If you aren’t having the sex you want you aren’t alone. So why does a lackluster sex life leave most of feeling so alone, and so much to blame?
There are two fundamental untruths that lie at the core of this problem.
The first is the idea that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who have the sex they want and those who don’t. This isn’t true. The world isn’t made up of only two kinds of people and none of us always have the sex we want.
Having the sex you want isn’t like having a job that fulfills you or hair that never needs to be maintained. It’s more like an evolving status, something that changes from decade to decade and from day to day.
So you’re not alone because at any given moment tens of millions of other people aren’t having the sex they want either. That may not be a great comfort, but it’s true.
The second is the way that most of us blame ourselves if we aren’t having the sex we want. We might complain about partners or the dating scene, but in a much deeper and more intimate way many of us fear that we aren’t having the sex we want because we don’t deserve it, we aren’t worthy of it. That it’s about who we are.
Both of these ideas are completely wrong. So, with apologies to those who currently are having the sex they want, here are five reasons so many of us aren’t, none of which have to do with our beauty, desirability, or worth.
#1 You Don’t Know What You Want
We talk about sex and sexuality so rarely and when we do talk about it what we talk about is so narrow minded, that most of us find ourselves as adults with only the vaguest idea of our sexual options.
We all need to learn something about the context of sexuality, frameworks for understanding and then exploring what it is we mean when we talk about being sexual or having sex. The options presented to us, directly and indirectly, amount to a small pile of crumbs we focus on, when just out of our field of vision there’s a bounty of food all around us.
Once we start to have feelings that get called sexual feelings we still lack the space and time to think about who we are as sexual beings and what we want our sex lives to be like. As teenagers and adults we are rarely encouraged to develop our capacity for fantasy or to explore the edges of our desire. In fact we are subtly discouraged from doing this throughout our lives.
And we lack opportunities to experiment sexually without judgement or fear of violence. Once we start having sex, how can we know exactly what we want without trying out lots of different ways of having sex and being sexual? It’s like being asked to describe your ideal meal when all you know about food you learned from McDonalds.
#2 The Sex You’re Having Isn’t that Good
We all suffer from a problem of a low sexual bar. Many of us struggle with feeling unworthy of intense sexual pleasure, as if we don’t deserve the focus of positive intention that comes from a great sexual encounter. We feel guilty for having too much of a good time. And all of us experience some sexual shame when it comes to admitting to, and acting on, some of our sexual desires. The result is that we’re happy with a lot of mediocre sex. Well, we may not be happy with it, but we settle for it.
There’s a social message about sex that contributes to this low bar. It’s the idea that for most of us sex is a rare commodity. We should feel lucky we’re getting any sex at all, and shouldn’t be demanding or expect to have the sex we really want. What makes a person the kind of person who gets all the sex they want changes from community to community, but in every community there are the haves and have nots. A lifetime of not having can make it hard to have, especially if you think the problem is you (9 times out of 10 it isn’t).
#3 The Commonness of Violence
So many of us have experienced some form of violence connected to our sexuality and gender. The violence can be physical, emotional, and intellectual. Sometimes it’s the threat of violence, sometimes it’s acted upon. It is hard to count the ways that violence and threats of violence close us up sexually.
Having great sex requires some element of feeling free. It makes sense, and for many of us it’s a protective and adaptive response to shut ourselves down sexually when we experience violence in our lives, especially in the context of sex. And when the only sexual activity we’ve experienced has been violent and coercive, the idea of pleasurable sex as it’s presented in self-help books and media doesn’t necessarily compute.
#4 The Pull of Normativity
Probably most people who aren’t having the sex they want think that it has something to do with what they look like. Too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too dark, too pale, too loud, too quiet… The list goes on forever and in any room at any given moment probably half of the people around you are making lists in their own heads about what’s wrong with them.
It’s true that bodies that don’t fit a communities unspoken standards of normal are treated differently. Whether it’s because of shape, size, color, how a body moves, or something else, some of us almost never get to see ourselves reflected back to us in popular culture as sexual and sexy. Which isn’t the same thing as saying our bodies aren’t sexual and sexy. And thinking no one will find you sexy is very different than the actual number of individuals out there who would be, or already are, totally hot for you.
What’s happening here isn’t about you. It’s about ableism and racism, its about sexism, it’s about fat phobia. But it is SO easy to make it about you. You are a convenient scape goat, but it’s actually not about you. This is not a popular message, and it’s not an easy one to accept. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
#5 Because for Some of Us the Sex We Want is No Sex At All
And that is against the rules. With what little sex education and information we get growing up, we are all exposed to the idea that growing up means having sex. That having sex is one of the “benefits” of being a grown up. And that, d’uh, everyone wants to have sex.
Only, not everyone wants to have sex. Whether or not people feel the word sexual applies to them, some people’s ideal sex life doesn’t include any of the activities most of us would call sex. They may crave intimacy, which may or may not include touching and being physically close. They may want connection and commitment. They just don’t desire sex.
Which is perfectly fine. Only most of us fail to realize that the sex we want might be no sex at all. And that is as healthy and acceptable a sexual choice as any other.