We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we actually hear the nitty-gritty details of how we might actually achieve those things? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex psychotherapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the specifics. This week’s topic: how to know whether you're having sex for the wrong reasons.
Q: I read your article about knowing when you’re ready to have sex with someone new. But the thing is, even when it's not with someone new, I struggle with making the right decisions about sex. I’ll admit that sometimes I feel like I base my decisions more on what guys expect rather than what I want. I’ll tell myself in the moment that it’s a good decision, and I’ll ignore the little voice in the back of my head that’s screaming at me not to. I hate feeling like I can’t trust myself. How do I know I'm having sex for the right reasons?
A: Sex is a complicated act, and there are a ton of different factors that influence our decisions. I hear from a lot of women like yourself who struggle with knowing whether or not they’re making the right decision. Let’s start with going over some not-so-great reasons for having sex, then I'll share some simple questions you can ask yourself to ensure that you make a healthy choice.
The not-so-great reasons for having sex
YOU'RE TRYING TO PLEASE YOUR PARTNER
Women are socialized to be caretakers and put other people’s needs before ours, and our people-pleasing tendencies can have huge impacts on our sexual decision making. A lot of women tell me they have sex with their boyfriends or husbands just to keep them happy. They don’t want to have sex at those times, but they feel like they “owe” it to their partners. Let’s make one thing clear — you never “owe” sex to anyone, not even the love of your life.
YOU FEEL LIKE IT'S EXPECTED
Almost all women feel like there’s a certain date by which they’re supposed to sleep with a new guy. I hear about the “three date rule” all the time, but the length can vary. There are plenty of women who believe that the guy picking up the check for the first date means he’s entitled to an all-access pass to his date's body. Don’t let your sexual decisions be dictated by a $13 plate of pasta. YOU get to make choices about your body based on what feels right for you. Anyone who makes you feel like sex is expected of you doesn’t deserve to sleep with you in the first place.
YOU FEEL BAD FOR SOMEONE
Ever had sex with someone because you felt sorry for them? That guy at the bar who poured his heart out to you about his girlfriend leaving him for another man? That friend of yours who confessed her —unrequited — love for you and pleaded for a chance? Caregiver complex strikes again! Feeling pity for someone is definitely not a good reason to have sex with them. It’s not your responsibility to make other people feel better, especially not with your body.
YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE SAYING NO
Every woman has had experience with that awkward moment during a hook-up where you know you don’t want to go any further, but you’re not quite sure how to put on the brakes. We worry about so many things at those times — hurting the other person’s feelings, making things uncomfortable, being judged as prudish, or not wanting to end the hook-up entirely. There are plenty of people out there willing to take advantage of this hesitance by pressuring or even forcing you to go further than you want. It’s critically important to consent to every step of a hook-up, and to steer clear from partners who are in any way coercive.
YOU'RE FEELING ANXIOUS OR OUT OF CONTROL
Whether or not sex is addictive is an extremely complex question that is being hotly debated in academia and the media. Whether or not we define it as an addiction akin to alcoholism, most experts agree that some people feel compelled to have sex. This pull can feel stronger that simply feeling an authentic desire to have sex; it can feel more like something you have to do to make yourself feel better at that moment. Don’t ever use sex as a way to help you feel more in control. It won’t. If you ever feel incapable of making a healthy, thoughtful decision, don’t put yourself in situations where sex is a possibility. You may also want to consider talking to an expert to explore your relationship with sex.
YOU'RE USING SEX AS A MEANS TO AN END
Like I mentioned last week, trying to use sex to turn casual dating into a serious relationship is never a good idea. Neither is using sex to get gifts, promotions, or favors. Just don’t use sex to manipulate anyone, period.
YOU'RE LONELY OR SAD
All of us feel isolated and alone from time to time. If you’re going through a rough patch, sex might feel like a good way to get a little company. Sex can be a good temporary mood-booster (those endorphins are powerful!), but it’s important not to make decisions that you wouldn’t have made had you been feeling less lonely. Don’t lower your standards just to get some human contact.
YOU'RE LOOKING FOR A SELF-ESTEEM BOOST
You may think that bedding that hot guy from your Chem class will make you feel better about yourself, but it probably won’t. Low self-esteem cuts deep, and it’s more complicated to resolve than putting another notch on your bedpost. Sex shouldn’t be seen as an accomplishment.
YOU'RE TRYING TO GET BACK AT SOMEONE
Don’t use sex as a weapon. Sleeping with your ex’s best friend might bring a fleeting moment of morbid satisfaction, but you’re bound to feel way worse in the end. Sharing your body with another person should be fun and joyous, not a twisted plot line straight out of a bad movie.
Try asking yourself these questions before making a choice
OK, so now that we've gotten some of the not-so-good reasons to have sex out of the way, here are five questions you can ask yourself when you're still on the fence.
“In this moment, do I trust myself to make this decision?”
Are you drunk, high, emotional, or exhausted? Are you with someone who you’ve had a hard time trusting yourself around before? Are you ignoring your intuition? Those would all be red flags.
“Would I be happy with my decision even if it changes nothing about our relationship?”
This is a good question to use to keep your ulterior motives in check.
“Am I being upfront with my partner and treating him or her with respect?”
The Golden Rule is just as important when it comes to sex. If you want your partner to treat you kindly, treat him or her with that same kindness.
“Do I truly believe that I can say ‘no’ at any time if that was what I wanted?"
This is a great way to make sure that you’re able to advocate for yourself in that particular situation. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying "no," walk away.
“Do I actually want to have sex right now?”
A “yes” is not the absence of a "no." You want to make sure that you’re enthusiastically consenting to sex, not just going along with it.
The more you’re able to be thoughtful about your decisions, the more your trust in your own decision-making will grow. Good luck!
Images: HBO, Giphy