Recently, at the end of a long and powerful session with one of my clients, I made a little joke to her about all of my sex failures. She stopped and looked at me, and then said:
“I find that hard to believe. You’re so awesome at…everything.”
Um. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, and I said as much. In fact, my sex and relationship mistakes, mishaps, and epic failures would fill the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and then some. They’re so ridiculous I’m writing a book about everything I’ve messed up.
She let that soak in, nodding as if to say, “Maybe there’s hope for me after all.”
That little exchange made me realize something – often my clients think I have it all figured out. That I’ve somehow stumbled upon (or been born with) the keys to the sex kingdom.
And therein lies the secret that all sex professionals know. It’s in the handbook, in fact.
The (not-so-secret) secret is that great sex doesn’t just magically happen – we all have to work at it.
Last year, at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, I attended a session on the power of provocative and offensive words. The session morphed into a very intimate sharing circle. Almost everyone in the room (a good 15 of us or so) worked in sex, sexuality, or a related field – we represented sex educators, social justice advocates, therapists, counselors, sex experts, podcasters, sex workers, and the like.
During that hour a powerful thing happened.
We all shared that we struggled with the things everyone encounters at some point – low desire, failing relationships, fear of being vulnerable, mediocre sex, using our voice in bed, or feeling scared when things got tough.
It was incredibly validating and empowering to know I wasn’t the only professional who had these same issues. Because feeling like you’re the only one can be terribly lonely.
Knowing that professionals don’t have it all figured out when it comes to sex levels the playing field a little bit (and if a professional claims they don’t struggle with these things, run the other way – immediately).
What gives sex experts a leg up is a well-stocked toolbox for overcoming common problems.
As the group talked, it became clear that while our problems are similar to those our clients struggle with, we had the luxury of having powerful tools and resources that helped us to work through those issues a little easier.
Tools like the confidence to know that our desires and fantasies are healthy and normal (which allows us to remove shame), communication techniques that create a bridge rather than a divide when we talk to our partners, scripts for initiating scary conversations, practice digging into things that are uncomfortable, a thorough understanding of our bodies, and the knowledge that great ANYTHING doesn’t just happen – it takes work.
No one is born being amazing at sex or relationships. No one.
The truth is relating to others in any way, be it familial, platonic, or intimate, is a learned skill developed over years and years of practice. If you had the opportunity to see open communication modeled in your home as a kid, then you may have naturally adopted those skills, but again – they aren’t inherent.
Unfortunately, we rarely have a chance to witness healthy, tough conversations play out, and they don’t teach us in school how to deal with things like waning desire or hating our bodies. That means, we often feel like we’re totally alone in our struggles.
But the great news is that because these are skills that are learnable, you can learn them, too.
Building up your toolbox can be empowering (and that’s a large part of what I do with my clients), but skills take practice.
Practice means letting go of perfection and making a lot of mistakes.
So, here are a few tips for working on those skills. (Saying the scary stuff will be a separate series, so stay tuned for that very critical tool.)
Tool #1: You are normal.
Your desire, or lack of it, are normal. Your fantasies, the way your body experiences pleasure (or doesn’t), the needs that you have? Normal, normal, and normal.
If you need a vibrator to get off, bring it into bed with your partner and make it happen. That is completely normal.
If you like imagining that you have a stable of attractive lovers eager to wait on you hand and foot, embrace that. It’s normal.
If you get turned on by the sound of people having sex or by the smell of latex or when someone touches your neck in a specific way, let those things be your truth. They’re all normal.
Sexual fantasies are not politically correct and they aren’t necessarily something you want to happen in real life.
They are your private, creative landscape and accepting your sexual desires means letting go of shame and owning that this is your story.
Professionals understand that they are completely normal. It’s incredibly freeing to release shame or guilt around what you want and need.
Tool #2: Be specific when you communicate.
When you and your partner aren’t super clear about what you want and what you mean, it can lead to confusion, hurt feelings, and feeling like your partner just doesn’t get you.
For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking of this scene from Rush Hour with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker:
Let’s say you tell your partner that you like being touched.
Well, what does that mean exactly? Where do you like being touched? What mood are you in when this is happening? With hard or soft pressure? With long or short strokes? Is it a sensual touch or a sexual touch you’re craving?
It’s also important to note that the way you like being touched changes constantly – after a long day, your needs may be totally different than first thing in the morning when you’re fresh out of the shower.
If you aren’t specific and open about what you mean, then you’re setting your partner up for failure. This is true for sex and life.
Tool #3: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Though this is true for relationships in general, when it comes to sex, sometimes things are just awkward.
Pros know that sex, and talking about sex, takes practice.
The first time you do anything, whether it’s playing the piano or swinging a flogger, it’s going to feel weird and cumbersome and unnatural. And because so many of us have a lot of shame and embarrassment around sex, when things don’t go as planned, we tend to throw in the towel after one or two failed attempts and never look back.
But what if you treated sex like one great big on-going experiment?
Each time you get naked, you’re gathering information that will get woven into your complex and beautiful sexual story. Experiments don’t see mistakes as failure, but instead as valuable data. Imagine saying – “Well, that didn’t work the way I thought it would. What happens if I try it another way?”
A lot of people in the kink community like the saying, “It’s only kinky the first time.” Anytime you do something new, it’s going to seem weird.
In fact, unless something goes really wrong, I suggest to people that they try new things 3-4 times in different settings at different times of day with different context, because sometimes it takes a few tries to work through your embarrassment before you really start to see the potential in something.
Sex is messy.
It’s an act between two (or more) gloriously imperfect people. It can get sweaty and sticky and awkward. Someone may fall off the bed or bang their head or not realize which hole they’re sticking something into.
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable means allowing imperfection and mistakes, and knowing that’s all part of the journey.
You may not know how to phrase a request or how to talk dirty or how to share a fantasy, and you may react poorly to a lover’s private desire, but if you are willing to learn and grow and try again, with a spirit of “let’s see what happens!”, amazing things will begin to unfold.
Tool #4: The more you know about your body, the better.
In a recent post on masturbation, we looked at all the reasons that self-pleasure is so important.
Which areas are sensitive and when (because it won’t be a constant)?
How long does it take for you to get from zero to fully aroused when you’re by yourself? When you employ your juiciest fantasy? When you’re with a lover?
Do you enjoy gently tugging on your pubic hair or do you know what movements give you muscle cramps or which types of toys feel amazing and which ones are just distracting?
On top of that, basic anatomy is something pros constantly study, and that information can be wildly empowering. A wonderful resource on the female body is “Women’s Anatomy of Arousal” by Sheri Winston. I also have a 6-week online course in the making, so stay tuned for that.
Whether you pull out a mirror and get to know yourself visually, or you take the time to understand your body and all that it’s capable of, you will be a better lover for it.
The secret to great sex is you.
Your body was built for pleasure. Your mind is boundless and creative. Your voice is strong and powerful.
Great sex isn’t a natural gift. It’s not something that only a select few have access to.
Sex professionals know that our problems are not unique, they aren’t insurmountable, and with a little patience and a spirit of adventure, great sex can happen. And great sex can be whatever it is you want it to be – passionate lovemaking, no penetration at all, kinky as all get out, or anything else that makes you feel satisfied and yummy.
It might be uncomfortable and frustrating and scary and awkward sometimes, but if you’re willing to work with that and allow it be what it is for a little while, ecstasy is on the other side.