The 7 Biggest Lessons I've Learned As A Sex Therapist
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.
Q: I have to imagine that in your work as a therapist, there are some patterns you keep coming across. Are there any lessons you've learned, more in general, about sex and relationships? I feel like you have a unique perspective on what makes all this stuff work.
Thank for the question! I’ve been involved in some form of sex therapy, education, or research for over 15 years. And you're right — throughout all of my sessions with clients, trainings with mentors and colleagues, questions from readers of this very column, and hilarious dinner party conversations, I’ve learned a lot about sex, intimacy, and relationships. Here are what I think have to be the seven most important lessons I've learned as a sex therapist.
1. Everyone Thinks Something’s Wrong With Them
In all of the emails I get, there’s not a single word that pops up more frequently than “normal”. We are all so concerned that the things we like our want when it comes to sex aren’t normal. Even things that the vast majority of people would consider “tame,” like wanting oral sex or getting wet after making out with someone, evoke fears that something is wrong. Most people spend so much time worrying that they’re abnormal, at the expense of actually being able to enjoy their sex lives. My bottom line: as long as adults are enthusiastically consenting and no one is being (unwillingly) hurt, it’s all good.
2. You Have To Be Your Own Lover First
You know that saying, “you have to love yourself first before you can love another person?” It applies to sex too. You can’t have truly great sex with another person until you learn how to bring yourself pleasure. You have to get comfortable in your own skin, feel worthy of time and attention, be curious about your desires, and willing to treat yourself well. Of course, these are all ongoing journeys, but they’re ones you have to start on your own first.
3. We All Put Too Much Pressure On Ourselves
Of course it’s natural to want to have hot sex, but for so many of us, that goal translates into an insane amount of pressure and performance anxiety. We’ve become sexual perfectionists. I’ve worked with men who are obsessed with getting hard at the drop of a hat, and staying rock hard until they’ve lasted the exact amount of time that they want. I’ve worked with women who wanted to orgasm from penetration, at the exact moment that their partners do.
We all want to be mind-readers who know exactly what to do to please our partners. Unfortunately, bodies don’t work that way, and all this pressure prevents us from actually enjoying sex. The lesson here: improving your sexual skills is a great goal, but there is no such thing as perfection in the bedroom.
4. Vulnerability Is A Necessity
So many of us are afraid to be ourselves in the bedroom. We look for partners to take the lead, cater to our other’s needs more than our own, and try our best to hide our bodies and our desires. But the truth is that pleasurable sex requires a crazy amount of vulnerability. If you really want to enjoy yourself in the bedroom, you have to initiate when you feel desire, ask for what you want, give feedback, and allow your partner to get up close and personal with the most intimate parts of your body. It’s hard to do, but the great news is that allowing yourself to take down your walls with your partner can lead to some absolutely mind-blowing, earth-shattering sex!
5. Good Sex Doesn’t Just "Happen"
Perhaps one of the biggest myths that people believe about sex is that it’s just supposed to happen naturally. People expect sex to be initiated spontaneously, for orgasm to happen simultaneously and effortlessly, and for it to feel passionate regardless of how long the couple has been together. We seem to think that having to make an effort is a sign that we’re not compatible, or that the relationship is doomed.
In reality, making an effort is perhaps the best way to ensure that you’ll have a happy and healthy sex life for the rest of your life. Make an effort to learn more about your body and your partners’ bodies, make the space in your life for intimacy, develop better sexual skills and communication, and help your partners feel important and desired. I promise, you’ll be way happier than you would sitting around waiting for the great sex to fall into your lap.
6. Female Orgasm Isn't More "Complicated" Than Male Orgasm
I absolutely despise the way we talk about female orgasm as a society. Women are made to think that our bodies are “weird” and “hard to figure out” and our orgasms are “complicated.” But the main reason why female orgasm can seem harder to attain than male orgasm is because we expect women’s sexuality to work the same way men’s sexuality does. Women’s bodies are different than men’s bodies, but that doesn’t inherently make us more complicated.
For most women, the best way to reach orgasm is clitoral stimulation, but women are made to feel like something is wrong with us if we can’t orgasm from penetration alone. Sure, penetration can feel great, and some women can orgasm from it, but it’s generally not the thing that works for most women. It would be the equivalent of deriding men for not being able to orgasm from getting their balls tugged. When women understand how our bodies work, get the kind of stimulation our bodies need, and have partners who respect and value our pleasure, female orgasm is no more difficult to come by (pun intended) than male.
7. There Aren’t Always Quick Fixes (And That’s A Good Thing)
Sometimes when I’m working with a new client, my job is as simple as answering a few questions and giving them accurate information. But most of the time, my work extends much further than that. Sometimes it involves helping my client realize that they need to make significant changes in the ways they approach their sex lives, or even their lives in general. The impacts that we feel in our sex lives can give us the motivation we need to make important life changes.
For example, realizing the passion is gone from your relationship might help you re-prioritize your commitments so you can create more quality time with your partner. Recognizing how much anxiety in you feel in the bedroom might help you finally learn anxiety-management techniques like meditation. The changes we make inside the bedroom can improve our lives outside of the bedroom, and vice versa. Yes, change can feel scary, but there’s so much to learn from the journey.
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Images: Vanessa Marin Sex Therapy; Giphy