I’ve often contemplated what’s the big deal about sex?
It seems to take up so much of our attention — with one study concluding that on average, men think about sex 19 times a day, while women think about it 10 times a day— yet the reality of sex rarely seems to live up to the fantasy.
Personally, I’ve always felt pressure around sex. Whether you want it or don’t want it, are having it or not having it, either way, it sometimes feels like you can’t win.
Sure sex can be fun, but it can also be a total minefield to navigate. This leaves you wondering, is sex totally overrated?
Why is sex such a big deal?
When I was a teenager growing up, people seemed to talk about sex from such an early age.
Those questions over when you should or shouldn’t be having sex, what age is “normal” to start having sex, and what the opposite sex expected of me started swirling in my mind.
So much so that before I’d ever had sex, I wanted to just get it out of the way.
There have been many times where I’ve had sex because I’ve felt like I ‘should’ rather than because I truly wanted to. And at certain points in long-term relationships, sex has certainly felt more of a duty than a pleasure.
As a woman, I’ve felt some kind of unspoken requirement to try to walk a fine line between virgin and whore, for fear of being labeled either “frigid” or a “slut”. I know men equally fall foul of unrealistic burdens and ludicrous expectations around sex too.
Deep down, I cannot believe that any of us want sex to be a commodity, an obligation, or a performance. But there is no denying that sex can sometimes become these things.
No wonder then that sex can quickly start to feel overrated and unworthy of the prominent focus we seem to give it within our lives.
But it’s also not that simple.
Sex is a complicated and multifaceted subject and there are lots of things we need to consider when questioning the value of sex in our own lives.
1) Our image of sex is socially conditioned
Whether we like it or not, sex is a socially loaded topic. That means that sex is rarely just about sex. It becomes symbolic of so much more.
When it comes to sex, we are all conditioned.
That’s why before we even have a chance to make up our own minds about some important questions to do with sex, we are bombarded with society’s (often conflicting) answers.
- When do I feel ready to have sex?
- Do I want to have sex?
- How much sex would I prefer to be having?
- How high up or low down does sex come on my priority list?
“You should be chasing sex all the time” or “You should be avoiding sex until you’ve had 9 dates/are married”, etc.
As old-fashioned and outdated as these types of thoughts may appear, they are still prominent within large sections of society.
That means we may still subconsciously define being a “red-blooded male” as someone who always wants to have lots of sex. Or we might still define the ideal of femininity as something pure and chaste. Even when the reality is far from this.
All of these ideas floating around about sex complicate it for many people way before we’ve even started to have personal experiences of it.
Sex can feel burdened with expectation, guilt, shame, morality, and more.
Some people even begin to feel so ostracised by a lack of sex, that this feeling clouds how they view their entire lives.
Groups like incels (involuntarily celibate) focus on the absence of sex to such an unhealthy extent that their resentment becomes the main framework for viewing the world.
Sex so easily becomes negatively transformed into a right of passage, a trophy, a measure of success, or of desirability and worth.
But often what we are really seeking isn’t even sex at all. It’s attention, validation, or even love.
How media impacts our image of sex
Sex is less taboo, and as a consequence is an ever-growing fixture within media.
Sex can be overly romanticized so that real-life never lives up to the image. Ever noticed how sex scenes on TV seem to be passionate, steamy, and flawless?
There aren’t any awkward conversations or embarrassing moments that are a feature of real sexual encounters.
Characters don’t stop to chat about contraception, struggle to get their clothes off or self-consciously try to hide stretch marks.
We’re influenced so much by the fictional sexual relationships we see on our screens that a 2018 study looking at sexual scripts in films found evidence that as a society we’re deciding what’s “normal” based on what we watch:
“Cultural sexual scripts are the societal norms and narratives that provide guidelines for sexual behaviors such as the number of sexual partners that is appropriate, the variety of sexual acts, motives for casual sex, and suitable emotions and feelings.”
Maybe it’s hard for real-life sex not to seem pretty overrated when it’s held up in comparison to the glossy unrealistic media version of it.
2) Sex is just one form of connection
We make a big deal out of sex, but ultimately it’s just a way of connecting with someone in an incredibly intimate way. But it’s far from the only way to do that.
There are plenty of acts that can also help you to feel close to someone without taking your clothes off.
Rather than sex itself, some people are actually craving physical contact. Humans are hardwired to want to be touched and research has found that when we are deprived of it, it’s bad for our health.
It’s this same release of oxytocin (otherwise known as the cuddle or love hormone) which we get from varied forms of physical contact (like hugs) as well as sex.
Emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and experiential intimacy are all other ways we create special bonds. For many people, these can be even more vulnerable and meaningful than sex.
Neither is passion exclusive to sex. Celibate author Eve Tushnet points out that passion is found not only in romantic relationships but in friendships as well:
“Friendship is sometimes contrasted with sexual love by comparing the images of a romantic couple gazing into each other’s eyes and a pair of friends facing outward toward a common goal or project. This imagery distorts both friendship and sexual love…friendship can nonetheless be as personal and as deeply interested in the friend for his own sake as any romantic love.”
Even romantic relationships are multi-faceted, with sex only one potential aspect.
Laughing, crying, talking, sharing, supporting — there are quite literally dozens of equally important elements.
There’s a perception that ‘once the sex goes’ in a relationship this is the reason for its demise or what causes affairs. But in reality, it’s not the case.
Relationships break down for many reasons, and straying sexually in more cases than not is the symptom of those relationship problems, rather than the cause.
It’s actually a lack of love, understanding, or recognition which creates the conditions that cause infidelity — not a lack of sex.
3) There is no “normal” only personal preference
I’m not going to sit here and write that nobody gives a damn if you’re having sex or how much sex you’re having.
