Have you ever felt “meh” about having sex, and had it anyway? Perhaps your partner was super turned on, you hadn’t had sex together in a while, and it felt good *enough*, so you decide to go for it. While totally consensual, what people don’t realize is that having sex you don’t truly enjoy can tank your libido.
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I’ve struggled with this for most of my life. I’ve had a lot of “good enough” sex—it usually ended in orgasm, felt fine, and my partner had a good time. All around, it’s good enough, but it’s not great. I’ve rarely had sex where I just can’t get enough of it—sex that ends and I cannot wait to do it again because it felt so good.
This was my norm, and honestly, I didn’t desire sex much. I was constantly seeking out ways to “boost” my libido and understand why my desire wasn’t as high as my friends and partners. I’ve learned over the years that just “good enough”, while consensual, can actually tank your libido.
Why having sex you don’t truly enjoy can tank your libido
Sexual desire is an incentive motivation system, Dr. Emily Naogski, sex researcher, writes in her book Come As You Are. This essentially means that we desire sex because it feels good. But, when we get in the habit of having sex that isn’t all that pleasurable, our libido can dampen, or even go away.
Think of it this way, Nagoski writes it in an article about sexual desire: your good friend invites you to a party. You go, and have a fantastic time. You dance, laugh, drink, eat, talk with friends, or do whatever it is that makes parties so much fun to you. The party ends, you go home, and you’re so thrilled you can’t stop thinking about it. What are the chances that the next time your friend invites you to a party, you want to go? Knowing you had so much fun the last time, there’s probably a good chance you’ll want to go again, right?
Sex works the same way. You have amazing sex? There’s a good chance you’ll want to do it again. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, “What if the parties just kinda suck? What if the people there don’t know how to play the party games you liked to play, and aren’t interested in learning?” Nagoski writes. How will you feel about going to another party if this was your experience?
You probably won’t want to go. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t attend. Some of you might go to the “meh” party because you really like the people there, even though it’s not your favorite way to spend time with them. Or perhaps you’re looking for something social to do, and this is the best you’ve got. Maybe you’ve never been to a party that you really enjoy, so you don’t know that parties can be better than this one.
For so many reasons, you might keep going back to the “meh” or “good enough” party. But the thing is, over time, you might start to dread it, and your willingness to go wanes or vanishes. You might not seek out these parties at all. Or perhaps after going one time, you aren’t that interested in going back. “If the parties are no fun, then no wonder you don’t want to go,” Nagoski writes.
If it’s not already clear, “parties” are “sex” in this analogy, and the point Nagoski (and I) are making is that having sex you don’t really like doesn’t motivate you to do it again. Since sexual desire is an incentive motivation system, you have to actually like, enjoy, or have positive associations with having sex in order to desire it. So if you’re having sex you don’t truly like, all while entirely consensual, it can decrease your libido.
What to do if you don’t truly enjoy the sex you’re having
1. Take an honest inventory about how you feel
TBH, it can be hard to admit you aren’t satisfied with the sex you’re having. Many people feel pressure to want sex a certain amount, or even to like sex all together, and this can make it hard to get real with yourself. Equally difficult, you might worry your partner will feel rejected or inadequate, and want to protect their feelings. However, getting in touch with how you feel will make the rest of this process much easier.
2. Pump the breaks
If you’re having sex you don’t truly enjoy, you need to stop. This doesn’t mean you need to stop having sex all together, but having more unenjoyable associations with sex will make you want it even less. In the meantime, initiate intimacy you really desire, whether it’s enjoying making out, a massage, cuddling, playing with a sex toy, etc.
3. Take notes about what you do and don’t like
Ask yourself what you do like about the sex you’re having, or past experiences, Nagoski suggests in her book. Take note of what places on your body you liked touched and how you like them touched. Don’t stop at technique though, think about what you liked about how you felt, too. Did you feel comfortable and relaxed? Or perhaps playful, uninhibited, powerful, or even submissive? Notice what you don’t like as well.
4. Tend to pain
Pain during sex can be a major contributor to unenjoyable sex. If you’re experiencing any unwanted pain, see a medical provider such as an OBGYN or pelvic floor physical therapist.
5. Fill out a yes/no/maybe list
A yes/no/maybe list can help you communicate what you do and don’t like to your partner. This is an entire list of sexual behavior that you mark with a yes, no, or maybe to indicate your level of interest in trying each behavior. You can also do this solo, without a partner. Once complete, you have an entire list of the sexual activities you’re interested in, unsure about, or are a no-go, and your partner does too. Not only is this clear communication about what you do and don’t like, it also prompts you to consider activities you may have never thought of.
6. Work with a sex educator
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what you do and don’t like, how to communicate it, or what’s going on with your libido, you can work with a sex educator, coach, or therapist to help you answer these questions. For many people, having one session with a sexuality professional can break down major roadblocks in your sex life.
7. Do what you really desire
When you’re having sex, ask yourself what would feel really good right now, and ask for it. While this may sound simple, many people default to what their partner wants or what they’re used to doing, and forget to ask themselves what they truly want.
While being unsatisfied with your sex life may feel lonely, you are most definitely not alone in this experience, and there are ways to have more fulfilling sex. Practice paying attention to what you truly want and mustering up the courage to ask for it.