There is no sugarcoating subpar sex. But before you go so far as to call someone “bad in bed,” it helps to know that some bedroom issues happen more often than you think.
As the old saying goes, “misery loves company.” If your sex life is making you miserable, or leaving much to be desired, this inside advice from 10 industry-leading sexperts may be just what the doctor ordered.
1. Erectile dysfunction
Eric Marlowe Garrison, clinical sexologist and bestselling author of Mastering Multiple Position Sex, considers erectile concerns to be one of the most common bedroom problems for men. He tells SheKnows, “Always focus on pleasure instead of orgasms. Use the attributes you do have to optimize your sex life rather than maximize it. If you can’t stay hard for more than ten seconds but have a pinky finger that can go like a humming bird… Hello! That’s an attribute to celebrate.”
Sometimes erectile dysfunction stems from stress and anxiety in the bedroom, explains Dr. Dawn Michael, MA, Ph.D., ACS. “This can happen in a new relationship or even a relationship that is ongoing for years. Once a man feels he may not have control over his erection, then his body triggers the fight-or-flight response (this takes the blood flow from the penis and transfers it to other parts of the body). One way to help with this problem is to not focus on the penis and do other sexual acts that will take the pressure off, as well as the woman initiating instead of the man. For men that have an ongoing problem, it is important to get help from a professional who specializes in erectile dysfunction.”
2. Mismatched libidos
Rebekah Beneteau, sex and intimacy coach and educator and The Ask Me Anything Love and Sex Show host, tells SheKnows, “One of the most common problems in the bedroom is a seeming libido imbalance, where one partner appears to want more sex than the other. Attempting intimacy and being rejected multiple times can undermine sexual confidence and lead to withdrawal by the more assertive partner. For the partner who isn’t ‘in the mood,’ he or she can begin to see sex as a pressure, causing them to turn down any offers for sex, or even affection. Pretty soon, you’re in a stalemate. The way out? Communication. Be willing to hear how your partner feels without taking it personally. Once you find the cause of lack of desire, you can address it.”
Suzy Olds, Ph.D. and founder of After Nine Tonight, offers a friendly reminder that libidos can be fluid, ebbing and flowing in different life stages. She says, “Having some level of mismatched libidos is universal, and this can create conflict for many couples if they don’t address the issue. For women, sexual desire often plummets when they become moms. When their sex drive doesn’t bounce back, they start to wonder what’s wrong when it’s really quite normal. This motherhood-induced desire drop can be really hard on husbands who are waiting on the sideline for their partner’s desire to increase.”
3. No orgasm
Almost every woman has felt the pressure to climax during sex, immediately sucking the fun and spontaneity out of the act. Elle Chase, Lead Sex Educator and Director of Education at the Los Angeles Academy of Sex Education, says that the best approach to the female orgasm is counterintuitive: Give up the quest for the Big O. She explains to SheKnows, “A lot of women and their partners agonize over whether she will come during sex. It relaxes them to know that only about 30 percent of women can orgasm from penetrative sex alone, the other 70 percent need clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm.”
“That being said, if you can orgasm on your own but have difficulty with a partner, taking the pressure off to have an orgasm at all is the first step — don’t make orgasm the goal. Orgasm is only one part of sex. There’s a treasure trove of delicious sensations one can experience when orgasm is not the end all, be all. Before you know it, that orgasm will… come. “
4. Pain during sex
Antonio Pizarro, M.D., OB-GYN and Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery physician specializing in women’s health since 1997, confirms that pain during sex, called dyspareunia, is increasingly common among women. He advises SheKnows, “A very common cause of dyspareunia is pelvic myalgia or painful, spastic pelvic floor muscles. Dyspareunia can be very severe and can lead to avoidance of sex, interference with relationships and depression. Treatment of dyspareunia depends on the cause. Pelvic myalgia and spasm is very effectively treated with pelvic physiotherapy performed by a specialist in women’s health physical therapy.”
Barring physical and emotional issues that could cause pain, Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure, offers another possible explanation, “Quite likely, it’s an issue of technique, which a sex coach can solve. A common concern: Having sex doggy-style can feel like he’s punching you internally with his penis. The solution: Have more foreplay! The more aroused you are, the more your vagina will lengthen and expand. Then, when you’re feeling more turned on, try again and shift your angle to get the most satisfaction.”
5. Performance anxiety
According to Dr. Noelle Pomeroy, clinical sex therapist at the Jacksonville Center for Sexual Health, performance anxiety may be at the root of all common sexual issues. She explains, “The common thread with all of these bedroom issues is anxiety. When working with clients who are experiencing erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or difficulty having an orgasm, spending too much time thinking and not enough time ‘in their body and in the moment’ is generally the problem. This isn’t to say that there may not be some medical causes to these sexual issues, but frequently we can look to anxiety as the cause. Finding ways to cope with that anxiety usually yields the best solution.”
Even before you hit the sheets, the act of initiating could trigger further sexual anxiety, according to Astroglide’s Resident Sexologist Dr. Jess. Dr. Jess provides her simple solution, “If you don’t share the responsibility in initiating sex, it may be time to step up your game and push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Ask your lover how they’d like to be seduced or set the scene for seduction using whatever props (e.g., low lighting, music, wine, lingerie) help to alleviate your nerves and discomfort. If your lover leaves all the initiating to you, it’s time to have a difficult conversation and let them know how they can share the love.”
Shame during sex is a surprising reality that many couples are uncomfortable talking about, often stemming from childhood trauma, past embarrassments or a religious upbringing. Dawn Serra, erotic coach, sex educator and weekly podcast co-host of Sex Gets Real, shares her “unconventional” approach to sex with SheKnows. According to Serra, pleasure-based sex can address countless bedroom issues, including anxiety, ED and shame.
She says, “The key to pleasure-based sex is staying present with each other, communicating, having a sense of adventure and being willing to adjust expectations and let mistakes become part of the journey. Pleasure-based sex highlights other areas that are often challenging in the bedroom that no one talks about like shame around sharing fantasies, fear of rejection for asking for what you want, or, especially for women, having no idea how to ask for what you need because you’re not intimately connected with your body. These are much more difficult and painful to overcome than the physical, orgasm-based challenges that the medical community likes to focus on.”