The Best Sex Advice We Heard From Experts In 2020
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Amid everything that's happened this year, it's possible sex wasn't your top priority. But here at mbg, we believe intimacy can be a reprieve from the chaos—a source of much-needed relaxation, self-care, and pleasure. Below, here are some of the best tidbits of advice we received from our sexuality experts this year that you may have missed but will always be relevant when you're ready for them.
Couples need more nonsexual touch.
"I often talk with the couples I work with about the importance of nonsexual touch in a relationship. It is OK to tickle each other, rub your partner's back, or simply sit close side-by-side. Those things are intimate but do not have to lead to sex. It is important for your partner to understand that every time you touch them, it is not always an invitation to jump your bones."
—Kiaundra Jackson, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Remember that you're in charge of your own arousal.
"Girls continue to be raised with the expectation that their experience of sexual arousal and desire lies in the hands of another. With very little reality-based, concrete sex education to be had in schools or homes, girls, and later, women, don't always know the intricacies of their own bodies and how they work, what sensations mean or don't mean, how their sensory and physical responses (or lack of responses) connect to lust, arousal, and love, and even simply what feels good and what doesn't. If women don't know these things about themselves and their bodies, how likely is it that a partner will?
"Saddling your partner with a disproportionate amount of responsibility for your arousal can limit them and disempower you. It leaves you in a position where you're dependent on another person for your own sexual engagement. I'm not saying people shouldn't strive to get to know their partner's sexuality and sexual preferences or that there's no such thing as skilled lovemaking. I am saying that expecting your partner to arouse you can set up an all-or-nothing dynamic that blocks your own sexual desire. This expectation has as its subtext, 'Either you know how to arouse me, or you don't. If you don't, we're not a good match.' This can lead you down the path of unrealistic hopes and erotic rescue fantasies."
—Alicia Muñoz, LPC, couples' therapist
If you masturbate frequently, mix up your masturbation method every now and then.
"If a person enjoys masturbating in a specific routinized way (e.g., always sitting in a chair or to pornography or with a tight fist) and only masturbates in that way, they may notice difficulty maintaining their erectile or reaching orgasm in partnered sex if it doesn't mirror what they do when they're alone. To avoid this potential risk, men can try switching things up every so often in their masturbation practice, and they also could add in some of their solo play activities to partnered sex! This could look like watching porn together, trying mutual masturbation, showing their partner how they like to be touched or guiding their hands, having sex in the places you masturbate, or starting with partnered play and then bringing themselves to orgasm in the way they usually do."
—Shadeen Francis, LMFT, sex and relationship therapist
Have some type of sexual intimacy every 48 hours.
"Usually after doing some initial work with a couple, if both partners are open and willing, I will prescribe some form of sexual intimacy to be shared between the couple at least every 48 hours to speed up their reconnection.
"That's right: some kind of sexual intimacy every 48 hours.
"First of all, when I say 'have sexual intimacy every 48 hours,' I'm not talking about penis-in-vagina intercourse exclusively. It's important for couples to expand their definition of sex to include other forms of sexual intimacy such as sensate touch, sensual massage, manual stimulation, and naked cuddling, just to name a few. There are many types of sexual touch that can be physically pleasurable, and all of it helps couples foster more intimacy and connection."
—Sara Sloan, Ph.D., LMFT-A, sex therapist
Recognize the link between emotional and sexual intimacy in relationships.
"Emotional intimacy is being able to share your feelings. Being emotionally intimate with another person means being vulnerable and knowing that you're not going to be hurt by them. This ability to share your emotions, outlook, and feelings grows your connection as a couple.
"Sexual intimacy is being able to connect sexually with your partner in an emotionally and physically safe way. Sexual intimacy improves when two people can openly discuss needs, wants, or desires, creating a safe space where both individuals can communicate their physical and sexual needs without being judged.
