How common is this sexual dynamic?
June 10, 2024 3:27 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to get a feeling for how common particular pattern that is present in my sexual relationship with my partner, and whether her or my (or both) of our reactions are reasonable.

I, (cis man) and my partner (cis woman) have been together for a long time. I have had one sexual partner before, my partner has only ever been with me.

I am.. quite a clumsy person, and find it hard to always be accurate in terms of what I intend to do during sex. Sometimes I can end up tickling where I mean to arouse. I also find sometimes during oral sex I can be inaccurate, or get stuck in a bad rhythm.

This is obviously not great, but my concern comes from my partner's reaction. She will often come across as quite cross with me when I make these mistakes. In particular she has more that once expressed frustration that we have been together such a long time but I still don't seem to have learnt much.

I find this unfair... Some of my failing are genuine mistakes, and some are due to what I perceived as inconsistencies (things that worked before not working now). She feels like I should have an instinct for what works but I don't feel like that's really possible .. I don't have the same sense as he

We do often have very good sex, but when it goes wrong it is often the same pattern, and can lead to the same arguments
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Of course, miscommunication and mismatches in style occur in many sexual relationships! Anecdotally, I've sometimes felt frustrated thst a partner was not reading me the right way during sex but at the same time, people are not mimd readers so it is on me to use my words to express exactly what I want.

I think this question will be impossible to answer in a useful way here as it needs a back-and-forth with both you and your partner to be constructive. I would recommend finding a sex positive couple's therapist to work on this together.
posted by Blissful at 4:33 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

She could stand to be a bit more patient with you, but it also sounds like she might still be anxious about sex and that kind of unique vulnerability if you're her first partner. Does she find foreplay fun in itself or does she want to just get through it to the fun bit? Do you?

Just like music, the main thing is practice, practice, practice.
posted by jy4m at 4:47 AM on June 10

Do you talk about your sex life outside of in the moment? If not - this is a good habit to get into, and offers an opportunity to ask your questions (I.e., this thing I do seemed to work before - does it not work for you anymore?) in an environment that’s less charged up. In the moment people are prone to frustration and feelings of inadequacy and shame because it’s often a very vulnerable environment already.
posted by openhearted at 5:03 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

Two things stick out for me here:

One is "a long time" is doing a lot of work. A year is a long time if you are young and you don't have a lot of sexual experience. A decade is a long time if you are an adult.

The other thing is "when it goes wrong it is often the same pattern, and can lead to the same arguments".

This is suggesting to me you're making the same mistakes about her body and her responses over and over again. I'd be annoyed too if I communicated to someone - to the point of an argument - that they way they are touching my body is uncomfortable or unpleasant, and then they did it again often enough for it to be a pattern, and often enough for it to be "a long time".

I think you need to sit down with her, outside of the bedroom as openhearted suggests, and point blank ask her what she wants you to stop doing - then stop doing it. Clumsiness doesn't make patterns.
posted by Jilder at 5:18 AM on June 10 [14 favorites]

Yes, it is common for men to be bad at sex and not even notice because it's so easy for them to enjoy themselves.

And yes the female body is complex and confusing but if you're a reasonably intelligent person, it's not outside of your reach to learn about it.

I don't think sitting down with your partner and asking her what she wants is going to help if you don't seem to be able to execute it. More importantly, if she is new at sex she probably doesn't even know what she wants, but if you love her and want a happy relationship, you just have to accept that it is your job to make sure the sex is pleasurable not just for yourself.

Instead I would recommend a scientific approach, really getting to understand the female sexual experience, and once you understand how the parts work together, you can start experimenting with it. I would not recomend using porn for this as it's often a purely male perspective and often unrealistic.

To be completely frank, if you want to preserve this relationship, stop worrying about whose reaction is "rational." She's giving you pretty clear signs that she's unhappy, so your choices are pretty much, shape up or ship out.
posted by winterportage at 5:55 AM on June 10 [23 favorites]

One thing I would recommend is trying to find ways to take pressure off her. A lot of women feel a lot of stress around being "difficult", around our bodies not always doing what we want them to do, around creating stress for our partners and relationships if we ask for what we want or if we can't do what our partners expect. If you're doing something that hurts her, she's probably spent at least some time suffering through that and hoping it starts to feel better soon or hoping you realize on your own so she doesn't have to say it again. And on the converse, being on edge waiting and wondering when the pain is coming again is a horrible way to enjoy sex and a quick way to become very reactive in a negative way.

So what breaks the cycle? Being positively surprised by your love, attention, and willingness/desire to listen.

