How To Solve A Sexistential Crisis

Sometimes, sex is simple. Other times, it’s about what’s in your head, not what’s down below. Here’s how to deal when sex blows your mind – for all the wrong reasons.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Sometimes, sex is simple. Other times, it’s about what’s in your head, not what’s down below. Here’s how to deal when sex blows your mind – for all the wrong reasons.
Corbis/Click Photos
Corbis/Click Photos

Interestingly, for something that involves around 7.3 minutes of actual contact (yes, 7.3 minutes), sex can create a huge amount of analysis, confusion and conversation over coffee about those “Seriously, what just happened there?” moments. No biology textbook ever prepared us for the fact that sometimes, sex is less Big O and more Oh No. Things malfunction, and there’s no repair manual. Things can stop happening, and there are no jumper cables to get them going again.

Yep, getting it on can seriously mess with your sheets and your mind. We’re calling these sexistential crises – the real, unairbrushed sexual dilemmas that call into question the nature of doing it. But just as an orgasm can creep up on you seemingly out of nowhere (well, hello there), so can the solutions. In fact, they’re right here in front of you.

Reset Button 1

It’s been forever

The last time you got any action, the members of One Direction were still in school. There are zero sexy pics in your smartphone. And it’s been so long since your undies have had a visitor that they’re kind of scared. “This is called sexual performance anxiety – you worry about the outcome of a sexual encounter so much so that instead of sex being something to look forward to, it has negative anticipation,” explains sex therapist Desiree Spierings.

Desiree likens this (completely normal) sexual dread to the anxiety you feel before an exam, where you’re either going to pass or fail. But in sex, there are no losers. “The less you think about the result, the more you do just what feels good and the better the sex will be,” she reassures. Compare it with dancing. “If a couple starts to overthink their steps, it’s likely to be an awful dance. Whereas a couple that just feels the music, laughing off any mistakes, gives a beautiful dance to watch.” We’re not suggesting you should hire an audience, but we’re saying don’t overthink it. You’ve got this.

Reset Button 2

It’s become samey

When it comes to sex, there’s the great and not-so-great – the kind where about 50 percent of your brain is in the moment, and the other half is thinking about the last Empire episode you watched. The result is that the sex – if it happens at all – is flat. And you’re panicking that “non-existent” is about to become your lot in life.

“It’s not unusual for the passion to die down, and one of the most important techniques to get it back is implementing bridges,” explains Desiree. It’s not directly sexual, but is a clever way of “bridging” two areas of your life in order to generate intimacy, and therefore passion. “Because it feels unnatural to go straight from work or household life to sex, you need to physically introduce things that serve as a bridge.” For example, jump in the shower together after a run, give each other a massage after a long day, send a flirty sext before you head home from the office. It’s also worth trying to sync up your routines more.

Going to bed at the same time will automatically create more sexual opportunities. If all else fails, schedule a sex “date”. The myth that sex has to be spontaneous is as outdated as MySpace – if you can schedule a Tweet, you can definitely schedule an orgasm.

Reset Button 3

It was baaaaaad

A definite design flaw about sex is the injustice in having an obscene level of chemistry in a bar (or on Tinder) that doesn’t always translate into the same level of chemistry in the bedroom. What happens when it goes from promising to pathetic… fast? Dr Janet Hall, clinical psychologist and author of Sex-Life Solutions, believes the key isn’t just what happens during sex, but also in grounding our expectations before clothes come off.

“Early days sex, especially, should always be appreciated as a trial run,” Dr Janet says frankly. “It’s often disappointing because the two people involved have never had a real bonding experience. It needs time, practice and above all communication, because it takes so much more for a woman to be sexually fulfi lled, and no man is a mindreader.” That’s true no matter how long you’ve been together.

This doesn’t mean doing a buzzkilling impression of your car’s GPS – “turn left here, no right, no a little more left” – but rather, use subtle pointers and appreciative noises that let him know if he’s on track or if he’s waaaay off. You really can talk your way to better sex.

Corbis/Click Photos
Corbis/Click Photos

Reset Button 4

It’s not the right time

In an ideal situation, sex is just the R-rated continuation of a romantic fairytale – you fall into bed with your partner just as naturally as you fell in love. But real life tends to be a lot more complicated, and while your heart might be at one place when it comes to commitment, it can be in an entirely different place when it comes to what goes on between the sheets. If your man is chafing at the bit and you just can’t make up your mind, try the oldest trick in the book – talking.

