A woman I know was sitting in a café with her lover. Newly single after having been married for many years to her first and only sexual partner, she was babe in the sexual wilderness. She didn’t know the customs, the language, the expectations, or even how to protect herself.
She’d grown up in a very straightlaced family, so the sexual revolution had completely passed her by. Sex with her husband had been routine and boring, but she wasn’t assertive enough to try to spice things up. Now this dashing bachelor was suggesting positions she’d never tried, and trying things she’d never thought of. She only hoped her rank inexperience wasn’t too obvious.
Their eyes met over the coffee cups. He cleared his throat. “Have you, um, had much practice sexually?” he asked. “You’re pretty tight in bed.”
“I thought I was going to throw up,” my friend said.
Whether you are in a long-term relationship or newly unattached, you aren’t alone in feeling sexually insecure and inexperienced. Many of us came of age before casual sex was commonplace, and many more of us married young and maybe didn’t get the practice our peers seemed to enjoy. And others of us decided that sex wasn’t meant to be casual, and we deliberately limited our opportunities.
Besides, don’t we tend to assume that everyone else is somehow better—more sophisticated and experienced? Or that we aren’t quite up to snuff? And isn’t the whole realm of sex with all its juicy nakedness and vulnerability a particularly handy target for our free-floating insecurities? In fact, is there anything more acutely capable of making us feel inept?
I’m betting that in a situation like my friend’s a lot of us would feel pretty inept.
Given that most of us are probably a little rusty on our Kama Sutra positions, and that many of us will find ourselves with new partners at some point in our lives, how might we approach that uncomfortable feeling of sexual naiveté—the feeling that we never really acquired this oh-so-adult skill.
First, get a grip. We’re mature, self-evolved women who’ve accumulated skills and talents over the course of a lifetime. So what if sex wasn’t one of them. That’s no reflection on our self-worth. And it’s never too late to learn.
We also face tremendous social pressure and non-stop cultural messaging that lets us know that everyone is having lots of sex and performing feats of skill and derring-do in the bedroom.
That’s a lot of nonsense. A lot of single people aren’t “doing it,” and a lot of others aren’t having such a blast between the sheets. And besides—we aren’t everyone, as our mothers used to say. We should not be bullied into insecurity or rash action by what we see on “Desperate Housewives.”
We need to protect ourselves emotionally and physically, and we need to see ourselves as confident, sexual, and desirable.
A person with confidence and self-worth doesn’t need to prove anything in the bedroom because sex in a mature, caring relationship is about more than skill, experience, and acrobatics. In such a relationship, we should be able to talk about sex and what we’d like it to be for each other and how we can make it better. Then maybe sex can take its appropriate place as another level of sharing and a different way to express love.
Let’s not sell ourselves short or buy into the media messaging. It’s easy to learn a bunch of fancy sexual moves. What’s hard is to find the right relationship to have sex in.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.