So I recommend you create space where you're actively trying to do things that are good for her and you aren't in a rush, you aren't trying to "get to" the part where she pleasures you or follow a particular script about sex. Space where if she's having trouble orgasming and tries to brush you off you can say "does it still feel good? I want to do things that will make you feel good" and clearly really mean it, where you can ask her how she likes to touch herself or work together to explore toys and different types of touch.
posted by Lady Li at 6:10 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]

"what I perceived as inconsistencies (things that worked before not working now)"

This could use some reframing. For many, many people, sexual response isn't a vending machine where you put in stimulus x and get back response y: "inconsistencies" like this should be where your expectations are set.

Good sex between two people involves, at the very least:

a) the pleasure-giver in that particular moment being attentive to how your lover is responding, knowing them well enough to read their signals and responses and change approaches when something's not working, and asking if you're not sure, and

b) the pleasure-receiver in that moment to be aware of how their body is responding and communicating what is or isn't working. If your sole strategy for satisfying sex is for your partner to be a mind reader, that's going to come with a fair amount of disappointment.

I would also be unhappy if I were repeatedly running into a situation where my partner was not really intimately attuned to me and my body during sex, but this does take two. If she's less sexually experienced she may need to develop some vocabulary and comfort with talking about sex, outside of and during. It might work for the two of you to find a book to read together about increasing sexual intimacy, approaching this as an "us" problem rather than a question of who is more reasonable or right. I bet the homework would be fun.
posted by wormtales at 6:11 AM on June 10 [8 favorites]

Another thing you can do is try to learn on your own. There are guides out there on how to give oral sex that are pretty straightforward about, say, things many women don't like. You could take a class on massage to learn some things about ways to touch people (and not to). If she has injuries you can ask about them and do some separate reading. Show that you CARE about her not being in pain, and not just about her not bothering you with her pain.
posted by Lady Li at 6:13 AM on June 10

If you haven't already, you may want to try being more mindful during sex. Really focus on what you are doing and why, and how she is responding, instead of just anxiously/ out of habit doing whatever. So if you are "inaccurate" you adjust immediately, and you don't get "stuck in a bad rhythm" because you aren't doing anything mechanically.
posted by metasarah at 6:24 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

>She feels like I should have an instinct for what works but I don't feel like that's really possible

That isn't really possible, unless you luck into a pairing of people whose instincts perfectly line up with the other's needs. There are no universal techniques. You can and probably should read a guide on how women in general like to be touched BUT your partner is a specific person, with specific needs that probably differ from the generic advice. I have only been with a few women but they all had very different ways they wanted to be touched, and more often than not what they liked conflicted with each other and with the "book learning" .

Ultimately the two of you need to find a way to communicate about what she wants you to do. This is not easy! Talking about sex is not something everyone is comfortable doing. But it's important. every body is different, and what works for one person doesn't work for another. Even more challenging is something that her body feels as as arousing during foreplay may feel horribly ticklish a little later.

If you two aren't comfortable talking during sex, then maybe you can work on non verbal signals. A way to signal faster, slower, stop, harder, softer, etc. If you're stuck in a bad rhythm, she should be able to tell you that, rather than suffering passively.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 6:36 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

One possibility that I suspect y'all haven't tried is working on non-sexual touch with lots of communication. If she's up for it, take a bunch of time learning to give her a backrub that she enjoys! Ask about pressure, speed, location. Pay attention to her nonverbal signals. If she gives a signal you're not sure how to interpret, freeze and ask for clarification. This will take a while - like, many sessions. But if you both are on board with learning, it will help you both a ton with getting a solid channel of communication and mutually agreed-on signals that you can then translate to sex.

Note: it is critically important that, if you're doing this, that it stay non-sexual, and if you find yourself getting too aroused, stop. If you're aroused, you are going to have a much harder time paying attention to *her*, and you need that communications base in place before you can effectively cross that line. Doesn't mean you have to stop having sex, but it means that the sex and the touching practice need to stay bright-line separate.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:00 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]

You might appreciate OMG Yes, a research based site that helps you both learn what works for many women, but also grounds you in how to work on it together.
posted by advicepig at 7:37 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]

The "Show me how you want to be touched" method is potentially useful here."

Take touch. There are broadly speaking four levels of touch when stroking someone - feather light, delicate touching; lightly stroking; firm, pressing slightly; and deep, dragging touch like when you give someone a massage where you clench a little bit. It could be your lover is requesting the second of these, lightly stroking, but your touch is varying between the first and the third.

The easiest way to figure that out is to request that you both shed a few garments, sit down together and practice your touches. The lightest touch and the third touch are the ones most likely to tickle, but any one of the four could be the degree of pressure most likely to make her feel tickled. She first tells you how firmly she wants to be touched. She both tells you and demonstrates. But if she tells you that she likes touch intensity #two best, you don't take that as the one and only way she ever will want to be touched, and never touch her more firmly... while slowly over the weeks forgetting exactly how firmly until your touch has become feather light again. It's probably a good idea to recalibrate how firmly she wants to be touched at the beginning of every session. You can recalibrate wordlessly, once you are in the habit of beginning each session that way. Maybe today she's in the mood for gentle. Maybe tomorrow she's going to want firm and urgent.

