Sex

Sexual FOMO: The Sex We Think Others Are Having

The fear-of-missing-out on sex. Helpful or harmful?

Posted Jul 13, 2020

Stephanie Swartz/Shutterstock
Source: Stephanie Swartz/Shutterstock

What are the Joneses doing this Saturday night? Likely not much. Social isolation has given us a peek into the lives of others (even the rich and famous) and, as it turns out, their lives may be a little less exciting than we imagined. Ordinarily, Instagram and Facebook promote our perfect selves, showing the fully made up and coiffed parts of our lives, forgoing the more mundane or “ugly” sides. Everyone else seems to be doing something fabulously exciting and always having a wonderful time! Constant exposure to this seemingly easy excitement is one reason we experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) of what others seem to have. 

But because of COVID we now know exactly what the Joneses are doing on a Saturday night, and they are holed up in their homes just like we are. Zoom calls are outing some of the most interesting people as introverts and homebodies. This unique glimpse into the ordinary lives of extraordinary people allows for an opportunity to put our FOMO imaginations into check.

As a sex therapist, I witness a unique form of FOMO through my clients: Sexual FOMO, the fear of missing out on the great sex we think everyone else is having.

Like regular FOMO, sexual FOMO is fueled by the media. After all, we all know that sex sells. But only a particular type of sex sells—easy, spontaneous, and “clean” sex. As a result, FOMO-sex falls into a predictable script, one that we have all seen repeatedly on large and small screens and in erotica and romance novels. You might recognize it, a magical energy effortlessly pulls two lovers together, bypassing laws of physics and physiology to create instantaneous, spectacular, and reciprocal lust. The FOMO-sex script assumes we have unwavering spontaneous erections, lasting natural lubrication, and multiple orgasms without the need for clitoral stimulation.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It would be if it were realistic. But real sex is slower, messier, and does not make for a glamorous scene in a movie. In reality, desire rarely happens in the same way for two people at the same time, erections wax and wane across a sexual encounter, and only 30 percent of women orgasm regularly without clitoral stimulation. The script for FOMO-sex is physically, emotionally, or relationally impossible to sustain. And yet with this easy and delicious version of sex regularly playing in our minds, it is understandable why so many of us fear missing out on it.

How common is sexual FOMO?

That is a question I recently asked several hundred people in an online survey and found that more than two-thirds of those who responded experience sexual FOMO at least some of the time, and more than one third reported feeling it most of the time or always. So sexual FOMO is the 'norm' with women feeling it more than men (more on women’s sexual FOMO).

'What' do we miss out on? Both men and women shared missing out on frequency, passion, and spontaneity in their sexuality. In other words, we would all like more sex where our lovers read our minds and know exactly the right thing do at exactly the right time. Nice. And it is entirely possible, in our fantasies.

So what makes for ‘actual’ great sex?

Because Zoom calls rarely cover the bedroom, it is more difficult to get a glimpse into the realistic sex lives of the Joneses. But Peggy Kleinplatz, a researcher of positive sexology, has published a book on just this topic. She studied the people in regular, long-term relationships who have “magnificent sex” and uncovered the elements that make up real (rather than fantasy) great sex.

One main finding was that magnificent-sex-participants rarely believe sex should be spontaneous or passionate. Their approach to sex means regularly exploring and communicating about sex. They find it exciting to learn new things about their partner and themselves. They plan what they want to do for themselves and exchange those ideas with their partner, the antithesis of spontaneity. Significantly, those who struggle sexually tend to look at these same considerations as “work.”

Recently a client confessed that he felt there must be something wrong with him because he and his wife were having trouble with sexual desire. “It seems so easy for everyone else,” he confessed. "My wife is hot, and I take care of myself too. This should not be happening to us." He was referring to the popular myth that sex should simply 'happen', spontaneously, and passionately for attractive, successful people. He had secretly been seething with sexual FOMO for over a decade, and unfortunately had blamed her for it. When I shared with him just how many of the best looking and most successful people were regularly in my office, he visibly relaxed. 

Intellectually we know better, but in our busy lives we want sex to be easy and spontaneous. We crave all the goodies of sex—the release, the connection, the excitement, and the joy—but see the realistic parts as, well, work.

Sexual FOMO: Good or bad?

Sexual FOMO is rampant. But lusting after spontaneous and effortless sex can increase the likelihood we will have more sexual dysfunction and lower sexual satisfaction that lead us off the track of magnificent sex. On the other hand, sexual FOMO is not all bad. It can remind us to stay active and energized sexually. It can lead us to communicate with our lovers in order to create even better sex.

The key is to know which parts of sex we should fear missing out on. 'Actual' good sex is made of these elements:

  • Staying in the moment when we are with our lover
  • Communicating our desires with our lover (more on knowing your erotic style)
  • Being genuine and transparent as we share our experience with our lover
  • Being vulnerable within and surrendering to the sexual engagement with our lover
  • Exploring our sexuality and taking risks (safely) with our lover
  • Laughter, or not taking it ourselves too seriously

We don’t have to follow the unproductive myths we are being fed by the media. We can reject what we imagine others are doing, and instead we can use this period of COVID—where we literally can’t go out to pursue fantasies elsewhere—for learning, planning, communicating, and focusing on being in the moment with our lover. We can create sex that is worth having, great sex that is based in reality and not some Hollywood script.

Facebook image: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

References

Kleinplatz, P. J., & Ménard, A. D. (2020). Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers. Routledge.

Read more:

What people are missing out on and why it is important for women’s sexual desire What are you missing out on in sex?  Tell us your sexual FOMO and find out your erotic preference style.