Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Sex Rules & Etiquette: Things You Never Do During Sex, Tips

Striking the balance between passion and politeness can be challenging.

Sex is a delicate subject and an even more delicate act, casting two individuals in a highly vulnerable but potentially satisfying mutual experience. The laundry list of things you should never say or do during sex is long, but most of them are commonplace errors everyone already knows to avoid. A few sex behaviors, however, continue to cause problems in relationships, evidenced by reader mail I receive and confessions I’m a party to in my own practice as a therapist.

Rule # 1: Don't bite without asking first.

The possible repertoire of sexual behaviors two people can engage in during sex is truly endless, and leafing through the Joy of Sex will erase any doubts you may have. Many men and women find light biting during sex to be both stimulating and pleasurable, but that doesn’t mean that biting is for everyone. Both men and women alike often enjoy having their nipple lightly bitten, but no one should engage in biting — even if lightly, thank you very much — without first asking the other if it’s okay. If we look at this behavior psychologically, it can be interpreted as aggressive and controlling without first getting the green light to proceed. If you want to ramp up the nibbling to something closer to biting, ask your partner, “Is it okay if I do it a little harder?” You’ll get more trust from your partner if you show that you’re as focused on their pleasure as your own.

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Rule # 2: Don't make a judgmental comment or facial expression in response to your partner’s unusual sexual request.

Let’s be painfully honest: people can like some pretty wild stuff in the sack. As long as sexual behavior is between two consenting adults and doesn’t cause any physical harm, I believe that the complete menu of sexual activities — normal or strange — is legitimate. In other words, if you’re in a relationship and you want to try a particular sexual activity, it’s valid for you to ask for it.

Things get complicated when your partner comes to you and asks for something that you’re not comfortable with or interested in trying — ever. It’s during sex that sexual requests are most frequently made, so be careful how you respond to a sexual request in the heat of passion. Too often, Partner A asks for something a little unusual, and Partner B feels shocked or turned off, and shows a visible “Oh God!” expression on his or her face. Such a reaction can make the requesting partner feel ashamed and embarrassed, and no one wants to feel like a freak when they're supposed to be having a loving exchange with their partner. Setting up a dynamic where judgment enters the bedroom undoes the most sacred factor: trust. Please, make a conscious effort to never judge your partner’s sexual requests.

Rule # 3: Don't express any negative feelings about your partner’s performance problem.

Men's and women's bodies undoubtedly function in complicated and different ways, and psychological factors make sexual performance issues even more difficult to understand. Often, for example, performance problems in the bedroom relate to the man's inability to get or maintain an erection. The situation, if the problem persists for a while, can be frustrating for the woman for obvious reasons, but it can also cause her to take his performance problem personally. In other words, she may wonder, Is it me? Is there something I'm doing wrong? In such instances, the woman should not express her frustration with him, or ask for him to reassure her at that very moment.

During sexual activity, never express your negative feelings about your partner's performance in the heat of the moment. The stakes are high in these situations, as each partner is flooded with all kinds of feelings: frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, and even anger. Your feelings are fine, but wait to express them until later when you both feel safe and composed again — and you're clothed.

Final Words: Keeping in mind these three simple rules will prevent potential mishaps in the bedroom that have sidelined other couples and brought them into couples therapy. Taking conscious inventory of your own behavior during sex can make your relationship and overall sex life much more enjoyable and problem-free.

PLUS: Check out my book on how to stop repeating the same old, dysfunctional patterns in your relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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