5 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Sex and Dating, According to a Relationships Therapist
You don't need to be happily coupled up or in a rocky relationship to learn a lot from these dating and love lessons.
When Harry Stopped Communicating With Sally. The Silence of The Doomed. Crazy, Silent, Divorced. If the disintegration of my parents' marriage was a movie, I had a front-row seat. And as I watched the plot unfold, one thing became clear to me: Grown-ass adults have no idea how to communicate with each other.
It was because of this realization though that I went on to become a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and eventually opened the Wright Wellness Center. Now, every day I get to teach couples (and singles, too!) how to better communicate—especially about touchy subjects like sex, fantasies, and pleasure.
Bottom line: Sex-ed shouldn't stop after high school, and even perfectly happy couples can benefit from working with a relationship therapist. Below are five things I want everyone to know about dating and sex—regardless of your relationship status or orientation.
1. Sexual exploration can (and should) happen at any age.
There's a myth that sexual exploration is temporary, like for three months during a phase in college. That's inaccurate and damaging in so many ways.
For starters, exploring things sexually requires a baseline of trust. The more trust you have with someone the more explorative you should be able to be in bed. And let's face it: Most people have longer, more trusting relationships after college.
Further, the idea that your early 20s are your sexually explorative days doesn't take into account the fact that your frontal lobes don't develop until you're 26, which means that the sensation of having your arm touched at 32 is going to feel different than how it felt when you were 22. Located at the front of your head, this section of your brain is in charge of giving meaning to touch. So even if you experimented with anal play or restraints at that age, the sensation it might bring you physically, mentally, or emotionally now is going to be massively different.
In my opinion, the fact that STI rates are climbing in nursing homes and assisted living communities suggests to me that people are interested in experimenting sexually well into their golden years. So let me ask you this: Why wait until you're 80 to experiment and have the sex you want to be having when you could have it right now? Yeh, exactly.
2. Sexual exploration is not a "slippery slope".
There is an untrue, pervasive idea that sexual exploration is a slippery slope toward debauchery that you can't come back from. People are genuinely afraid that if one month they add a new sex position or sex toy into the bedroom, the next month they'll be having full-blown orgies with the entire city. Because of this, you could be too afraid to talk to your partners about your fantasies, turn-ons, and sexual desires. (Related: How To Introduce Sex Toys Into your Relationship).
I can promise that expanding what pleasure, play, and, sex looks like in your relationship is *not* going to cause you and your partner to lose control. The only thing that could do this is a lack of communication and consent—period. (Related: 8 Common Communication Problems In Relationships).
3. You *do* have time for sex.
The only thing everyone has in common is that we all have exactly 24 hours a day. No more, no less. If you don't think you have time for sex, one of two things is happening. Either, 1) in general, you don't make time for *any* leisure pleasure, or 2) you don't enjoy the sex you're having enough to make time for it.
If you are someone who struggles to make time for yourself, my advice is to start spending five to ten minutes a day doing something that centers you and brings you pleasure: journaling, masturbating, meditating, putting on a face mask, painting your nails, or dancing around your apartment.
If, however, you get manicures every other week, read for pleasure, or get routine massages, the more likely reality is that you're choosing to prioritize other things before sex. That says to me that you enjoy those other things more than you enjoy sex.
The solution? Make sex as (or more) enjoyable than those other things, and that make take some work. I recommend dedicated 5 to 10 minutes a day to your pleasure: touching yourself in the shower (maybe with one of these waterproof vibrators), running your hands across your naked body, shopping for a sex toy online or in the store, or reading Come As You Are by Emily Nagasaki.
Well, the more you have sex, the more you chemically crave sex. So, while that may not seem like much time (and it's not), it's a start that will likely lead to increased sexual cravings.
4. Emotional intelligence makes you a better partner in and out of the bedroom.
Emotional intelligence (or your EQ, if you will) is the ability to pinpoint your own emotions and express them and the ability to respond in kind to someone else's emotions. It requires a combination of self-awareness, empathy, intuition, and communication.
Let's say you do something your partner doesn't understand and they ask you why you acted that way. Emotional intelligence is the difference between responded with "I don't know, I just freaked out" and "I was anxious and spiraled instead of getting a grip on the route of my anxiety". It's the ability to turn inward and name what you're feeling, instead of avoiding self-reflection, responsibility, or a deep interaction.
A low or high EQ impacts your sex life in an incredible number of ways. If you're in the mood for a deep, connected sexual experience and are able to recognize that, you're going to be able to help foster that experience. Likewise, emotional intelligence gives you the ability to tune into your partner's body language and non-verbal cues and so you can know if they're feeling disconnected, or guilty, or preoccupied, or stressed, and adjust accordingly, even if they don't tell you outright.
So, if what you want in your life is more sex or intimacy with your partner, I recommend working on your EQ by learning your own desires and stressors, asking more questions (and listening to the answers), practicing mindfulness, and working with a therapist. (Related: How to Ask Your Partner for More Sex Without Offending Them)
5. Everyone needs someone to talk to about sex.
Maybe you want to experiment with butt plugs. Maybe you want to experiment with other vulva-owners. Maybe you want to invite a third person into your bedroom. Because keeping something a secret creates a feeling of shame or wrong-doing, simply talking to a friend about it can help you let go of shame and normalize your desires. (Related: An Insiders Guide to Sleeping with Another Woman for The First Time).
A friend can also help hold you accountable to those desires and interests. They might check in on you in a few weeks to see if you've made any "progress" on your desires, learned any more about your sexual interest, or talked to your partner about it.
If you don't have a like-minded friend you think would be open to talking about getting down, a sex therapist, relationship coach, or mentor can play a similar role.