For many people, sex is an understandably important part of a romantic relationship whether you've been with your partner for a few months or a few decades. But sex is also an extraordinarily personal relationship, too—one that can come with it a lifetime of past experiences, insecurity, trauma, and anxiety, making it difficult to truly relax and enjoy each intimate encounter with someone else.
If you're worried about your own sexual prowess, you might be silently wondering whether or not your partner is satisfied or even enjoying your time together. It's extremely easy—and totally normal—to get caught up in your own mind about the intricacies of sex both in the heat of the moment and outside the bedroom. After all, there are few things more vulnerable than when you're having sex with someone, and we all carry with us a history and deeply ingrained beliefs about how the experience "should" go or how things "should" feel.
When it comes to stepping up your sex game, you might worry that you'll have to try Olympic-level acrobatic moves or embark on a marathon bedroom session that leaves you feeling wiped for your partner to have a fun time. That's why we asked Kelifern Pomeranz, Psy.D., CST, a California-based clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist, about the nitty gritty of how to actually have good sex and be a better lover. Don't worry—her tips are all free of shame, judgment, and fear.
Start by connecting with yourself first.
"Before you can connect with a partner in a meaningful way, you first need to connect with yourself," says Pomeranz. With so many of us raised to treat masturbation and sexual pleasure as something shameful, it's understandable if you haven't felt comfortable enough to explore what you enjoy sexually before linking up with a partner. "If you are invested in becoming a better lover, I recommend that you regularly participate in a self-love/self-pleasure practice."
If it feels overwhelming, start small. Even just treating yourself to a self-massage or romantic solo bubble bath is a great place to begin. "It is important to discover what brings you pleasure, explore your turn-ons and turn-offs, embrace your body, and learn how to say 'no,' 'not right now,' and 'yes,'" says Pomeranz. "You cannot communicate to a partner what you do not know yourself." She recommends practicing mindfulness, playing with sex toys, listening to or reading erotica, watching informational videos, and working with a sex therapist.
Work on communicating with your partner.
"Many individuals find it difficult to speak openly and honestly about sex with their partners," notes Pomeranz. "Perhaps you have tried in the past and the conversation hasn't gone well. Or you fear saying the wrong thing and hurting your partner's feelings. Or even worse, you believe that your partner should just know what you want in bed and you shouldn't have to tell them what feels good to you."
She says, "You might first try communicating about slightly scary non-sex things in order to gain practice talking about harder things. Once your communication skills become more refined you can begin moving into the realm of sex. It might be fun to play a communication game where you first tell your partner about what they do that turns you on. If communication around sex continues to be difficult you might consider working with a sex therapist."
Set aside time for sex—yes, really.
You might feel like your entire life is carved out on a Google calendar, but scheduling sex isn't a bad idea, says Pomeranz. "There is still a myth that exists that sex should be spontaneous even though we all know how difficult this can be given our busy lives. A 'noon shag' scheduled into the workday can be quite the delight. Sexy texts throughout the day can be slow foreplay to a planned sexy romp in the evening."
Check in with your partner throughout the experience.
Enthusiastic consent is an absolute must during any sexual encounter, and there are many ways of ensuring you're both enjoying it. "Both partners should take responsibility for their own pleasure and let the other know what they want, need, and desire—rather than expecting your partner to mind-read. Communication can be verbal ('Do you like this or that?') or nonverbal (grabbing your partner's hand and moving it somewhere else on your body)."
Show your partner appreciation in and out of the bedroom.
Pomeranz is a big fan of setting time aside each day to share your appreciative thoughts. "Make sure that these appreciations are not only about what your partner does (e.g., 'I appreciate that you picked up the kids from their playdate') but also about who they are (e.g., 'I appreciate your kindness and compassion')." Of course, you can also include sexy sentiments, too.
"Another variation of this exercise is for couples to put a blank calendar on their fridge and write a daily appreciation for each other," adds Pomeranz. "This is a lovely way to track appreciation over time and can build increased intimacy and connection."
Be open to trying new things.
"Some partners like novelty while others crave familiarity," says Pomeranz. Before you jump into something new, have a chat to make sure you're on the same page. "There are a number of different ways to go about this," including talking about your sexual curiosities, taking online sexual quizzes, and going to a sex shop together and browsing their offerings.
"If a partner discloses a desire to have a more expansive sexual template, appreciate the courage that it took them to share this with you and stay in a place of openness and curiosity even if it initially makes you squeamish," she says.
Embrace awkwardness—even when things go awry.
Accidental mishaps happen to everyone during sex, and there are bound to be moments where things go haywire. "Intimacy and sex need not be a serious endeavor," says Pomeranz. "Silliness, laughter, and playfulness can be an important part of intimate connection. When couples are struggling with perfectionism in the bedroom I often instruct them to embrace it by trying to be as awkward as possible. This can serve as a nice reminder that sex should be fun."
Try to stay mindful in the moment.
Even when you love and appreciate your partner deeply, it's natural to step outside the moment sometimes. We're only human! "When your mind wanders (e.g., thinking about work or chores, anxiety about one's body, wondering if your partner is having a good time), bring yourself back to the present moment through the senses," says Pomeranz. "Notice the way that your partner smells and tastes, focus on the texture and temperature of their skin, listen to the sounds that emanate from both of you, and play with the energy between the two of you. Being in the now with a partner is the thing that deepens connection."
Take the focus away from an end goal, like orgasm.
While we're socialized to believe that sex is only good when both partners have an orgasm, there are so many reasons why you or your partner might not get there—and it's totally okay. "Goal-oriented sex takes us out of the present moment and can dimish pleasure, joy, and true intimacy," says Pomeranz. "Sometimes this occurs because one (or both) partners are experiencing performance anxiety or think that orgasm is the thing that is desired."
"It can be fun to take orgasm off the table and instead play in the erotic, slowly moving towards and away sensation and pleasure. Pretend that you just met and you are exploring your partner's body for the first time." It can be just as much fun to engage in mutual masturbation, couples' massage, or simply smooching on the couch like teenagers without the pressure of sex.
Ask your partner what they need when it's over.
Small gestures such as grabbing your partner a glass of water and a snack—or even a cozy blanket so they can drift off to sleep—will help you both appreciate each other post-sex. "A conversation about how you partner wants and needs after sex can be helpful as their post-sex desires might be different from your own," says Pomeranz. "Communication is everything." Read: While you might prefer to snuggle up next to someone, your partner might want to take a nap solo. Any and all options are A-OK.
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