How To Stop Seeking Validation Through Sex (Without Giving Up Sex Altogether)

It’s hard for me to talk about my 'wild' years, ages eighteen through twenty, when my friends and I would hit up nightclubs to make the most of being young and single. It was a time in my life where I was sowing my oats, to use a euphemism, or to put it bluntly, having casual sex
I’d love to be able to frame it in a fun, “yes, baby Shae, get yours” way, but I think if I did, it would be hiding a very real issue. With a lot of those hook-ups, what drove me to engage was not pleasure or desire, but validation. 
To have someone want me was confirmation of my attractiveness, and, in my lowest moments, even of my worth as a human being. My confidence was reliant on that weekly hook-up and ending the night without so much as a sneaky dance floor kiss felt like a failure. Guess I’ll never wear that dress again, I’d think, or why did I think that hair style looked good? or, in the extreme moments, wow, I’ll never find someone to love me. In defence of the dramatics, remember, I was eighteen and at the time, everything felt like the end of the world.
But this conflation of sex and validation isn’t something limited to my eighteen-year-old self. In fact, seeking validation from sex is something that I’m sure many of us can, in some way, relate to. It might not be to the extreme that I did, but there’s no doubt that sex can often be associated with a confirmation of desirability, want and even love.
“It's very normal to get turned on and enjoy being wanted and desired, and where is this feeling more powerful than during sex?", Alice Child, a certified somatic sexologist and sex counsellor, tells Refinery29 Australia. "In fact, if you think about the hottest sex you've ever had… it's very common for that feeling of 'being desired' or feeling like a 'sex god/goddess' to be at the heart of what makes it so erotic."
The notion of being desired becomes intertwined with sex, meaning that rejection or denial of sex is translated in our minds as us being, in some way, undesirable. Alice also adds that for many heterosexual people, growing up, the idea of getting attention from members of the opposite sex is often depicted as an accomplishment to be celebrated or envied. 
But is it always a bad thing to seek validation from sex? There is an innate human desire to feel needed in intimate relationships, and given the part that sex plays in intimate relationships, Alice explains that it can be okay to want to feel desired or empowered in the bedroom. 
“[Having sex for validation] can be healthy when you are comfortable about who you are," she says. "[That is], your sense of self is not tied to how others treat you, who wants to have sex with you, who doesn't and what others think of you."
So, definitely not if you’re insecure and have an incredibly low self-esteem, all while trying to navigate the early years of adulthood. But how do we know if our intentions behind a sexual encounter are purely for the pleasure and fun of it, and not coming from a place of insecurity? Alice outlines a set of questions that we can ask ourselves if we’re ever doubtful. 
— Is this doing harm, to myself or others? 
— Do I feel like I need sex to feel good about myself?  
— Do I feel good about myself day-to-day?
— How is my self-confidence at the moment?
— If somebody says 'no' to me, would it make me spiral or feel unworthy? 
— If I went without sex, would it impact my confidence?”
If sex does become entwined with validation, then it’s worth considering the long-term impact this can have if it’s not addressed. Alice points out that having sex for validation can be destructive and often harms rather than helps your self-confidence in the long term. This has the potential to leave a person vulnerable to dangerous situations and toxic relationships. 
“It means you are looking for outside validation to feel worthy and acceptable, which can be abused by others,” Alice says.
But the idea that sex is for validation and not for pleasure is a lesson that can be difficult to unlearn. When the two become intertwined, it can be hard to see sex as anything other than a thing done for the pleasure of someone else, and the assuaging of your own insecurities. 
Which begs the question of what kind of sex you are having, if it’s done purely out of validation. Are you then not asking for what you want in bed, for fear of rejection? You might be initiating the encounter, driven by this external need, but then become a passive player in the engagement, letting your own enjoyment take a back seat out of insecurity.
The good news is, it is possible to break the cycle. “Be gentle with yourself,” says Alice. “Consider what your insecurities might be at the moment; can you identify what is making you feel low in self-confidence and making you want to turn to sex for a short-term fix? Can you ask yourself what you actually want?” 
It might also be worth exploring if there are alternative ways to meet your needs in a healthier way. Alice suggests planning a chill night with friends, calling a loved one, having a self-care evening with a movie and a vibrator, or reaching out to a professional for support. 
It’s also important to look at ways that we can build our self-confidence that exist outside the bedroom. “Starting a new hobby, going travelling on your own, starting a new fitness routine, or learning a new skill,” are all good places to start, according to Alice.
As with any insecurities, there is no quick fix, so as much as we might wish we could wave a magic wand and have the confidence of Beyoncé, the truth is, these things can often be hard work and take time and effort. Looking inside ourselves to identify what drives our insecurities and then taking steps to address them is tricky stuff. The upside is, at the end of it all, you're likely to have better sex with, probably, better people. 
“Great sex is so often about feeling comfortable, confident and sexy in your own skin, which in turn, allows you to fully surrender and enjoy the experience,” Alice says. “There is nothing wrong with enjoying being wanted during sex — the issue is when you only feel good about yourself in the moment.”
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