How to Tell Your Partner the Sex Sucks

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The road to good sex is paved with bad sex. Or at least sex that is not the phenomenal stuff of every Nicholas Sparks and Woody Allen movie ever. Sex that, according to conventional social definitions, is lackluster.

It’s time those conventions are thrown right out the window because the key to having good sex is to be honest with yourself and your partner(s) about what is and what isn’t working, and to let go of the social pressure to protect their feelings.

The concrete wall blocking communication between sexual partners is built by learned social behaviors, according to Dirty Lola, sex educator and host of the New York-based sex Q&A: “Sex Ed. A-Go-Go.”

Generally speaking, men are not socialized to develop their sexual prowess; they are instead expected to have a certain skill set already established when they start having sex. The result being a failure to realize their sexual faults.

Lola explains to BTRtoday, “When they’re told ‘this isn’t great,’ they don’t take it as constructive criticism. They take it as ‘I’m awful’ and their go-to emotion is defensiveness.”

In heterosexual sex, that resistance to critique is then coupled with women’s socially prescribed politeness and empathy. If something isn’t working, women are taught not to say anything for fear of hurting their partner’s feelings. A woman is taught to like whatever her partner (particularly in heteronormative situations) is doing to her nether regions, regardless of what her body is trying to say.

“We’re trained from very small, wee girls not to hurt anybody’s feelings and to be polite,” says Lola, “so we end up thinking that honesty equals rudeness.”

Like two sexually dissatisfied passing ships in the night, both partners end up with hurt feelings and limp genitalia.

Let’s assume both (or all) partners were raised in a social vacuum without such expectations. There remains an even bigger concern than hurt feelings.

“The scariest part,” Lola imparts, “and maybe people aren’t even thinking about it, is ‘what if they can’t get better?’” What if, when you tell your partner that the sex is utterly adequate, you find that “completely acceptable and nothing more” is the best it’s going to get? Best to just say nothing and live with mediocrity forever.

The bedfellow of radio silence regarding personal desire is faking orgasms. Basking in the delicious glow of sex is difficult when somebody is gazing deep down in your eyeballs and pleading for you to orgasm. People don’t fake orgasms out of malice; it’s an act of kindness, or so they think.

It’s also the easiest route to ensuring you have an unfulfilling sex life. Don’t fake orgasms. Just don’t. It may seem like a great idea in the moment, because look at how happy it made your partner. No.

To help cease committing orgasm fraud during penis-in-vagina intercourse with her now-husband, Lola started using vibrators during sex (since she, like the vast majority of women, requires clitoral stimulation to get off, not just vaginal penetration). It worked and was fantastic but for her, that wasn’t the end of the journey.

“Sometimes vibrators do get in the way of having good sex,” she points out. It’s hard to engage in intimate and vigorous lovemaking when you’re trying to balance yourself on one hand with a wad of silicone and metal in the other. “I told him that I wanted to enjoy the sex and then afterwards if he wanted to just lay next to me and touch my boobs or finger me while I used a vibrator, win!” she laughs. “So that’s what we do, but it was a journey to get to that point.”

Decenter orgasms. Take them out of the equation. Once sex is no longer a race to who can come first, there is room for actual play. Moreover, and perhaps counterintuitively, making sex about an experience versus just a twenty-second moment enables that fleeting moment to be even more earth-shattering, if and when it happens.

Lola ardently advocates for enjoying sex and letting the orgasmic chips fall where they may. “I feel like I’m concentrating while we’re having sex,” she complains, “instead of enjoying the sex. I get distracted and I want to enjoy him but if I have to sit there and focus then I’m focusing on coming and I’m not there. I’m like ‘come come come come! Gotta do it!’ No fun.”

While absolutely not suggesting that orgasms are not important or incredible, she reminds us that “you can feel good, and yes, orgasms are amazing but you don’t necessarily need to get there.” She calls it a bonus, not the endgame.

Making orgasms a sexual constituent and not the do-or-die goal enabled Lola to expand her sexual repertoire.

One of the biggest pitfalls in heteronormative sex land is the emphasis on penis-in-vagina penetration. Baseball metaphors, calling oral and digital stimulation “foreplay” instead of what they are – sex acts – don’t do them justice. Foreplay is sex. Pretending that vaginal penetration with a flesh-and-blood phallus (dildos don’t count in this ridiculous paradigm) is the only form of “true” sex and everything is a consolation prize dams a tide of potential sexual exploration.

Familiar with emphasizing foreplay and deemphasizing orgasms, Lola recalls being overwhelmingly satisfied sans orgasm and with minimal penis-in-vagina: “I’ve had sex with someone that was probably 90 percent foreplay and maybe 10 percent ‘actual’ sex because we had gotten so worked up from the whole thing.”

“It was just this barrage of pleasure,” she sighs. “I was already in that comfy zone of, ‘I just wanna be wrapped up like a burrito and cuddle, and you can feed me some soup while we watch T.V.; maybe pet my hair.”

Lola’s story might sound like a scene from the beginning of a rom-com: mostly foreplay, no orgasms, and the lead is engaging in boring, orgasmically futile coitus with the person they end up leaving for Jennifer Aniston. Which is why rom-coms should come with warning labels. The spontaneous, non-words-necessary copulation that occurs onscreen, in which the woman comes easily from phallic penetration and then it’s semen-central five minutes later, is just not the reality for the majority of people—nor should it be.

While she considers her sex life to be quite “exciting,” Lola loves that “it’s also nice and fun and comfortable.” Her passionate frivolity, the lack of pressure to come on schedule, is “a way to not take sex so seriously, because it doesn’t all need to be a darkened room with candlelight after dinner.”

It’s unfortunate, she tells us, that “people get this idea that it has to be this perfect thing,” because “you can have great, hilarious sex and you can have great, serious sex. As long as you’re able to go with the flow, that’s awesome.”

The moral here is not to disregard your own or your partner’s pleasure. Rearranging the hierarchy of sex acts does not mean being an insensitive lover. Rather, it highlights the need to be open and honest about what is going right and wrong.

At the end of the day, Lola wants people to talk. “Talking during sex doesn’t make it unsexy and if anyone ever tells you that, then you need to not fuck around with that person anymore,” she flatly informs us.

While bodily integrity should be obvious and easy, too often it’s not. Lola wants everyone to remember that “if somebody doesn’t want to hear what you have to say about what’s happening with your body, that’s a red flag. If saying ‘Hey, that doesn’t feel good,’ or ‘Hey, I’m a little uncomfortable; I would like to try something’ is stuff they don’t want to hear, that’s definitely somebody you don’t want to be around.”