You just did a quick Google search of “how to enjoy sex” and found yourself eyeballing suggestions such as lighting candles and wearing sexy lingerie. Enter: anxiety. While those ideas can certainly work for some, enjoying sex can also be less about setting the right mood and more about moving past sex shame. Although it won’t always be easy, rewiring our brain for a good time is essential to pleasure-centred sex.
See also: 21 sex myths everyone thinks are true.
In the second episode of our Sex Sessions series starring sexual health and consent educator Samantha Bitty, we’re focusing on sex shame and how to start healing those emotional hang-ups. Bitty broke it all down in her lesson plan by delving into the perceptions, motivations, emotions, decision-making and behaviours around sex shame. We learned that almost all systems of oppression contribute to sex shame (think: patriarchy, capitalism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism). The good news, though, is that it is possible to change the pathways in our brains for a more positive and pleasurable sexual experience.
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For many of us, our introduction to sex came at school — in that often dismissive, “don’t do it, or else” lecture that almost never answered any of our most pressing questions and all but demonized the act itself. From a young age we are fed the message that sex is taboo; something inherently dirty. When a conversation around sex arises, even among adults, there’s always the very real possibility that shame will arise. Why? Because in each and every one of us is a variety of situations and experiences where we were made to feel insecure, self-conscious or even deeply uncomfortable about sex. In order to start the healing process and begin rewiring our brain for a good time, we need to start talking about it in a safe space with people who make us feel comfortable.
Sex is an incredibly intimate act and can often leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable, especially if we already have a history of sex shame or self-esteem battles.
So, how can we start to let go of old, harmful ideas and expectations around sex that are not authentic to our needs, wants and values? We break it down into three categories: before sex, during sex and after sex.
Before sex: what to do before smashing
Don’t do this: ignore your feelings and just dive into any sexual experience without thought.
Do this instead: repeat positive affirmations before sex.
In a 2016 study of roughly 39,000 participants published in the Journal of Sex Research, it was revealed that taking the time to set the mood resulted in higher levels of sexual satisfaction. But if you’re harbouring insecurities, anxieties or traumas around sex, your body or your partner(s), those sexy surface-level mood-enhancers will do little for your comfort level or self-esteem.
There are lot of ways you can practice self-care prior to sex, from gentle pelvic stretches to personal hygiene (taking a shower, brushing your teeth, changing into different underwear). But giving yourself the space to process your emotions and rewire your thinking can start with some healthy affirmations.
Here are things to say to boost your confidence before sexy time:
- “I desire and deserve sexual pleasure.”
- “I exude sexual confidence.”
- “My body is perfect and deserves to be pleasured and loved.”
- “I fully embrace my sexuality in all its glory.”
- “Sexual arousal is fun and I feel confident.”
Think it, but also say it out loud! Although changing your thoughts and focusing on affirmations won’t undo years of insecurity or trauma overnight, keeping an open mind and practicing it regularly will work wonders on your confidence and self-esteem so that you’re in the right frame of mind for sex.
During sex: use your voice
Don’t do this: keep silent.
Do this instead: voice what you need in the moment. Communication shouldn’t stop during sex.
Picture this: you’re in the middle of the act and it’s not going well. Either you’re not getting the sexual gratification you deserve or you’re feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable with the situation. This is where you need to speak up. This can sound like a daunting task, especially when combating lingering feelings of sex shame. So, where can you find the confidence to be your own greatest ally?
Return to some affirmations (think: “communication leads to better, more enjoyable sex for us both”) or offer gentle suggestions about what you want them to do next — “that felt really good when you did that, but I was thinking it might also be fun to try…” or “there’s something else I’d love to try.” Although you might be tempted to clam up and try to communicate non-verbally, that path can often lead to misunderstandings and confusion.
After sex: ending it the right way
Don’t do this: immediately cover your body with bedsheets or hastily put on clothes and leave.
Do this instead: cuddle, engage in pillow talk, bring a shareable snack into the bed, enjoy a soothing shower or bath, cover yourselves in a weighted blanket, etc.
Post-coital care is just as imperative to your well-being as the affirmations you did in the lead-up to sex. There are dozens of ways you can indulge in gratifying aftercare, from cuddling and pillow talk to enjoying a soothing hot shower and indulging in a shareable snack together in bed. If you haven’t already discussed it beforehand, now is the time to check in with your partner to see what they prefer as well. This habit doesn’t only apply to long-term couples either — even casual or first-time partners can practice aftercare and its many benefits.
Sex is an incredibly intimate act and can often leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable, especially if we already have a history of sex shame or self-esteem battles. Aftercare can increase feelings of self-worth and can be a major confidence-booster as it inspires connection and togetherness — so make sure you don’t skip this pivotal step!
More homework: Educators and workshops to continue rewiring your brain for a good time
The learning never stops: Samantha Bitty recommends resources for you to continue your work on ending sex shame.
- The Sex Talk: Caitlin. This Instagram account offers a safe space to explore sex and pleasure in a fun and informative way. Check out @thes3xtalk for more.
- Sexpositivefamilies.com: This website provides a plethora of resources that help families raise sexually healthy kids with a shame-free and pleasure-positive approach.
Related: 10 tips for coping with social anxiety.