Because although in an ideal world that would be the case, we also know we don’t live in an ideal world. So I think it would be a lie.
Social pressures, peer pressure, religious pressure, your parents’ views — there are lots of elements that may make us feel like we need to behave in a certain way when it comes to sex.
One of the biggest problems around sex is how much judgment surrounds it. But all of that is also ultimately BS.
Fortunately, we also live increasingly in times where many stereotypes, including those around sex, sexual preferences, and sexuality are being turned on their head.
Totally unheard of terms a generation ago are becoming more widely understood:
Asexual — Having little or no interest in sex, or for some, in even romantic attraction.
Demisexual — Only feeling sexually attracted to someone when they have an emotional bond with the person.
Celibate — A voluntary vow of sexual abstinence from all sexual activity.
While not everyone will find labels necessary or even helpful, the broadening of sexual habits does offer a greater sense of the wide spectrum of what is “normal”.
There are lots of people out there who don’t want to have sex or don’t feel sexual attraction.
There are plenty who feel about sex, the way I feel about ice cream — whilst they don’t actively dislike it, they can take it or leave it.
And there are many others who love sex and cannot get enough of it.
No one lifestyle choice is preferable or more ordinary than another.
People will always have opinions around sex, but that doesn’t change the fact that there really is no such thing as “normal”, there really is only personal preference.
4) How you feel about yourself affects your sex life
Psychotherapist and Certified Sex Therapist Gila Shapiro highlights that our sexual self-esteem affects every sexual choice we make.
“Sexuality is a multi-dimensional, complex mix of physiological, interpersonal, cultural, emotional, and psychological factors. It’s important for us to reflect on all these aspects of ourselves and the role they play, as the relationship we have with our sexuality reflects our sexual self-esteem. And just as we talk about the value of developing healthy self-esteem, so too, should we be paying attention to developing a healthy sexual self-esteem.”
She goes on to argue that many factors affect our ability to express ourselves sexually:
- How we feel about our body
- The stories/narratives we tell ourselves about sex
- How well we communicate about sex
- The meaning we attach to sex
Ultimately all of these things come from you.
This is why having a more satisfying sex life will also depend on strengthening, not your relationship with others, but with yourself.
Without the foundations of a strong sexual self-esteem, it’s easier to find yourself allowing your boundaries to be pushed, saying yes to things you don’t want to, and failing to put your own sexual needs and wants first.
If we’re not clear on our own relationship with and motivation towards sex, there can be a danger we try to use it for validation or a mood boost.
In the same way as when we seek too much external validation or pleasure from anything in life, the buzz is usually short-lived.
Whether it’s a shopping splurge, a chocolate binge, a TV marathon — the high is temporary. And it always comes back to that old gem of wisdom that you can’t find happiness outside of yourself, only within.
Working on our own self-love improves our self-esteem, self-worth, and self-respect in all our encounters in life, sex included.
5) Emotions and feelings change sex
I’m not suggesting you need to or even should be in love to have sex.
For some people having strong feelings for someone before entering into a sexual relationship is very important, whilst for others, it doesn’t matter so much.
It tends to come down to what people are looking for from sex, whether that be relief of tension, procreation, an expression of romantic love, or just a good time.
But there’s no denying that for most of us, feeling a strong emotional connection changes sex into something more akin to “making love”.
It seems to become more intensified when feelings are involved and transforms the act of sex into something far more meaningful.
Anecdotally, many people who have had both casual and committed sexual encounters report that intimacy, a personal connection, and feelings deepen the satisfaction from sex.
As sex and intimacy coach Irene Fehr explains there’s a huge difference between using someone else’s body to get your kicks and creating a genuine connection between two people:
“Without connection, sex is having two bodies rub against each other and create pleasurable sensations. That can be good, just like a massage from a massage therapist can be intensely pleasurable. Sex without connection is a set of movements against each other, as if doing something onto each other. Sex with connection is being with each other.”
When sex isn’t overrated
For all the complications sex can sometimes bring along with it, to a lot of people it’s far from overrated.
There’s no denying that the desire for sex is a perfectly natural urge, a lot of fun, and a way of meaningfully connecting with others.
Sex, much like any experience in life has the potential to be pretty bad, pretty great, or kinda meh. Every situation is different and every sexual encounter unique.
There is plenty of scenarios when sex isn’t overrated.
1) When sex makes you feel happy
When you’re enjoying sex it releases certain happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine along with a whole cocktail of other feel-good chemicals.
The important thing to note though is that if you’re not turned on and just going through the motions, this won’t happen. This is yet another reason to only have sex when you want to and when it feels good for you.
2) When sex forms bonds
Getting naked with another human being quite literally lays us bare. It’s a vulnerable act and not something we do with just anyone.
When we feel a connection to somebody, physically joining with them can intensify and deepen the relationship.
3) When sex is about quality over quantity
Sure, everyone has different sex drives, but when it comes to creating a satisfying sex life, the quality of your sex matters way more than how often you do it.
Knowing what you like and don’t like, understanding your own body, and be able to clearly communicate your needs to your sexual partner plays a huge role.
To conclude: what to do when sex feels disappointing
If sex feels like a letdown, it can be useful to ask yourself a few questions to dig a little deeper:
- Am I putting pressure on myself?
- Am I rushing into sex?
- Am I bored and want to try something new?
- Am I choosing my partners wisely?
When it comes to disappointing sex, there are often other larger issues at play hidden below the surface.
But at the end of the day, whether you can’t get enough of sex or couldn’t care less about it, it’s all ultimately a personal choice.
You should be the only one to ever decide the finer details of your own sex life.
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