Half of Coupled Americans Are Having the Worst Sex of Their Lives With Their Current Partner

Why are we all staying in relationships with terrible sex?

rumpled bed sheets
Why are partnered Americans having bad sex?
Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

Blissfully unpartnered singles like myself have an admittedly bad habit of assuming that our more monogamously inclined peers probably have comparatively boring, lackluster sex lives filled with more Netflix and takeout than satisfying sex. It’s an unfair assumption, but unfortunately for those proud monogamists who want the rest of us to believe people in long-term relationships are still having good sex, a recent survey found that half of coupled-up Americans admit their sex life is indeed subpar. Not only is the sex below average, in fact, but one in two partnered Americans claim the sex they’re having with their current partner is actually the worst they’ve ever had. In a word, yikes.

The survey of 2,000 Americans, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of sex toy company LELO back in April, did not offer any possible explanations for why partnered Americans might be having such terrible sex with each other. Fortunately, I have a few theories.

For one thing, as previously mentioned, one of the many flawed sexual narratives that exist in our culture holds that couples in long-term, monogamous relationships probably aren’t having good sex, if they even have any sex at all. Not only can this belief turn into a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy for couples — if you don’t expect to be having good sex, you’re probably not going to have good sex — but it can also discourage people in relationships from actually working on their sex lives. Good sex doesn’t always — or even particularly often — just fall from the heavens and land in your bedroom. As sex therapist and author Ian Kerner told InsideHook last month, “To think we’re going to have these spontaneous sex lives, that they’re going to work perfectly and aren’t going to require any work, is absurd.” Having good sex and maintaining a healthy sex life takes work. But if society’s telling you that you couldn’t possibly expect to be having good sex in your boring, long-term relationship, why would you even bother trying?

It’s also possible there’s a bit of a grass is always greener effect going on. People who have been sleeping with the same partner for an extended period of time might not actually recall their past sexual experiences as well as they think they do. When viewed through the rose-hued lenses of retrospect, particularly if one is feeling dissatisfied with the current state of their sex life, those past encounters may seem a lot more fulfilling than they actually were, making the sex they’re having now seem dramatically worse by comparison.

Then there’s also the simple fact that whatever sex you’re currently having, particularly if you’ve only been having it with one partner for a while, is almost always the most fresh in your mind. Good or bad, the sex we’re having right now is the sex we know best, so subpar sex you’re having currently might naturally seem worse than subpar sex you had in the past and simply don’t remember as well.

Then again, maybe I’ve been right all along and being in a relationship really does just kill your sex life. I don’t know! What I do know is that bad sex happens, to everyone, but life is way too short to be trapped in a relationship that condemns you to bad sex on the reg. Regardless of the reason, if you feel the sex you’re having with your current partner is so bad it’s the worst of your life, I’d recommend not continuing to have sex with that person. Break up with them! Have sex with a different person! Open up the relationship! Others might recommend going to see a sex therapist and working on your sex life together as a couple. That’s fine, too. But whatever you do, don’t keep having bad sex. There’s just no reason to.

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