Treat this as deliberately as you would while learning the nuance of any task where being slightly off is going to produce a disappointing result, the same as if you were working to improve your drawing, or cooking with spices, or hitting the target at the range. The learning stage can make us feel insecure, but toughing through the insecurity is how we get better at it.

Another issue may be one of proprioception. There are a lot of people who can either know what their left hand is doing, or their right hand but not both. These are the people who can't safely walk down the hall carrying an overfull mug and an overfull plate of cookies. Either cocoa or some of the cookies are going to end up on the floor. Additionally they are the ones who often have minor injuries because they were just reaching up to the top shelf and somehow managed to crack their knee on one of the lower cupboards. Everyone falls somewhere on this spectrum of being aware of their body, between the ones who can't walk down the sidewalk without risk of staggering into a lamp post and the figure skater who does a triple axel on the ice. If you describe yourself as clumsy, chances are you're not as close to the figure skater end of the spectrum as you'd like.

The solution to that is to take two trips when you have to carry cocoa and cookies down the hall, or in your case to not try to do two things in bed at the same time. Let's say a few times you have run into trouble while giving her head and jerking yourself off, because you're both supposed to be headed for orgasm and she's not getting there. Mutual orgasms are nice idea, but for a lot of people they don't work. If you can't reliably give her pleasure while jerking, then you have to stop jerking while bringing her to orgasm.

It is very difficult to read another person's subtle signs of arousal, especially with some restrained people who don't thrash and moan and pant and give uncontrollable pelvic twitches. I had a lover who showed no visible signs in her tensed up body as she was getting closer to orgasm - except that the beaming smile on her face got bigger and bigger. As a signal that I was doing the right thing, this presented problems. You can't see someone's face while you are giving head. Of course it would be nice if your lover were able to give you lots of clearly visible feedback, but it sounds like in your case she feels like she has already given you the feedback and it is being ignored.

Can you change what you are doing so you are in a better position to see whatever responses she is showing? In the case of my lover, either bobbing up and down repeatedly to get a glimpse of her face could work, as could learning to pleasure her with my hand while I keep an eye on her face. In the case of your partner, you may want to work on learning to observe her more closely until you are sure you can perceive the signals of "this is working" and "this feels good but is going nowhere." To be a good lover, you want to cultivate a fascination with her body and its responses, and not just to aim for the orgasm, but also to learn the different physical responses between when what your are doing is relaxing her and she is feeling safe and comfortable - signaled by her going limp - and this is making her feel cherished, which manifests as her leaning towards you.

At-the-time communication is key. You can only go so far with instructions like "I like it when you stroke me firmly and I like oral, but for god's sake don't just suck, that gets too intense and then I'll be too annoyed to be able to cum." You probably need to ask her to give you a bit more immediate feedback, if she can, and between you come up with the kind of feedback that you can perceive and which won't ruin the flow of things. Her giving your head a slight side-to-side shake to signal less sucking, can alert you to the fact that it's time to vary your technique a bit.

You're doing something very right, if you have a long term partner. There are a lot of people who don't get a second chance because they are so awful at sex. She's still having sex with you, so she's just looking for some minor modifications. She's letting you know that she has feelings about how this could be better, and while it seems to be looming as a challenge, this is something you can do. Even if you are god awful clumsy, oops did I just kneel on your boob?, Honey, I am so sorry what did I do to make you start crying? bad there is a lot you can do to improve the experience for both of you, by setting yourself the goal of learning to read her in-the-moment reactions better, and learning what her erogenous zones are and what different ways exist that make her curl her toes with pleasure.

Nothing always works. That's expected. That's the norm. Some nights she's not going to want sex at all. Sometimes enthusiastic oral will work. Other nights enthusiastic oral will not. You don't have the same breakfast every day for the rest of your life, and she isn't going to want the same sexual experience night after night. The important thing is to be open to hearing her feedback, but still trying to gather data about what sometimes works for her and what sometimes doesn't without putting her on the spot to do all the work and tell you. You want to regard the project as making an already good thing better.

Communication issues in sex is bog standard common. A lot of people are shy to say what they want. A lot of people get so caught up in things they need to do themselves to enjoy sex that they don't see what their partner needs and neglect them. A lot of people are uncomfortable with feedback because they don't want to be ordered around. A lot of couples are not entirely well matched in their tastes. A guy who loves going down on his partner can end up with a partner who doesn't enjoy getting oral. Often a woman can't orgasm in the only position where her partner can, and visa versa. The way through is affectionate commitment. As long as you both can say, "I want you to feel good. That's really important to me," then you can fine tune what is going on.