"When you get your emotional needs met and feel emotionally connected to your partner (that is, you have emotional intimacy), then you're often more able and willing to connect sexually. In other words, emotional intimacy often bolsters sexual intimacy."
—Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, clinical sexologist and psychotherapist
Having a sexual health provider you really trust matters—especially for Black women.
"Sexual communication is not only vital to sexual relationships; it is essential for doctor-patient relationships. Meeting with health care professionals for preventive care and to discuss sexual health concerns leads to a better sex life. Unfortunately, much of Black history in America stems from elements of slavery that have affected several generations. Medical experimentation on Black bodies is not just a thing of the past, and that history comes with understandable mistrust of information and treatment from medical providers. Throughout history, Black women have endured medical mistreatment and tend to feel as if they are unseen and unheard.
"More than ever, Black women need access to quality sexual health care and, more importantly, a trusted medical provider. They deserve to feel like their sexual health care experiences are provided in a confidential, respectful, and nonjudgmental manner."
—Ashley Townes, Ph.D., MPH, public health researcher
If you open yourself to it, you can access orgasmic energy even without physical touch.
"The basic idea behind the energy orgasm is that we all have this potent stream of Eros within us, this sexual, creative, life force energy flowing and animating our being at all times. This flow is literally available to us continuously, but unfortunately, it's currently not socially acceptable to fall into an orgasmic swoon in public at any time of the day or night, so we generally hold our energy systems kind of tightly and keep our minds firmly in control of the situation.
"Due to a variety of factors, the vast majority of people only know how to access orgasmic energy when their genitals are being stimulated, with some requiring greater levels of stimulation than others to get to that place of energetic expansion and flow. (For some it is still frustratingly difficult to access orgasmic energy even with physical stimulation, possibly because the mind is stubbornly clinging on too tightly. This could be due to past traumas, feeling unsafe in one's body, the presence of physical pain, negative social conditioning or shame around sexual pleasure, unhelpful belief systems or patterns regarding one's sexuality, or any number of challenges.)
"An energy orgasm can also be called a 'mind-gasm' because you only have to 'let go' of your mind in a particular way to allow the power of this orgasmic flow to come through. You could say that most people may only 'let' themselves access it during genital stimulation, but once you know it's possible to connect with this energy without direct physical contact, it becomes vastly more available to you."
—Leslie Grace, R.N., registered nurse and certified tantra educator
"For couples who might be struggling with sexual intimacy but feel connected in other areas of the relationship, I recommend scheduling sex. Yes, I said schedule sex.
"This doesn't mean what you might be thinking it means. And it doesn't make sex less spontaneous. Scheduling sex is a way to show your partner that you want to prioritize sex just as you do other areas of importance in your life. Scheduling sex doesn't mean that your sex life will run on a schedule like, every Tuesday, at 8 p.m., in the missionary position, for six minutes. No, not like that.
"Sometimes scheduling sex is telling your partner to be naked when you get home."
—Shamyra Howard, LCSW, sex therapist
Reject the narratives about what you "should" be doing with life after 40.
"When you feel trapped in a box, you don't want to have sex. Truly making love is generative, free, expressive, and creative. It's a dance that takes place in an open field, not a dark tunnel. Love cannot be confined within walls. Trying to do so makes it die.
"This observation points to one of the key findings of my research and perhaps the most important 'secret.' It's not aging that causes our sex lives to decline. It's the feeling, conscious or subconscious, that we are trapped.
"This is why women of all ages invariably have a spike in libido when they start a new relationship and why having a deep spiritual understanding (of something bigger than ourselves) is associated with a better sex life. The truth is we are not and never were trapped. We put ourselves in a prison but forget we hold the key. Outside those walls is a world of infinite possibility.
"As I talked with the sexually woke, this theme came up over and over again. These women did not complain about aging; rather, they appreciated their newfound wisdom and freedom and universally described this as the best time of their lives."
—Susan Hardwick-Smith, MD, OB-GYN
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