Did you enjoy sex the last time you had it?
More than 20% of Aussie women say they didn’t.
Bad sex can be defined in many ways, including not orgasming, emotional or physical discomfort, pain or just plain staring-at-the-ceiling boredom.
It’s also missing the things that make up good sex: connection, compatibility and communication, according to sex and relationships therapist Lisa Torney.
And while many of us have likely had a questionable hook-up we can laugh about with mates, what happens when bad sex is your life?
Ladies, We Need to Talk spoke to women who know bad sex like the back of their hand (or the ceiling of their bedroom) to hear about what it looks like for them.
‘My husband doesn’t want to have sex with me’
Fifteen years ago, 52-year-old Danielle* married the love of her life.
In the beginning, they “didn’t leave the bed for three months”, she recalls.
The sex was great and easy, but Danielle says that’s a distant memory now.
Despite saying she’s married to the “world’s best bloke”, it’s been years since she enjoyed sex.
That’s mainly because her advances are often rejected.
“All the planets need to align for it to happen,” she says.
Her husband also struggles to get an erection without Viagra.
(He’s not alone — 1 million men in Australia have erectile dysfunction.)
There’s an assumption that men want more sex than women, according to Ms Torney, which she says is incorrect.
Apparently just as many women are getting turned down as men.
“It’s embarrassing,” says Danielle, “How can I say to people, ‘My husband doesn’t want to have sex with me?’ How do I say that over Friday night wine?”
Constantly being rejected makes her feel “like shit all the time”, and talking about it with her husband hasn’t helped the situation.
“No man wants to hear he’s not satisfying his wife,” she says.
“He’s instantly defensive. It’s such an awkward conversation … We’ve talked to the point [where] he’s sick of me talking about it.”
The couple have children who have left home, and while Danielle says she’s thought about leaving, she feels bound by a house and mortgage, and the fact she does actually want a relationship with her husband.
“And that means everything from walking the dog to going out for dinner to coming home and having sex and having an orgasm,” she says.
“This is our relationship and I’ve just got to try and make it work somehow.”
‘I was grimacing in pain’
Sarah’s* ex-husband wanted sex several times a week.
She dreaded it.
She wasn’t attracted to him and found the sex painful.
Sarah says she struggled to speak up so regularly gave in to his requests, which involved him “persistently sort of grinding” on her leg in bed.
“Yeah that makes me feel a bit sick thinking about it,” she says.
“He was very dominant and really selfish and there just wasn’t much room for me and I sort of allowed that to continue and I didn’t speak up enough.
“I wouldn’t initiate sex because I had all these negative emotions around it.”
Sex could last 45 minutes and if she was caught looking at the clock, for example, she was called out.
“I remember once, you know we were having sex and he said to me ‘You’re grimacing, you could look like you’re enjoying it’.
“I was grimacing in pain … I just wanted him to maybe say ‘We should stop’ or ‘Are you OK, is this OK?’”
A year-and-a-half into their marriage, Sarah discovered her husband was sleeping with her best friend and consequently they split.
That was a blessing in disguise for her sex life.
“There was this really good-looking guy at work and we started hanging out,” she says.
“We ended up at my place and it was incredible. And I was like, ‘Oh my God I’m loving this. This is amazing. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m alive’.”
Sarah says that awakening helped her realise that it’s OK to say no, and that speaking up is important.
“Whether it’s to a friend or a doctor or psychologist or the person you’re having sex with.”
‘It was a chore’
Bad sex can also be as simple as sleeping with a selfish lover.
Zoe’s first girlfriend was a great partner but terrible in bed.
She’d heard that lesbian sex was full of foreplay and was really looking forward to that.
“Initially I just thought she was into quickies … But she ultimately wanted to orgasm and didn’t really care whether I did,” she says.
“The vibe was that it was a chore and I could sense that.”
Despite having loads of sex during the one-and-a-half years they were together, Zoe estimates she had about seven orgasms.
She says whenever she raised it, it felt like she was begging. It was easier to just focus on the good parts of their relationship.
“I was a service I think … maybe she just wasn’t gay.”
Making bad sex better
Communication is the most important step to improved sex, Ms Torney says, although she acknowledges it’s not easy.
“There is still a lot of repression about talking about sex [in society],” she says.
For women especially, it’s difficult to be clear about what they want in the bedroom.
“We’re taught that our pleasure isn’t a priority and we prioritise the needs of others ahead of our own.”
Ms Torney says taking sex conversations outside of the bedroom can make it less awkward.
“Have a table conversation when you’re having a cup of tea, or when you’re having brunch or going for a walk on the beach or you’re driving in the car,” she suggests.
“It can be less threatening, less difficult because it’s pretty hard if you’re naked in bed and you’re in a sexual situation and then try to have a conversation about what’s working and what’s not working.”
She’s also a fan of using playfulness.
“You’re taking your clothes off … use that moment to say, ‘Hey what do you like?’ … Tell me some fun things you’ve done.”
Other than good sex obviously feeling good, Ms Torney says it’s important for bonding in intimate relationships.
“Just the beautiful feelings of all those chemicals that get released and all that oxytocin and serotonin and the beautiful health benefits,” she says.
“It’s just marvellous for sharing intimacy but also being able to talk about your shared goals and interests and feel really bonded to one another.”
*Names have been changed for privacy
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