The Best Sex Advice We Heard From Our Experts In 2023
With each year that passes, our collective understanding of what it means to honor our sexual selves continues to evolve. If all goes well, we leave behind old narratives about sex and desire that no longer serve us, and we allow ourselves to embrace new, more empowering approaches to intimacy—ones that prioritize more compassion for ourselves and our partners, more agency in our sexual endeavors, and more acceptance for the vast variety of ways people may experience their sexuality.
Throughout 2023, our sex experts talked to us about new ways of understanding timeless concepts like desire, consent, and eroticism. Ahead are some of our favorite bits of advice and wisdom we've gotten from them over the course of the year, that we know we'll be continuing to think about in the years to come:
Sex isn't necessary for a healthy relationship.
"Relationships absolutely can survive without sex. Relationships should only be sexual if all parties want to be having sex. Not everyone wants to have sex, and not all people consider sex to be an integral part of their partnerships.
"Lots of relationships have extended periods without sex, circumstantially or intentionally, and are still fulfilling sources of love and connection. This can ebb and flow or be a sustained context of the relationship. If both partners are in agreement to not have sex, then not having sex is not a problem and can bring people closer as they create the kind of relationship that honors their desires. The trouble is when folks are not in agreement about the sex they do or do not have; this can make sex a source of conflict and contention.
"Societal pressure to have sex or have a certain amount of sex is harmful to everyone. It is disembodying and coercive to feel forced to have sex, and people feel the impact of that even when the pressure is coming from a cultural script. … If folks do not want to have more sex than they are having, that is to be celebrated."
—Shadeen Francis, LMFT, sex and relationship therapist
Your partner's happiness is not more important than your satisfaction.
"You have the right to be satisfied.
"While it can sometimes feel easier to fake an orgasm, you're not doing yourself or your partner any favors. You have just as much right to sexual satisfaction as your partner, and they deserve a fair shot at pleasing you.
"We fake orgasms to keep other people happy because society tells us their happiness is more important than our sexuality, but it isn't. Never cheat yourself of a healthy sex life just because someone else wants you to smile and look happy.
"It's never too late to start talking about sex openly and honestly, and it's never a bad thing to try."
—Aliyah Moore, Ph.D., sex therapist
Consent is not enough.
"Even though I teach about consent, I believe we should have a higher standard for our sexual encounters.
"Oxford Languages' definition of consent is 'permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.' Kind of weak, no? It doesn't exactly sound like the state of someone who's burning with passion and longing.
"How about desire: 'a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen'? That, to me, is what we should expect from our sexual encounters.
In other words, make sure you're doing what you desire, not what you're just OK with. And make sure your partner is clearly desiring the same.
In healthy sexual encounters, both people actively want to engage in whatever's taking place. When one person is desiring it and the other's simply agreeing to it, there's an imbalance."
—Suzannah Weiss, sexologist, educator, and sex and love coach
Sex is awkward. Embrace it.
"Embrace the awkwardness that will inevitably come up.
"In intimacy, sometimes people strive to complete this choreographed dance where everything is super smooth as you're making out and simultaneously taking off your clothes in a fluid motion. But that doesn't always happen, especially when you're learning how to be intimate together. It's likelier it'll be a mess of elbows and knees. Instead of glossing over the awkwardness and moving on, it's better to laugh and let it be a part of what's happening.
"By leaning into the honesty of the moment, it shows that you're comfortable with yourself. This helps your person feel safer about being themselves and expressing their emotions as it comes up too. Plus, it makes it easier to be creative in sex when you can break the tension with a sense of humor."
—Julie Nguyen, relationship coach
Make eroticism your friend.
"Explore eroticism. We each have things that we find arousing. You can tune in to yours by thinking about your best sexual experiences, your fantasies, and your response to various erotic media.
"Once you (and your partner) each know more about what you find erotic, share this with each other. Approach this with curiosity and a whole lot of openness rather than judgment or criticism. Then, play in any overlap you find. This doesn't mean you have to DO the things you fantasize about, but you might find it hot to talk about, role play, or fantasize together that it is happening or about to happen."
—Jessa Zimmerman, M.A., sex therapist couples' counselor
If sex feels like a chore, it's because we've mentally made it into one.
"If sex is feeling like a chore, it's important to ask yourself why it feels that way. Does it feel that way because you feel sex is expected of you or that you expect it of your partner? Does it feel like something you think you should be doing?
"When something begins to feel like a chore, it's probably because we've mentally made it into one. I know—probably not what you wanted to hear, but alas, it's generally the truth.
"Sex, because of how our society portrays it, is made to seem like this extremely sexy event (which it absolutely can be) that happens naturally (which it can) every single time, and each person involved is pleasured to their desired need (which can happen). However, what society and media don't tell you is this: There's a lot of communication, intentionality, planning, and messiness involved in sex—like, a lot."
—Rachel Wright, LMFT, sex and mental health therapist
Don't wait for desire to strike.
"Some of what creates sexual disconnection in any scenario is misinformation, brought to you by almost any screen you've ever watched. You may be one of those people who walks down the street with every sixth thought being sexual. You may be partnered with someone who never has a sexual thought walking down that same street. The world often divides into these two groups, known as spontaneous and responsive sexual styles, and they usually partner with someone from the other group. Both are completely normal, but the spontaneous style is often the only one that is known.
"For responsive people, context is everything. Fatigue, preoccupation with a worry about a child, or a work deadline are total buzzkills. Another prominent feature of this group is that sexual desire tends to show up after they're engaged in touching. The biggest mistake people make is to assume that sexual desire should always be a prerequisite. This mistake leads to much lost opportunity!
"'I'm not in the mood' is not an uncommon thought for a responsive person. However, 'What could put me in the mood to be open to engage in physical touch?' opens up possibilities. Perhaps a conversation, a shared glass of wine or cup of tea, a foot massage, a hot bath, or your partner putting the kids to bed could change the context. There's a bridge between where your head is at the moment and where it could be—you just have to build it."
—Deborah J. Fox, MSW, sex therapist and couples' counselor
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter