Sex provides some of life's most intoxicating moments ‑- and some of its biggest downers. Whether your experience has weighed heavier on the ups or the downs depends entirely on your "sexual blueprint." We all have one. It's our brain's reference for how we feel and think about sex. Influenced by everything we're presented with sexually, it starts forming in our subconscious on the day we're born. If you've been exposed to positive and healthy people and events, your blueprint will be positive, and your sex life will thrive. But if your sex life isn't as fabulous as you'd like it to be, it's time to figure out why ‑- and break the pattern. It comes down to these four saboteurs.
The genes you inherit influence your personality, your relationships with other people and your sex drive. If your mother or father had a high or low libido, there's a good chance you do too. We're all products of the generation before, and our parents' attitudes toward sex heavily influence our own. If you grew up with strict, religious parents who shuddered at the sight of bare knees and stuck to the stork story until you were 20, you will obviously have a different sexual blueprint from someone whose parents walked around naked and sent the kids off on dates with a wink and a condom. Even if you end up with strongly opposing views ‑- which often happens if parents' attitudes toward sex were extreme ‑- you're still reacting to their initial viewpoint. How your mother and father relate to each other sexually also has an effect. We learn how men treat women, how women treat men and how a sex life functions by the way our parents behave toward each other.
Almost all of us have a significant ex hovering hauntingly in the back of our mind. How this person made us feel about our body and sex often dictates how good in bed we think we are. A loving, emotionally generous ex leaves us feeling sexually secure, which means we'll most likely go on to other caring, satisfying relationships. A manipulative ex who constantly criticized us sets us up for more of the same.
Sometimes sex problems stem from an unhealthy obsession with an unfairly intoxicating ex who seemed to steal our libido along with that favorite CD. Some people still fantasize about an old lover months or years on (come on ‑- no one's that good), and all subsequent lovers come in a sad second place. Other exes sabotage our sex lives by acting as substitute boyfriends, stopping us from moving on. Sex with an ex is awfully tempting when you're both single, both horny and ‑- the clincher ‑- you've done it before.
Your Favorite TV Stars
There are two types of sex: manufactured and real. Manufactured sex is what you see dished up on TV and in the movies: sexual nirvana where everything and everyone is perfect. Real sex is what real people do ‑- and it's rarely, if ever, perfect. But we never get to witness people having real sex, so our perceptions are based on the fantasy celluloid version. Even though we intellectually know life really isn't like Wisteria Lane, if we tune in to Desperate Housewives often enough, our subconscious starts to believe it is. And we start feeling flawed because everyone on telly seems flawless.
Movie sex sets even higher ideals. Actors are chosen for their perfect bodies and faces, made up by world-famous makeup artists and then carefully positioned under millions of dollars of lighting, all meticulously designed to flatter. The perfect couple then poses, pouts, groans and moans their way to an earth-shattering simultaneous orgasm, leaving us jealous and wondering, Why can't I have that? The result is a nagging sense of sexual dissatisfaction and fear that we don't measure up.
We like to measure ourselves against the norm to find our place in the sexual pecking order. Intellectually, we all know it shouldn't matter what Dick and Jane do in bed. But unfortunately it does. If you're sitting in the coffee shop listening to your girlfriends rattle on about this guy and that guy and what Brad does and how wonderful it is when he does it, you're bound to feel peeved if the closest you get to an orgasm is eating a block of Hershey's. The trouble is, how do you know your friends are telling the truth? Who hasn't gone home after a tell-all confessional with the girls secretly feeling guilty for exaggerating because everyone else's sex lives sounded so interesting? According to the experts, we overplay and exaggerate our sexual prowess when we first meet people, out of a desire not to seem inferior. Quite the opposite happens once we become fast friends; then we exaggerate how bad things are.
As impressionable adolescents, friends teach each other the "how to" part of sex education: how to kiss, how to flirt, how to do naughty things behind the bleachers. The only problem is, our peers tend to suffer from "one-up-personship." All too often they'll say it was wonderful, when in fact it was awful. Then when we try it and, through embarrassment or lack of knowledge, also find it awful, we think we're getting it wrong. We've been told so many conflicting things about sex that it's not surprising it's a continuous source of unease.
Breaking the Pattern
Are you destined for misery if the people around you weren't exactly sexually inspiring? Not if you recognize the problem and actively set out to correct it, say psychologists. Here's how:
- Be aware of any stereotypes you've formed and actively challenge them. Write down the three main messages you got about sex from each of the people/categories listed in this article. Then write down healthier alternative messages you'd like to use to replace the distorted views. From this, take the five messages you most want to adopt about sex, pin them to your bedroom mirror and look at them daily. This will help your brain adjust your sexual blueprint.
- Educate yourself sexually. Arm yourself with some good sex manuals and start studying. Read the sections that talk about emotional feelings about sex as well as the technical how-to chapters on improving your love life. Education is power. The more evidence you have to dispute unhealthy sex messages, the more chance you have of changing them.
- Work on your self-esteem. If your experiences have left you seriously doubting your sexual appeal and attractiveness, surround yourself with people who give you confidence or take a few self-esteem-boosting courses to help get you back on track.
- Don't be afraid to seek help. If you feel seriously troubled or out of control, visit a counselor. Sometimes one or two sessions with an expert can save you years of soul searching!