Sex is, ultimately, about pleasure — whether from physical sensation, emotional gratification, or both. Whatever your motivation is for having sex, it should feel good. But if you’re having sex that doesn’t feel good for any reason, it’s important to explore the reasons why you are having bad sex.
What is bad sex?
Bad sex is any sexual activity that doesn’t feel good to you. The reasons for bad sex may depend on a number of factors, such as the sex positions you try, how wet, hard, or aroused you may or may not feel, the kind of communication you’re able to have with a partner, pain you experience during sex, if you feel anxious or detached during sex, etc. We all experience sex and sensations differently, however, so bad sex is totally subjective. What you might consider bad sex might be great for another person. If you’re not enjoying sex, however, you should check in with your partner, your body, and emotional state. Sex therapist Dr. Janet Brito tells O.school, “If it isn’t mutually pleasurable, and you are dissatisfied […] then you are most likely having bad sex.”
While bad sex is totally subjective, it’s important to note that consent is essential to any sexual encounter. Dr. Brito reminds O.school readers that, “If you are feeling forced, coerced, or manipulated into engaging in sexual activities that you are not into or don’t want to do,” that isn’t just bad sex — it’s rape or assault.
Why am I having bad sex?
Anyone can experience bad sex, whether you’re totally in love with your partner, just having a hookup, or even trying some solo play. If you’re having consensual sex that isn’t enjoyable for you, it can be helpful to first identify the reasons why. Here are a five reasons you might be having bad sex.
1. Painful Sex. Unless you’re intentionally exploring pain as a part of your sex life, sex shouldn’t hurt. If you’re having painful sex, it could be due to a medical condition like vaginismus or pelvic muscle tension. If that’s the case, you may need to explore physical therapy or see a healthcare provider. Sex can also be painful if you’re feeling nervous, anxious, aren’t lubricated enough, or are trying sex positions that hurt you. Whatever the reason, it’s important to address the underlying cause. For example, if certain sex positions aren’t working for you, try experimenting with typically easier positions, like a spooning sex position.
2. You feel pressured or disrespected. Even when you’ve consented to a sexual encounter, says Dr. Brito, enthusiastic consent throughout is a must. “If you have set boundaries, and your beau is […] pushing your boundaries, then this is a set up for bad sex.” A feeling of trust and safety is essential to enjoying sex — if you’re constantly on guard or worrying about whether or not your limits will be respected, you are having bad sex.
3. You are being shamed for your preferences. Dr. Brito says that being criticized or put down for your sexual preferences or skills is another way in which sex can be bad: “If your partner is doing either, you are likely having bad sex. There is no reason for you to be treated badly or to be negatively criticized.” While your partner is never required to engage if they don’t find your preferences preferable to them, they shouldn’t be yucking your yum. Instead, try to communicate about what you want and need out of a sexual encounter, and ask your partner what they want and need.
4. Your communication is lacking. Knowing how to communicate your needs and desires — and to hear those of your partner — is vital to good sex. Dr. Brito tells O.school, “If you […] communicate about what your preferences are, as well as your limitations, you are more than likely to experience good sex. It is best not to assume, and to ask each other what you are into, in order to understand each other’s pleasure zones.” Not only can thorough communication help you and your partner give each other more pleasure, but talking things through can be a fun part of foreplay, or a sexy activity on its own.
5. You don’t know what you like. For those who are new to sexual exploration, or who grew up thinking that sex is wrong or shameful, it can take time to figure out what turns you on and how your body responds to certain stimuli. If you’re unfamiliar with what feels good to your own body, it can be hard to know what it would feel like to have good sex with a partner. It can also make it harder to communicate to your partner where your G-spot is, how to best stimulate your clit, how you like your balls touched (or not touched), or how to pleasure your dick.
6. You and your partner have different sex drives. Depending on your sex drive, you may be dissatisfied with your sex life because of too little—or too much — sex. Because your sex drive may not perfectly align with your partner’s, it’s important to find ways to compromise so that you’re both getting what you need.
7. You and your partner just don’t “fit.” Even if you’re really into someone, enjoy spending time with them, and find them attractive, sometimes things just don’t “click” sexually. Maybe one of you is coping with body dysphoria, a health challenge, or an insecurity. Whatever the reason, this intangible feeling of awkwardness can lead to lackluster sex.
8. Sex used to be great… but the thrill is gone. For long-term couples sex might be bad simply because the initial excitement has worn off. Maybe the initial thrill of discovering someone’s body has worn off, or you just feel “stuck in a rut.”
How to make bad sex better.
Fortunately, you don’t always have to make big changes to have better sex. Making bad sex better can be as simple as having an open discussion with your partner or trying out new positions.
1. Get to know your body. Spending time familiarizing yourself with what makes you tick can be super helpful when it comes to having more enjoyable sex with a partner. Touch yourself, fantasize, or check out some porn to help you explore your own desires and figure out what brings you pleasure. Perhaps you’ll find different kinds of touch, pressures, or speeds work better for you than others. Once you know how to stimulate yourself, it can be easier to communicate with a partner what you want. Experimentation is key.
2. Talk it out. Good communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship — especially when it comes to sex. If you feel uncomfortable or shy about sharing your desires with your partner, it’s worthwhile to slow things down and work on your communication. Practice asking what your partner likes (“Do you like it when I ____ your ___?”) and telling them what feels good to you. (“It feels great when you touch my ______ in a ______ way.”)
3. Lube up. Particularly if discomfort is the reason behind bad sex, lube can be your best friend. If vaginal or anal penetration is part of your sex life, it’s important to make sure that you’re protecting these delicate body parts. In addition to minimizing discomfort, being liberal with the lube can also dramatically increase your pleasure.
4. Take your time. While many folks, particularly if they’re in a new relationship or new to sex altogether, may be eager to get right down to business, spending more time engaging in foreplay, cuddling, or making out can promote relaxation and help you to get more turned on, leading to much better sex.
5. Practice, practice, practice. No one starts out as an expert. If you’re new to a relationship — or to sex in general — it can take a lot of trial and error to figure out what feels good or how to pleasure one another. If things don’t click right away, that’s totally normal — and shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. Open communication, patience, and a sense of humor can help you get into the groove and learn how to have better sex.
6. Seek outside advice. Sometimes, seeking advice about sex can be super helpful. A trusted friend, counselor, or sex therapist can give you an outside perspective to figure out the best approach to improving your sex life.
7. Make a date. Setting a schedule for sex, while it sounds decidedly unsexy, can be very helpful for couples who have different sex drives. If you feel like you aren’t getting enough sex, try masturbation or porn to satisfy your needs when you’re partner’s not up for it. Finally, if you’re both open to it, ethical non-monogamy can be a great way to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met.
8. Change it up. If the reason you’re having bad sex is that you’re stuck in a boring routine, you can try adding new elements to bring back some excitement. Get creative with new toys, different positions, role play, or even try taking it outside of the bedroom!
9. Get to the bottom of incompatibility. If you’re unable to establish a comfortable rhythm with your partner or feel that your bodies don’t “fit,” it’s time to do some digging. Is the discomfort due to one partner’s body insecurity, gender dysphoria, trauma history, or another issue that needs to be addressed? Finding safe and healthy ways to open up to each other about the tough stuff can bring you closer and help you to give each other the understanding and patience necessary to resolve sexual incompatibility.
If you’re not enjoying sex for any reason, it’s important to figure out why and address any underlying medical, psychological, communication, or relationship issues. The whole point of sex is to feel good — bad sex simply isn’t worth having! You deserve to thrive in your relationships, to feel supported and respected, to experience pleasure, and to have good sex!