Being comfortable with yourself and your partner is key to a sexual connection
By Omar Taleb
On New Year’s Day, Oliver woke up and decided that the only way he could get out of having sex with his girlfriend was to tell her that his co-worker had gotten into a car accident.
Oliver, 26, can’t ejaculate from sex in the morning. He gets hard, but never horny enough to orgasm. He’d be surprised to learn that Alisa, his 19-year-old girlfriend, doesn’t get horny either.
While Alisa also hates morning sex, she remembered something her friend told her when they were out for drinks. “Not having sex with your boyfriend on New Year’s Day sets a terrible precedent,” the friend had said. “It sets you guys up for failure.”
Liking or disliking morning sex didn’t matter to her anymore. It was the precedent that was on Alisa’s mind as her boyfriend jumped out of bed, phone in hand, and ran to the bathroom. He came out a few minutes later, boner non-existent.
“Jessica’s okay, it wasn’t too bad. From the way she put it in the text, I thought she was in the hospital.” Wrapped in the bedsheets and unsure of what to say, she realized his underwear was already back on.
If not having sex on New Year’s sets the relationship up for failure, Alisa didn’t want to think about what comes after getting cock-blocked by a car crash.
For something so universal, the concept of pleasure is not the easiest topic to bring up to partners. “It takes practice to get comfortable expressing your needs,” says Toronto-based relationship therapist Carlyle Jansen.
Young people tend to be more comfortable telling their friends about what’s working in the bedroom and what isn’t. It can be a bonding tool composed of envious tales of sexual exploits and embarrassing sexual failures, but talking to a group of friends isn’t the same as talking to a romantic partner.
“There’s a fear of rejection,” Jansen says. “We’re a little bit more vulnerable, and the acceptance and the judgement cuts a lot deeper.”
According to a Mic article, sexual compatibility can be the deciding factor for a successful relationship among young couples. For Alisa, an age gap of seven years between her and Oliver has made it feel as though she needs to play catch-up. “I feel like I need to grow with him sexually,” she says. “It could be easier with someone else.”
If the sex isn’t going so well, she fears, does it mean they need to break up?
“When sex is bad, it actually accounts for quite a bit of the dissatisfaction in what could otherwise be a pretty good relationship,” says sex therapist Kat Kova. “But when sex is good, it only makes up about 15-20 per cent of the overall satisfaction in the relationship.”
Kova says that people often think about sex as a performance. This can often lead to unrealistic expectations, pressure, anxiety and feeling disconnected from the experience; which naturally leads to problems with arousal and desire.
Relationship writer and intimacy coach Kyle Benson points out that the pressures of having a perfect sex life can feed into sexual dissatisfaction. He says a lack of desire or general frustration is a signal for both partners to grow. “It’s not the time for sex pressure.”
In a 2018 article from InsideHook on unsatisfying sex, therapist Jacqueline Mendez points out that the lack of communication between partners can slowly chip away at physical chemistry. When it feels as though sexual compatibility has been compromised, it can hang like a cloud, becoming an uncomfortable mixture of shame and confusion.
Healthy communication between partners is key, and self-awareness is a way to get there. If satisfying sex means pleasure over performance, as Kova says, then having a deeper and more intimate understanding of personal desire is the first step to being intimate with a partner.
For Alisa, personal desire means exploring what excites her, and only then can she share these desires with Oliver. Sexual exploration can involve watching porn, having sex with her partner or simply using her index and middle fingers. It can even mean keeping a sex journal. “When you read articles about how to have great sex, it doesn’t say much about [how to] tune into yourself and what feels good,” Jansen says.
Kova says that being aware of a partner’s sensitivities is also a gesture that makes a big impact on the sexual dynamic. The reassurance that comes with supporting a partner’s wants and needs goes both ways.
Unpacking insecurities around not being able to orgasm in the morning is Oliver’s next step in understanding his sexual desires on his terms and on his schedule. It’s a total misconception that men should always want or be ready for sex, explains psychotherapist and sex specialist Vanessa Marin in a 2017 Bustle article.
“Most women feel their own arousal ebb and flow throughout an interaction,” Marin says, “but it’s important to recognize that that happens for our partners too.”
Kova talks about sexual desire as something to develop before sharing with a partner. She described it as something otherworldly, “a life force within that drives you, that drives movement, action and a sense of aliveness.”
What makes for great sex is what individuals in the relationship bring to the table. For couples, it’s whether they take risks or if they’re able to be vulnerable, Jansen says.
Exploring and taking ownership of one’s sexual desire without embarrassment makes it easier to talk about feeling sexually dissatisfied. What comes after this varies by person and by relationship, but the first step is having the vocabulary and the confidence to be open about dissatisfaction. Kova maintains that giving permission to desire from the very beginning comes before any conversation on sexual compatibility and physical chemistry.
“We’re very much wired to connect,” she says. Cock-blocks and car crashes aside, the best precedent for great sex is one built on connection.