Sex is an important element of a relationship, so it’s not uncommon to feel worried if you’re not connecting with your partner sexually, or having less sex than usual.
For something almost all of us will do in our lifetimes, there seems to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding sex — particularly sex within long-term relationships. Some of these beliefs are so oft-quoted they’ve become accepted as fact… despite not being entirely true.
We decided to play Mythbusters, and asked three relationship experts to share the sex misconceptions they want to clear up:
1. There’s a ‘right’ amount of sex to be having.
Movies would have us believe that the sign of a healthy relationship is a voracious sex life; that if a couple isn’t ‘at it’ at every available opportunity, something’s gone awry. Out here in the real world it’s not going to be true for every couple.
“Every relationship is different. People have different sex drives and different things going on in their life. It comes down to what you’re comfortable with,” says Stephanie Allen, Principal Clinical Psychologist at Life and Mind Psychology.
It’s not only external factors that can make us feel pressured; Allen says couples often compare their current sexual activity with that of the heady early days of their relationship. “That’s why they call it the honeymoon period; it’s not sustainable, and it’s not supposed to be. Relationships develop, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” she explains.
2. Unless it’s ‘perfect’ it’s not worth doing.
“Often couples stop exploring ways of enriching their sexual experience because they had one bad experience, or sex didn’t fully feel comfortable,” explains Sydney based Psychologist Yuliya Richard, from Blue Horizon counseling.
Our expectations of what sex will be like can be unrealistic, and Dr Richard says if this is the case, encountering any difficulties can lead to people feeling discouraged and not wanting to engage in or explore sex. Being more open-minded about how you approach it can help.
“If something went wrong, or there is a medical issue like pain or discomfort, you can consult with your doctor for physical solutions. With a doctor, psychologist or sex therapist you can explore psychological issues leading to loss of libido,” Dr Richard adds.
3. Good sex will just come naturally.
Stephanie Allen says one of the biggest myths she hears is that sex is something you “don’t need to put work into”; that it just happens. But this is far from the truth.
“The comparison I always use is a rose bush or garden. To look at it you might think, ‘Oh my God, it’s so beautiful’, but it doesn’t get like that overnight or without a lot of work. It’s the same with your sex life; if you don’t put time or effort into it, it will wilt,” she explains.
“Work out ways to make it fresh, exciting, loving, whatever you want it to be.”
4. Bad sex, or no sex = doomed relationship.
Sex is an important element of a relationship, so it’s not uncommon to feel worried if you’re not connecting with your partner sexually, or having less sex than usual. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done for.
“Relationships go through very normal ebbs and flows, highs and lows, as couples go through different stages in their relationship and other areas of their life. It is very natural for sexual activity to do the same,” explains Melanie Schilling, eHarmony’s Dating and Relationship expert.
“My advice would be to take the pressure off; rather than jumping to conclusions or blaming the other person, just sit with it for a while and allow the relationship to go through that process, because it probably needs to.”
5. Once the spark is gone, it’s gone.
We put a lot of stock into the concept of ‘chemistry’ and ‘spark’, and presume that they’re largely out of control. However, Dr Richard says this simply isn’t true, and that couples need to actively nurture and keep their romance going.
“Of course, in order to feel intimate and enjoy sex with your partner you need to feel safe and have a sense of trust, as well as feeling thrills and excitement,” she explains.
“If some of these areas are lacking it is important to address them… stop taking your relationship and your partner for granted now and rekindle that spark as soon as you can.”
6. If your partner says no to sex, they’re no longer attracted to you.
“There are so many physical and psychological factors that can influence a person’s sex drive that have nothing to do with their partner. Things like normal stress, diet, appropriate levels of exercise, sleep, body image come into play,” Schilling explains.
“So your partner might be saying no for their own reasons, not because of you.”
The best way to deal with this, Schilling says, is to have a “sensitive, compassionate conversation” about it with your partner without making assumptions or putting pressure on him or her.
7. You have to be ‘in the mood’ to want to have sex.
It’s not untrue that sex can be passionate and wild, or sensual and romantic (adorned with candles and mood lighting). However, it’s not always going to be like that.
When work and parenting and socializing and family all compete for our time, it can be hard to muster up the enthusiasm or ‘get in the mood’. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen at all.
“In order to have sex, you don’t always have to ‘feel like it’. Think of it like exercise or work – not as a chore, but if you think, ‘I know this will be enjoyable, actually’ and make an effort to get your head in the right space you can enjoy it,” Allen suggests.
“You’re not always going to want to rip your partner’s clothes off, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to enjoy it.”
[Editor's note: Of course, if you don't want to have sex, don't force it; in return, don't pressure anyone to have sex with you. Keep it enthusiastically consensual!]
Yuliya Richard says a great sex life in the long run requires couples to invest in their relationship every day and make an effort to be caring for one another.
“The fundamental principle is to treat each other well every day. Touch, kiss, hug, make each other feel special,” Dr Richard explains.
“Neglecting each other will lead to physical dry spells, to the point where some couples look back and realize that for the last two years they have not had sex.”
8. Men and women inherently want different things from sex.
You know how this one goes: men are “always up for it”, while women are always looking for an “emotional connection.” In reality, sex is not divided down stereotypical gender lines. Melanie Schilling says it’s largely dependent on what’s happening physically and psychologically in someone’s life.
“A man might not even be able to get an erection if he’s having stress at work, for example. That doesn’t mean he’s not interested in sex or his partner,” she explains.
“Alternatively, sometimes women just want to have ‘sport sex’, they don’t always have that ‘just hold me’ emotional story. It’s absolutely normal for women to go through phases where they just want to have sex for pleasure, and maybe just for themselves. It might not be about their partner.”