Mistake 1: Assuming You Know How to Please a Woman
Some men assume that the way they've learned to please one woman works for all women. Not so.
"With each sexual partner you have, you gain a growing body of knowledge of female bodies and female pleasure," says Tristan Taormino, author of The Secrets of Great G-Spot Orgasms and Female Ejaculation. "But women's sexuality is complicated, and it's really individual."
Every woman's body responds in different ways to sensation, and every woman's anatomy is a little different. What feels amazing to one may do nothing -- or even cause discomfort -- for another. Patti Britton, PhD, MPH, a sexologist in Los Angeles, says, "That is the detective work you need to do each and every time. We really each have a sexual fingerprint."
When it comes to intercourse, one key variable is your thrusting technique: Does she like it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Or does she like to mix it up -- slow and shallow at first, and then fast and deep?
Also, no one sex position is every woman's favorite. She may prefer a certain sex position for several reasons. Different positions allow various angles of penetration, depending not only on her anatomy, but also the size and shape of your penis. Differences between partners' body shape and height may make some positions better than others. And for some women, it's important to have face-to-face intimacy during intercourse.
"I talk to tons of women who say, ‘I know missionary gets a bad rap, but I really like it.'" Taormino says. "Others say, ‘It's got to be from behind. People are really across the board when it comes to positions."
Mistake 2: "Let's (Not) Talk About Sex"
Most couples who seek counseling with sex therapist Chris Donaghue don't talk to each other about sex. Often that's because they don't have the words. Donaghue says many of them don't know, or aren't comfortable using correct terms.
For example, a guy might say "vagina" when he means the vulva. He may talk about "doing it," though it's not always clear what "it" is: Vaginal intercourse? Oral sex? "A lot of work initially is just getting them comfortable with those words," says Donaghue, host of Bad Sex, a reality TV series on Logo.
Taormino says if it's hard for your partner to say what she wants sexually, try asking specific instead of open-ended questions. "What do you like?" is an open-ended question that often doesn't get a useful answer.
"Do one thing then do another thing -- and then say, 'Which do you like better?'" Taormino says. "It's like a multiple-choice question. They don't have to write an essay. They just have to pick A or B."
Many men also think they should keep quiet during sex. Usually that's not a good thing. "There are far too many people having sex in silence in America," Taormino says. She says couples should give each other verbal cues during sex. "In my sex-ed videos, I really like them to talk to each other and ask each other what they want." She suggests using neutral prompts like, "harder," "slower," or "right there." (Same as directions you'd give to someone scratching your back.) "Give really basic, clear information," she says. "You don't have to be a sort of master dirty talker."
But dirty talk can be fun, too, says Britton, "if everyone's on the same page about it." And if you don't like talking dirty, you can still talk sexy without being lewd. "Telling her you want her can be highly arousing and get great results," Britton says. "But say, ‘I want you,' and not, ‘I want it.' That's the secret."
Don't hold back moans, grunts, and sighs either. "Sounds of sex are sexy and a turn-on," Britton says.
Mistake 3: Taking It Out of Context
Often men forget that sex doesn't happen in a vacuum. A man may wonder why he's unhappy with the sex he's having and not connect that with how he and his partner are getting along. A woman may not open up sexually with a partner if she doesn't feel safe emotionally with him. "For many women it takes a feeling of being vulnerable to let herself be explored," Britton says.
Your recent behavior follows you into bed with a woman, too. "She's still thinking about how you've been the week before, the day before, the hour before," Donaghue says. "Foreplay begins the week before, when you take the trash out."
Men can also be clueless about timing. "Very often I hear women complaining that, ‘My partner tries to initiate sex at the absolute wrong times, always,'" Taormino says. There's an easy fix for that, she says: "People let us know what they want all the time. I think we just have to pay attention."
A woman may literally tell you what she wants to do at various times of the day, Taormino says. If she doesn't mention sex, that might be a cue to wait. Men also have to remember that most women need more time than men to become aroused. "Men can get aroused quickly and get on their way," Taormino says. But for many women, the right time for sex would be when she isn't rushed.
Mistake 4: The "Get It Done" Mind-setMen tend to think of sex like a mission. They break it down into steps -- erection, foreplay, penetration -- aimed at achieving a main objective: orgasm.
That can be a mistake for a couple of reasons. One is that a whole world of sexual experience exists beyond the genitals. "Our entire body can be utilized as erotic," Donaghue says. "Look at the whole body as a map, and conquer all the territory."
"I know women who can have an orgasm from having their nipples played with," Taormino says. "There are women who love to kiss and make out. All of that is part of sex."
Another reason why it's a mistake to focus solely on orgasm is sometimes it doesn't happen -- even for men. At those times, people can end up feeling bad about sex that may have been good in other ways.
Taormino says some men get upset if they can't give a woman an orgasm. "I hear from women a lot that they're already putting pressure on themselves to have an orgasm, and there's an added layer from their partner," Taormino says. The women may say it's OK -- that they still enjoy sex without orgasm, and don't need to have one every time. "But these guys don't believe them," Taormino says, because they're locked in a goal-oriented mind-set. Their attitude is... Get that orgasm done!"
Donaghue says sex should be thought of as a circular process, like a merry-go-round that you can step on and off whenever you like. "There is no goal," he says. "There's no such thing as ‘not finishing' or failure."
Mistake 5: "I'm All She Needs"
Many women are interested in using, or have used, sex toys.
"Sex toys [represent] a place where men's egos can really get in the way and be bruised way too easily," Taormino says. A man may feel threatened by a woman's use of sex toys if he believes his own body parts should be enough to satisfy her. Taormino says men who reject sex toys "walk away from a really big opportunity to broaden their partner's pleasure."
A vibrator can deliver focused, consistent, intense stimulation that's impossible for a human to provide. Many women need that kind of stimulation to have an orgasm. "That's OK," Taormino says. "It doesn't mean she's broken. It doesn't mean she's strange."
"Bringing toys into sex play, and making toys a couples activity, is really the new paradigm," Britton says. There are also sex toys that can stimulate both partners at the same time. "Embrace it, get used to it, and go along for the ride, literally."
Mistake 6: Ringing the Doorbell
Most guys have a general idea of what the clitoris is and where to find it. But many don't know all there is to it. "The clitoris is not this tiny button on the outside of the body, which is what most people think it is," Taormino says.
The clitoris is often described as being wishbone shaped, and much of it is internal. The glans of the clitoris is the little "button" that you can see peeking out from the clitoral hood at the 12 o'clock position on the vulva. The body of the clitoris extends under the clitoral hood, then bends back and branches into two "legs" behind the labia. Below the legs are two bulbs of tissue that surround the urethra and vagina.
The entire clitoris is tissue that, like a man's penis, swells with blood when a woman becomes aroused. The whole body of the clitoris, not just the glans, is packed with nerves and highly sensitive. For many women, the glans is actually too sensitive to touch.
"Plenty of women don't want stimulation directly on the glans, like you're ringing a doorbell," Taormino says. Instead, they prefer stimulation on the internal body of the clitoris. Other women prefer indirect pressure or vibration that stimulates the clitoris through other areas of the vulva.
The majority of women need some clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm. And most women are not able to have an orgasm by vaginal sex alone. "Penile-vaginal sex is an inefficient means of producing a female orgasm. That's what an engineer would say," Britton says.
Mistake 7: Compare and Despair
Many guys have unrealistic beliefs about how often they should be having sex based on what they believe other people are doing. That can make them feel bad about themselves and unhappy in a relationship.
"They compare themselves to their peers, and they are convinced that everyone around them is having more sex and better sex than they are," Taormino says. "It's just not true."
How often men have sex varies greatly by their age and relationship status, according to a national survey published in 2010 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. That survey shows differences based on whether men were single, married, or had a long-term relationship other than marriage.
Age also mattered. For instance, married men tend to have sex less often every decade after age 30. But that doesn't mean that their sex lives got worse as they got older. How often you have sex may have little to do with how satisfied you are sexually, Taormino says.
"People say, 'We have sex a lot,' or, 'We only have a little,'" she says. "But when I probe further, what constitutes a lot or a little is wildly different."
And what you consider "a lot" or "a little" can change over time. Having sex twice a week might seem like a lot to you when you're single, and not so much when you're a newlywed. If you have kids and have been with your partner for a decade or more, it might seem like a lot again.
"We need to change our expectations and reframe how we think about this," Taormino says. "You've got to acknowledge that people change, the dynamic will change, and be OK with that."