. You should share at least a basic level of comfort and respect with all of your sexual partners.
Want an easy litmus test? If you would feel embarrassed telling your best friend that you slept with a certain someone, maybe don't have sex with that person. Some other guidelines: don’t have sex with someone just because you want them to like you, or because you feel like you “owe” them. Don’t have sex with people you’re not attracted to. Have standards and stick to them.
3. You Turn To Sex When You’re Sad Or Anxious
An improved mood is one of the great unexpected benefits of sex, but you shouldn’t rely on sex to make you feel better. Lots of people turn to porn, masturbation, or sex to soothe feelings that they don’t want to acknowledge or deal with. Sex should not be your primary coping mechanism.
If you find yourself questioning your motivations, try stopping yourself every time you feel the impulse to watch porn, masturbate, or have sex, and ask yourself, "what am I feeling right now? Is there anything I'm ignoring?"
4. You Can Never Get Enough
Some people become so dependent on porn, masturbation, or sex that they lose their sense of control over their sex lives. It can even start to feel like an addiction. Feeling like you always want more and can never be satisfied is a sign that something is off in your relationship with sex. Having a high sex drive is perfectly healthy, but it may be crossing a line if your sexual habits gets in the way of your normal day-to-day life.
5. You Use Sex As A Tool
You should have sex because it’s fun and feels good, not because you want to manipulate another person into liking you, getting into a relationship with you, boosting your self-esteem, or doing you a favor. Similarly, you shouldn’t withhold sex as punishment, as a bargaining chip, or as a means to get what you want.
6. You Don’t Know How To Talk About Sex
Sexual communication is important for so many reasons, including expressing your boundaries, saying “no,” sharing your desires, giving feedback in the moment, and addressing problems. It's an absolutely essential part of having a healthy sex life.
It can take a while to develop your sexual communication skills, so don't worry if you don't feel like you're there just yet. As long as you're making an effort, you're on the right track. But if you refuse to talk about sex, you shouldn’t be having it.
7. You Care More About Your Partners Than Yourself
Most of us want to please our partners, but some people are so eager to please that they’re willing to betray their own wants and needs in favor of their partners’. Some people will have sex when they don’t want to, or engage in activities that they don’t desire, simply because their partner wanted it or pushed for it.
It's fine to compromise on things that you don't have a strong opinion about, but you should also have a set of firm boundaries that you won't cross. For example, let's say you've never been that interested in being spanked, but you're willing to try it if your partner is into it. That's much different than allowing your partner to pressure you into having unprotected sex.
8. You Don’t Respect Other’s Boundaries
On the flip side of the coin, some people are so adamant about getting what they want that they ignore or even violate their partner’s boundaries. This can come in the form of pressuring a partner, mocking their requests, ignoring safe words or, at the most extreme, forcing yourself on them. It should go without saying that your relationship with sex is pretty messed up if you do any of the above.
9. You Don’t Pay Attention To Your Body
Sex can be fun and pleasurable, and it can also be painful and scary. We each need to take care of ourselves and our bodies when we’re being intimate. Don’t ever push yourself to keep having sex if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort. Don’t ignore triggers. Don’t tune out gut feelings that something is wrong. Listen to your body. It knows much more than you realize.
If you recognize yourself in any of these categories, know that sometimes, just acknowledging your patterns is enough to make a change. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may want to consider enlisting the help of an experienced sex therapist.
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