Dr. Karen Gurney, clinical psychologist, psychosexologist and director at The Havelock Clinic, explains what everyone should know about sex.
1. Sex isn't all about orgasms but…
There's no reason why women and people with vaginas should be orgasming significantly less than men and those with penises, though many women and people with vaginas who sleep with men/penis-havers accept this as something that’s part of common sexual experience. In fact, those who have sex with someone else with a vagina report orgasming always, or usually 86 percent of the time. Of those who have sex with men/people with penises, they orgasmed 65 percent of the time.
Reasons for this might include less focus on a "set" sexual menu, more time spent on a variety of sexual acts in no predictable order, and longer sex sessions that don't necessarily end for either partner after one orgasm.
2. Pain is not okay.
Some women/vagina-havers feel pain is an expected part of early sexual experience, or an inevitable part of penetrative sex from time-to-time. The truth is that as long as you are feeling turned on and relaxed, pain should not be making an appearance.
If sex does hurt it's important to visit your local sexual health clinic or GP to rule out an infection, or another physical cause. Some people experience genital pain in and around the vaginal opening, and this is something that is often not talked about but is a frequent part of the work of a sex therapist.
3. There's no such thing as normal.
When it comes to frequency of sex, sexual interests, fantasies or the kinds of things you and your partner like to do, it's helpful not to get bogged down into the "shoulds" or "musts."
Sexual confidence and enjoyment thrive on variation, exploration and novelty—so the more you can let go of the shackles of expectation, the better for your enjoyment and your long-term experience of desire.
4. Communication is the key to good sex.
It doesn't have to be verbal, but it helps if you can find a way to let your partner know what you want and need. Some couples find communication easier than others, and there's all sorts of other things that come into this like having words you feel comfortable with for your genitals, feeling confident to ask for what you want, and even knowing what you want in the first place.
Getting good at communicating about sex can be a really good skill to develop as a couple, as inevitably in life there'll be times that sex will go off track a bit. A good conversation and a bit of troubleshooting can be what it needs to get back on course. Make it a routine part of checking in about your relationship, that way you don't have to talk about it for the first time when something isn't quite going to plan.
5. Couples who don't always have penetrative sex as the finale have better sex lives.
Penis-in-vagina sex is such a small aspect of how male/female or vagina/penis-having couples can be sexual with their bodies and each other, but it can be easy to think that it's the be all and end all of sex—especially if you look at how sex is often portrayed or talked about.
Predictability and routine are not always that erotic though, and interestingly we now know couples who always have sex this way without much variety have poorer sexual function than those who don't. It can be a good idea to mix up what you do as much as you can, and have mutually pleasurable sexual encounters without penetrative sex from time-to-time.
6. There's no such things as being "good in bed."
It's impossible to be good at something that happens between two people as it’s always dependent on factors connected to each of their experience, knowledge, comfort and confidence.
Real sexual confidence comes from being happy with your body (whatever your size or shape), feeling pride rather than shame about your sexuality and sexual interests, and being able to communicate your wants and needs to someone else.
7. It's okay to get distracted sometimes.
Although being completely focused and in the moment during sex is the ideal, and usually results in a more enjoyable sexual experience, most people get distracted with thoughts about something else—and this is normal. This can vary from thoughts about the sexual experience such as how our bodies look, whether the condom is on right, or whether we'll come. These thoughts can even be completely unrelated, like whether we'll do the washing up after sex.
For some people, distracting thoughts can interrupt the sexual experience to such an extent that they lead to a sexual problem such as pain or difficulties with erections.
Mindfulness is growing in popularity for all sorts of things and we now know that it can also be a helpful skill to counteract this and increase our arousal and desire. It's good to get to grips with mindfulness outside of a sexual experience first, then once you get practised at it you can use it to help you stay in the moment during sex.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.