Most People Have Unsatisfying Sex. Here’s What to Do About It

Sex therapists explain how couples can improve their love lives for Valentine's Day and beyond.

Young couple having relationship difficulties in the bedroom.
Young couple having relationship difficulties in the bedroom.
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Allow us to let you in on a rather depressing secret: the majority of us are having mediocre sex. According to the Women’s Wellness Survey, conducted by Everyday Health, the majority of ladies out there are feeling unsatisfied in their sex lives. Sixty-three percent of Millennials, 69% of Gen X’ers, and 75 percent of Boomers are not having particularly noteworthy sex. As we head into Valentine’s Day, we wanted to do the sexual community a service and find out how to rectify this horrifying dose of reality, so you can go into Valentine’s Day armed with the tools to make it one for the record books.

What is Sexual Satisfaction?

When it comes to feeling sexually satisfied, one size does not fit all. In our 20s, we’re constantly chasing the orgasm. And why wouldn’t we? But we’ve come to equate sexual satisfaction with whether or not we get off. The truth is, it goes so much deeper than that.

“What we’re really looking for is connection,” says sex therapist Jacqueline Mendez. “We want our partners to see us. We want to feel our partner’s energy. We want to connect. It isn’t always just sexual. It isn’t always intercourse. It has to do with touch, feeling loved, acts of kindness. The more we’re willing to see beyond the orgasm, we begin to notice sexual satisfaction begins in other realms of daily life. Foreplay begins the moment we open our eyes. Men can participate by engaging their partners, paying attention to the nuances of the day, paying attention to personality, wants, needs so that when they do get to that space of having sexual activity, it can be a physical manifestation of loving they’ve had all day.”

It’s Not About Sex at All

When it comes to sexual satisfaction (or dissatisfaction), the good news is it’s probably nothing to do with sex whatsoever. So rest easy, tiger. You’re likely still very good at sex. The bad news is, it’s likely a bigger problem that is more than just a quick fix. So as many articles you read about how to give her the best orgasm ever, the problem might not be as easy to solve as switching up positions or adding lube (though that’s a good place to start).

“What is likely impacting anyone’s sex life at any given moment is life. Whether you’re a new parent, you have a new job; you’re moving, etc., these are all stressors. And people wonder why they don’t have any sexual desire. This is not a sex problem. This is a life problem,” says Dr. Terri Vanderlinde, a  gynecologist and sex counselor. “We are over-taxed, over-schedule, and over-accumulated in our brains, and we never have a chance to slow down.”

Unplug to Plug In

Turns out, technology really is the root of all evil. At least when it comes to sex. We live in an age where we are oversaturated with technology and media. We’re living six inches in front of our faces, on our phones, tablets, computers, televisions, and forgetting about the three-dimensional world around us. And while 24/7 access to everything is certainly an asset, where it hurts us in relationships is with intimacy.

“Set aside some time to just be together and hold hands and not be on the computer,” says Dr. Vanderlinde. “People are on their devices for 18 hours a day. There’s an addiction to stay connected. The first thing you have to do to have any sort of sexual interest is get your mind off of everything else.”

Tap into Reality

Fantasy is so much a part of what makes sex incredible. But when fantasy turns into unrealistic expectations, it can leave men and women feeling both dissatisfied and insecure. Porn is a problem.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with porn. Watching and enjoying it alone or with your partner can be a sexy and intimate way to bond, share desires, and learn. But there is a point when it becomes too much.

“Millennials, in particular, are the first generation raised with online and internet access 24 hours a day, and what this has caused in the area of eroticism is that they’ve been raised watching porn and having it readily accessible at all hour of the day,” says sex therapist Jacqueline Mendez. “A lot of people enter relationships thinking that they can carry on what they have learned through watching those types of interactions in porn. Many men are reporting at a very young age erectile dysfunction or the ability to maintain an erection during actual sexual activity with a real-life partner, partly because they have trained themselves to only have sexual interactions while masturbating and watching porn and then having a difficult time engaging another human being in the same way that they’ve learned.”

Communication is Key

As with any part of a healthy relationship, communication is the number one priority. This is no different when it comes to sex and sexual needs. You tell your partner the way you like your eggs, why not the way you like your orgasm? In many instances, couples grew up with sex being something dirty, wrong, or shameful, so when it comes to actually talking about it openly, there is a lack of comfort or acceptability.

“Gen X’ers grew up with scare of AIDS and a lot of times particularly early on they report that their first sexual encounters were fearful,” says Mendez. “This was the first generation where parents were no longer afraid of pregnancy, but were afraid of death because we didn’t know a lot about AIDS when their kids were coming of age in the 80s and 90s. Now, these kids are grown and they find they can’t talk about what pleases them or makes them feel good. Gen X’ers in their 40s and 50s don’t talk about what feels good in their body.”

Au Naturale

There’s another reality we all need to accept: physical youth is not eternal. We age. Things droop, things dry, thinks don’t stay as hard as they used to. It’s a very real part of life. It’s when we run from it that we allow ourselves to feel less sexy. If we embrace it, normalize it, and find ways to adapt, there’s no reason that sexual satisfaction has to stop.

“When we’re young we’re more pliable. We tend to be more physically active,” says Mendez. As baby boomers age into senior citizenship, sometimes keeping sexual satisfaction is all about getting creative. “You can try different positions or places to have sex. As we begin to mature our bodies also mature and sometimes it’s harder to do certain things. It’s not a reason to stop having sex, but to explore other parts of our personality. For women, as they go through menopause the body does change, so that for many is a sign to stop being sexual. Start incorporating other parts of your body. Use toys, play with lubricants. This is a chance to experiment.”

So What Do We Do?

Besides putting down the phone, turning off the porn, and tuning into our partners, there are a few things we can do ourselves to start feeling more sexual overall. The first is to remain healthy and active. Eat well, sleep well, take vitamins. Step away from the rat race. Walk in nature. Be a human.

“There are studies that have shown when someone loses weight or gets toned they feel sexier in their skin and their sex drives go up,” says Dr. Vanderlinde. “The single greatest medical thing any person can do is eat well, exercise, control blood pressure, and don’t eat sugar. And guess what? Their sex desire flourishes. Desire isn’t the problem. It’s a symptom that something else is the problem.”

The other thing that we need to build is trust, which is more of a long-term problem. Because truth be told, when there is trust and respect in a relationship, sex becomes a manifestation of that and satisfaction tags along.

“Everyone is looking for a quick fix,” she adds. “Whether that’s Viagra, or hormones, or an article about how to achieve orgasm.  “That’s not it. It’s that you don’t trust your spouse. The doctor won’t help you with that. You have to address it on a much deeper level. Men and women are so totally different across all generations. He has expectations set up, while her mind is million other places. He wants to know what’s wrong with her that she doesn’t want sex three times a day like she used to. He thinks something must be wrong with her. No. It’s just life, and we have to deal with it.”

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