Repeatedly rejecting his advances straight up won’t do favours for your relationship, so try the XYZ communication approach, which frames what you want to say as a complaint rather than a criticism. In this case, it would be X: “When you make a move”; Y: “I feel pressured to take things further”/“I’m not prepared for what happens next”; and Z: “Was that your intention?” This lets you raise the issue in a way that opens up the conversation, rather than shutting it down.

Reset Button 5

He’s gone off sex

Yep, it happens. “There’s a myth that men don’t ever stop thinking about sex and are always up for it, but this is definitely not the case,” confirms Desiree. He could be stressed out from crazy work demands or even an unhealthy lifestyle. Stress reducers such as alcohol or certain medications decrease desire further. He may worry that his penis will let him down.

“Many men with a lower libido level tend to be very analytical; they always think or worry about something that prevents them from getting into a sexual mindset. They really want to do things right, which is why they also feel more pressure,” says Desiree. But too much pressure kills what’s known as the response desire. “This usually kicks in when you start some physical intimacy and end up having sex, even though you didn’t plan to,” she continues. “But when there’s awkwardness about sex, response desire never has a chance to kick in.”

In this case, the solution is to step away from the penis! Put a temporary ban on intercourse so other kinds of intimacy start to flow again. Reassure him that intercourse isn’t everything and encourage foreplay and simple touching to slowly kick things back into gear again.

Reset Button 6

You feel selfconscious

This isn’t about sex with the lights on or off – we know you’re a sexually empowered woman, not a real-life vampire. But it’s totally normal to feel a little bit shy about him getting up close and personal with your lady bits. Why? Well, it doesn’t help that we’ve all got seriously unrealistic mental images of what a “normal” vagina looks like, making us skittish enough about getting to know ourselves “down there”, let alone letting anybody else get a close-up view. The (beautiful) reality is this: 50 percent of women have inner lips that extend down beyond their outer lips, according to GP Magda Simonis. That’s half your female friends, and half of the women reading this.

In her book Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva, sex researcher Dr Debby Herbenick explains, “People don’t realise how creative nature has been with women’s genitals. Vulvas are incredibly diverse. They may be a shade of pink, red, brown, grey or purple. They’re actually usually not symmetrical.” To sum it all up, your vagina definitely doesn’t need you to worry about how pretty it looks. It just needs you to like it – as it is. Simple, right?

Corbis/Click Photos
Corbis/Click Photos

How To Survive A Real Crisis During Sex

Panic-free advice from gynaecologist Dr Gino Pecoraro.

UH-OH! The condom came off – and it’s inside you.

First, breathe a sigh of relief: the structure of the vagina means it’s physically impossible for a condom that’s lost its bearings to stay lost inside you. Second, it’s common. “If you can’t feel the condom by gently putting your fingers in, a doctor needs to remove it,” says Dr Gino, who adds that it’s fine to wait until the next morning to go. The bad bit? As the condom slipped away, so did your protection against pregnancy and STIs. Take emergency contraception as soon as possible (levonorgestrel is 85 percent effective if taken within three days – five is the limit) and it’s STI tests all round. Not so romantic, but your bits will thank you.

UH-OH! There’s blood,and you’re not sure where (or who) it’s from.

This is one occasion not to sweep under the “oh, it’s nothing” carpet. “Bleeding after sex is never normal,” confirms Dr Gino. “It may be the only sign you get that there are abnormal cells on your cervix, or it could indicate an infection, especially if his penis or your vagina are swollen or sore.” A small vaginal tear could be the (innocent) culprit, “but you need good light and a trained eye to be sure. It’s best to err on the side of caution and always get it checked.”

UH-OH! You think you’ve broken his penis.

Not just the stuff of urban legends, the fractured penis is a thing. And it’s most likely to be caused by, um, us. Oops. In a Brazilian study, half of breakages happened when the woman was on top, because we’re controlling the penis when it suffers a “wrong way penetration” (*eyes watering*). Wondering how you’ll know if it’s happened to him? Don’t worry, he’ll definitely know. “A fractured penis hurts!” exclaims Dr Gino. “It’s where the spongy tubes that fill with blood to create his erection get damaged, and requires urgent medical attention for pain relief and to prevent scarring.” Well, we know what position we’re not doing tonight.

“Many men with a lower libido level tend to be very analytical... They really want to do things right, which is why they also feel more pressure.”Desiree Spierings, Sex Therapist