Sometimes, of course major changes will be required. Again, normal. A couple can fall into a nice comfortable pattern, and then things change and what used to work for them both entirely stops working for one of them. It's safe to assume that the positions and mechanical techniques that worked when you first stared having sex are going to change, because they always do. It's safe to assume that one or both partners will find the need to change frustrating. Not a bug, a feature. Adapting to varying needs is how you build long term closeness and bond more firmly. This is your opportunity to get even better at sex and communication instead of falling into a rut that would get more and more unfulfilling with time.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:37 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

It's somewhat hard to answer this question without knowing how long "a long time" is, or how much she's communicated to you in the past about what she likes/doesn't like. But, it does sound like she's being a bit harsh - even if you're in-tune with someone occasionally things happen (i.e. farts) at inopportune moments and I think it's useful to be able to just laugh off a slight mistake/misstep. But, as people have mentioned, maybe her anger is masking anxiety or some other buried feelings - which you'll only know about if you have an open discussion. In short, I agree that your question shouldn't be "is this reasonable" but "how do we get to a place where sex can be a low-stakes/stress free space of exploration and fun" and the answer to that is likely much more communication.
posted by coffeecat at 7:58 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

She feels like I should have an instinct for what works but I don't feel like that's really possible

So: this is a thing that’s possible with people in very long term relationships or who have known each other a long time. It’s not about having an instinct for the specific bodily moves, but rather knowing your partner’s facial expressions and sounds so well that you can recognize something that’s even starting to not work and can instantly adapt. But I share the other posters thoughts on “a long time” can mean a lot of different things. I’ve known my partner (cis man) for over a decade. Even before we were sleeping together, he can recognize changes from the slightest alteration of my verbal intonation. Your “long time” might just be several months - not really enough time to learn things that deeply.

But one reason your partner is probably getting upset is an idea that often has some basis, which is that sexually experienced men who aren’t paying attention to what their partner likes and doesn’t like often don’t have deep emotional feelings for those women. Your partner is sensitive and needs to be reassured that you love her and care about her (if it’s true).

You also sound like you may not be particularly sexually experienced, if you’ve only had one partner before. You say you “get into a bad rhythm” - that sounds especially like you’re a little nervous about what you’re doing and are focused on trying so hard that you don’t notice her reactions. This is reallly common with sexually inexperienced people of both genders who are worried about being “good in bed”. If this is you, I would consider talking about that fear and worry with her. Tell her you care about her and worry you won’t be good and are trying really hard to please her, and that’s why you’ve been hyper focusing sometimes. And communicate, when out of bed, about what she *does* like.
posted by corb at 8:23 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

She feels like I should have an instinct for what works but I don't feel like that's really possible

It isn’t, and expecting telepathy is always a red flag in a relationship. You both need to use your words if this is going to work out. It can be embarrassing at first and you both need to be on the same page that you two together are solving a common problem, but it’s worth it.

And definitely talk about this outside of the bedroom. Communication about what you want while you’re being intimate is also useful, but there’s a lot to be said when you’re both not so distracted.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:00 AM on June 10

Jilder: This is suggesting to me you're making the same mistakes about her body and her responses over and over again. I'd be annoyed too if I communicated to someone - to the point of an argument - that they way they are touching my body is uncomfortable or unpleasant, and then they did it again often enough for it to be a pattern, and often enough for it to be "a long time".

I think you need to sit down with her, outside of the bedroom as openhearted suggests, and point blank ask her what she wants you to stop doing - then stop doing it. Clumsiness doesn't make patterns.

Strongly seconding this comment. I do think based on the information you've given, that's what the dynamic is here and that this is good advice. (I can't speak to your question of how common this dynamic is and I think it's a red herring anyway; your question isn't "if I polled 100 couples, how many experience this?", it's "how can I work with her to make things better?")

I also think you can communicate more in the bedroom - "does this feel good?" and "can I do X?" - which can be sexy in itself.
posted by capricorn at 10:48 AM on June 10

This doesn't sound like clumsiness, so much as, not paying attention to how her body responds when she enjoys or doesn't enjoy something.
This... Actually doesn't need verbal communication, and it's actually pretty hard for most people to keep up a fine level of verbal communication when they're trying too, or close too, coming.

If you haven't yet learned how she tenses up or relaxes, when she likes or dislikes something, or secondarily her facial expression, then a final signal that is easier when people have trouble with words is to ask her to use a hand to provide a permanent thumbs up 👍, sideways, or thumbs down 👎.

Body language *isn't* mind reading, but it is a language that needs attention to be learned.
posted by Elysum at 3:28 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]

« Older "Invisible" phone/ wallpaper   |   Are these really otters? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments