Imagine this: After endless swiping and more than a few mediocre dates, you finally meet someone you feel a genuine connection with. Whether you wait until date three, five, or ten—or decide to go home together on the first date—many of us don’t prepare ourselves for the possibility that the sex might not be as good as the chemistry we feel leading up to it.
Sexual intimacy is just one indicator of a healthy relationship, but it’s a big factor for many people, and it can be completely disheartening to come out of your first sexual experience with a new partner feeling confused or let down. The most important thing to remember is that this is extremely common, and in most cases, couples can overcome these sexual obstacles if they’re dealt with early on. But that’s easier said than done, right?
It can be easy to forget that good sex with a good partner often takes a little work—and a lot of communication. Having walked away from a few potentially great partners because of the less-than-stellar sex, I decided to sit down with certified sex therapist and clinical sexologist Dr. Kristie Overstreet to get her expert advice on how to broach this situation in the future.
1. The buildup may be hot, but focus more energy on the reality
When we walk into a new sexual experience with heightened expectations and fantasies about that person, it can lead to an inevitable letdown when the sex is not exactly how you pictured it would be. Dr. Overstreet suggested avoiding this common mistake by talking to your partner before you have sex. “Ask your partner what they define as intimacy, what they like, and what they don’t like,” she advised. Take note of how comfortable they are talking about the subject. This is also a great time to get clear on your expectations for the relationship. Dr. Overstreet said a huge factor in post-sex anxiety is the two people having different expectations for the outcome. While it can be tempting to jump right in, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you know each other’s expectations going into it. Is it just a hookup? Is it a romantic relationship? Are you friends with benefits? There’s no right or wrong answer as long as you’re both on the same page.
2. Read your partner’s body language before sex
This is for those of us who may not feel comfortable bringing up the sex topic early on. Dr. Overstreet said there’s a lot you can learn about how someone will be in bed based on their non-verbal cues leading up to it. “Gauge the amount of physical interaction before sex: hand squeezes, kissing, touching,” and take notice of whether they’re initiating these behaviors or if they’re “more reserved,” Dr. Overstreet explained.
3. Experiment with yourself
How can you expect someone else to give you what you want if you aren’t even sure what you want yourself? Dr. Overstreet reminded us that “self-exploration is a great way to figure out what you like.” Depending on the types of partners you’ve had in the past, “you may not have had a lot of opportunity or seen the need to figure out what you want,” Dr. Overstreet explained. Once you get comfortable with yourself through masturbation and self-exploration, you’ll have a much easier time opening up to your partner about what you want, and the sex will inevitably be better.
Once you get comfortable with yourself through masturbation, you’ll have a much easier time opening up to your partner about what you want, and the sex will inevitably be better.
4. Remember you are always in control
Dr. Overstreet stressed the fact that it doesn’t matter if you said yes initially. If at any point during the sexual experience you’re no longer enjoying it and want to stop, that is always in your power. “Just because you started doesn’t mean you don’t have 100 percent right to stop,” she reminded us.
5. Speak up or take the lead
If you do want to continue, know that you don’t have to wait until later to tell them what you liked and did not like. Every (good) partner is going to want to please you, so why not help them do it? Dr. Overstreet suggested “giving direction and guidance and including compliments along the way.” Tell your partner you like what they’re doing or what you would love for them to do. If something feels good, tell them. And again, if you don’t feel comfortable being verbal during sex, use non-verbal cues. Guide their hand or reposition their body to show them what you want. Just keep in mind that if you try this and they continue resisting, you may need to speak up and say something.
If something feels good, tell them. If you don’t feel comfortable being verbal during sex, use non-verbal cues.
6. Assess the situation afterward
If, after the act, you still feel like the sex was not enjoyable, evaluate why. What could have made it better? Did you feel nervous or stuck in your head? Did your partner seem nervous? Dr. Overstreet said this is where communication is important again. Ask if your partner enjoyed it, what they liked, and what they might not have liked. If they’re not on the same page, be complimentary but try suggesting something different for next time. Dr. Overstreet recommended saying something like, “I wonder if we could try something different next time just to change it up” or “I really liked it when you _____, you should do that even more next time.” If you feel uncomfortable saying exactly what you want, Dr. Overstreet suggested asking, “Would it be OK if I speak up next time and tell you some things I’d like you to do?” What partner is going to say no to that, right? My guess is that they’ll be up for the challenge.
7. Leave your ego at the door
Listen, I know it can be difficult to not take it personally when you feel like a partner is criticizing sex with you, but Dr. Overstreet said not to “jump to conclusions that there is something wrong with you.” After all, how a partner reacts to this conversation can tell you a lot more about them than the first time in the bedroom can. If even one of you isn’t open to talking about it, the problem won’t be fixed.
An echoing theme in Dr. Overstreet’s advice is that everyone is different, so everyone is going to have varying sexual wants and needs. A partner may react badly to criticism by saying they’ve never had complaints before, but Dr. Overstreet said we need to “normalize the differences” when it comes to sexual desires and experiences. It is almost always less about “bad” sex and more about poor communication. If we fail to communicate what we want or have a partner who fails to listen, then the sex isn’t going to be as enjoyable as it could be. I personally have had partners tell me I want too much sex, don’t want enough sex, we don’t have great sex, or we have the best sex ever. Sex is not “one size fits all,” and if we want a good sex life, we need to stop approaching it like it is.