Should You Have Sex by the Book?

Throw out the rules and see where passion takes you.

Posted May 01, 2014

I’m fascinated by the number of sex position books on the market. On my office shelves I can find the Kama Sutra, the Cookie Sutra (gingerbread cookies having sex), books for pregnant couples, for people who masturbate, for straight couples, for older people, for people wiith disabilities and chronic illness, for gays, for lesbians, for really limber people, and for people into bondage…to name a few.

As a sexuality educator, I know that some people need help figuring out how to work around arthritic joints, pelvic pain, disabilities, pregnant bellies, or hip replacements. And people trying new things can find it reassuring to do a little research first.

However, if you don't have specific concerns, to toss out the how-to books and enjoy the process of experimenting. After all, it doesn't matter whether you know the name of a position if you already enjoy it.

The U.S. is one of the most sexually conservative Western cultures in the world, despite our highly sexualized media. As a result of this conservatism, we have distressingly high rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. Shame, embarrassment, poor body image, and performance anxiety are a nasty mix that keeps people from fully enjoying their sexuality. The concerns people express to me often relate to issues including, “How do I know if I’m doing it right?” “How can I tell if my partner enjoys what I’m doing?” “If I don’t orgasm every time, will my partner stop trying?” “How can I get my partner to…?” “Do women really like that position where we…?”

In most cases, the answers can be found through experimentation. If you do something that makes your partner moan with delight, you can bet you’re “doing it right.” If you and your partner talk during lovemaking—or at a neutral time before or after—you’ll learn the answers to the other questions in the last paragraph.

A playful attitude goes a long way, too. If you’ve always wanted to try having sex standing against a wall, go for it! You just need a partner and a wall—you’ll figure out the mechanics once you take your height differential into account. Try facing each other with one person leaning their back against the wall. Then try it with both of you facing the wall with the person closest to the wall bending over a little or a lot. Try supporting a leg on a nearby chair or low table. Step closer or farther away from the wall. Lights on, lights off—you get the point. Sex position drawings can give you a hint of what’s possible, but the rest is up to you, your partner, your creativity, your physical abilities, and your flexibility.

When you're thinking about sex positions, toss out the shoulds, the oughts, and the doubts, and focus on what feels good for both of you. If a new position feels awkward, shift your weight, move your limbs differently, lean forward or back, or support yourself on a pillow. If it still doesn’t turn you on, chalk it up as a position that just doesn’t interest you, at least for now. 

Some people have a few favorite positions they return to again and again. Others prefer to change things up. Keep the sex position books in perspective: you're in the best position to decide what feels good to you. 

About the Author

Melanie Davis, MEd, PhD, CSE

Dr. Melanie Davis is a certified sexuality educator, professor, co-president of the Sexuality & Aging Consortium at Widener University, and author of “Look Within: A Woman’s Journal.”

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