When Sex Is Just A Bummer

Head in HandsHave you recently had a sex experience that was less than fulfilling? Sex bummers can put a real strain on your emotional well being. But as Heather Corinna explains, they don’t have to be that way. In this article, Heather offers new and helpful perspective on sex faux pas that can make you thankful for the experience.

Here’s a summary of key benefits that sexual bummers can provide:

  • Sex bummers can teach us more about what and who we do and don’t like.
  • Bummers offer clues for what needs to be changed and communicated better.
  • Bummers can help us improve our expectations as well as demonstrate what we need and want.
  • Bummers can build intimacy.

This article was originally published at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Sometimes sex is freaking amazing. Sometimes it’s not, but it’s still mighty good. It’s little more than nice at other times, but as fine a way to have spent those twenty minutes as any other. Then there are times when it’s none of those things: when it’s an oh-well, an oh-that’s-so-good-oh-wait-now-it’s-so-NOT-ACK-STOP!, a WTF was that even? or even an OMFG-WHY-ME-WHYYYYYYY. And times when there’s little to no humour in a sexual disappointment or outcome at all, just some seriously rough feelings or difficult things to contend with.  

Everyone is going to have at least some of those times, way more than just once or twice. Sometimes, or in some interactions, relationships or phases of life, we may even experience sex more often being a bummer for us than being satisfying and awesome.

Maybe sex stunk because someone seemed to think trying to lick your eyeball was sexy, while you felt like they were coming at you with some kind of cannibal agenda they’d clearly kept hidden until now. For every single time one of you moved one way, the other guessed wrong and moved the same way, so all you both got out of sex was bumps on your head and a shiny new tube of Neosporin for where your lip got split by their earring. Your little sister walked in on you, or you shot a condom across the room while trying to get it on and your unstoppable laughter kept you from getting back into your sexy. You and someone else just may not be clicking: everything you do starts out being something one of you likes, and turns out to be something the other doesn’t. Maybe you just can’t get out of your head enough to stay in the groove, or get in the groove to begin with. Or perhaps you’ve become a new member of the statistically large group* who discover that a bed surrounded by candles more often creates smoke damage and a need for new curtains than it does romance.

Many sex bummers are silly or funny, so long as we have a sense of humor about them. Others aren’t, like being triggered during sex from previous trauma or abuse, or having someone you just had otherwise-amazing sex with open their mouth after and say something carelessly stupid that gets them the gold in the Douchebag Olympics. Sometimes people have a hard time being kind or patient with themselves with the learning curve of masturbation or sex with partners. Some people have sexual expectations and ideals that are clearly unrealistic, but they still have a very big, sometimes even religious, emotional attachment to those ideals, so being shown the realities can feel devastating. Being unpleasantly surprised by our emotional reactions to certain things — like having post-breakup sex you thought you were cool with, only to find out that you are in no way cool with it — can also be something we may need to cry out rather than laugh off. Some bummers are more challenging or emotionally rough than others.

We know that resilience is key in healthy sexual and personal development. Being able to experience and move forward from anything from a mere disappointment to a terrible trauma or tragedy is vital for being able to live our lives and find happiness in them. Being resilient is ultimately about having the tools and the desire to adapt to life and its experiences, rather than getting stuck or mired down under the weight of things.

Resilience is what’s asked of us when sex is disappointing, especially if we don’t want it to be chock full o’bummer evermore. Perspective is a big help with resilience, because it lets us know the real gravity of something. When it’s truly not a big whoop, it helps us to let it go more easily. Someone should be able to easily cope with not getting an erection or not reaching orgasm now and then, or finding out that a partner just isn’t into one or two sexual things they are. Those things are, indeed, bummers, but great tragedies they are not. On the other hand, struggling for years to reclaim a sexual life that was hijacked by sexual abuse or assault, feeling so unaccepted and unsafe in being queer that you never even let yourself love whoever it is you love, battling serious sexually-transmitted illness and its worst complications: that’s huge stuff we can’t (and shouldn’t) just brush off.

If we sweat the small stuff a lot, we won’t be able to deal with the truly hard and challenging stuff. When we learn to let go of the small stuff, so it’s not part of our stresses and strains, we have way more of our own emotional reserves to help us through the big stuff. And when aren’t sweating the small stuff, we’re far more likely to actually enjoy most of our lives, including our sexual lives, fumbles and all.

But isn’t sex supposed to be about pleasure?

Sex of any kind, be it masturbation or sex with partners, is primarily about seeking and intending physical and emotional pleasure. But seeking something out or intending it doesn’t mean we’ll always get or find that thing, or have it go as we expected or intended. Sex being about pleasure also doesn’t mean that every nanosecond we’re sexual in some way will be amazing, without fumbles or moments where things are only so-so. Like any other part of life, sex is something we’re likely to have a wide range of different experiences with, including how much pleasure we do and don’t wind up experiencing each time, and how much what we experience is or isn’t as we expected or were going for.

There are things we can certainly do to make it more likely we’ll experience pleasure with masturbation or sex with partners, including the most basic stuff we need to do to just be safely and soundly sexual with ourselves and others. We can all do consenting well, so no one is doing anything to the other they don’t want or aren’t okay with.  We can aim to please ourselves or each other, and put our all into that. We get to choose what we do with which body parts, and how we use them, how we communicate and how we listen and what we do with that information.

But there’s a lot about engaging in sex, alone or with partners, that is simply not entirely within our control. Always doing all of those things above that are within our control still can’t make it so sex is always fabulous. Doing those things, for instance, doesn’t always mean we’ll discover or answer what we or others really want just yet, that our intent to please will always result in pleasure, or the kind of pleasure we want, or that even open, rich shared communication will result in agreement, compatibility or all the orgasms all the time. Just because we are seeking out and can find pleasure and other kinds of awesome in sex and sexuality doesn’t mean we always will.

Same deal, different context: I’ve been making music since I was a kid: it’s one of my first loves in my life. It’s my happy place. Except for the times that it isn’t, or it is, but it just doesn’t make me as happy as I know it can, or doesn’t go the way I expected.

Sometimes practicing is pure bliss; other times it’s a total drag. Some days my hands work beautifully; other days, my fingers feel clumsy and I can’t sustain a pattern or rhythm to save my life. Playing with other people rocks when we all really get in the groove together. But we can’t always do that, so sometimes it feels more like work than play, and can result in hurt feelings or petty resentments. Sometimes I grab an instrument excited to play, but once I start playing, I just can’t get into it that day at all. Sometimes I break a string and don’t have an extra set (and once sliced my cheek open in the process of breaking one, just to add injury to insult), discover the piano’s fallen out of tune, or have a cold, so singing feels and sounds like a duck on its deathbed instead of feeling and sounding good. All of these things are out of my control, and all can totally tank what could have been an opportunity for me to play and enjoy playing.

Sex is a lot like that, for most people, often as much of the time as it is all they want or expect it to be. Because of the bonkers-high expectations that get placed, or we place, on sex, it can be harder to see it the way we would similar things that we seek pleasure in, but just don’t find sometimes, whether that’s about playing music, eating cupcakes, getting a haircut or falling in love. But just like other things that don’t go as we wanted have a potentially positive value, the same goes here. Today’s sex bummer could result in next month’s victory dance if you let it.

Using Bummers for Good

Besides furnishing you with some dishy content for your memoirs, there are other hidden upsides to sex that isn’t great….

Continue reading the full article at Scarleteen.

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heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
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