6 Secrets Sex Therapists Tell Their Friends

Illustration: Anna Sudit
There’s a bonus to having friends who help other people for a living: they can use their skills to help their mates, too. And just think of the tips that would be dropped into a chat with your BFF if they specialised in sex? Exactly. Sex therapists help clients with everything from wanting more sex, less sex or better sex to serious sexual dysfunction. They’ve seen, heard and learned what really works – and what doesn’t. So what do they tell their friends who come to them with a problem? We asked six pros that very question…
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Give yourself regular orgasms

Laurie Watson is a certified sex therapist, podcast host of FOREPLAY and author of Wanting Sex Again

The issue: When my friend first started having sex with her husband, she could reach orgasm easily because of (her words) “luck and excitement”. But she’d never really told him what she really liked during sex and, over time, she struggled to climax. When her orgasms stopped, so did her desire towards her husband and eventually I saw her shut down.

The advice: Firstly, I suggested she explain to him what was going on in this way: It's like two people going to a party, if only one person is going to have fun at the party, the other won't want to go. The metaphor confronts any partner’s misunderstanding that female orgasms are ‘just not a regular thing’, which is what her husband had shrugged off their issue as – and why he stopped ‘waiting’ for her during sex. Secondly, I bought her an Acuvibe vibrator (side note: I’ve given all my friends vibrators), which reaches the pleasurable nerves, the clitoral legs, deep in the pelvis.

Six months later, her husband called me complaining that she was only using the vibrator, and not interested in pleasing him. I nearly shrieked at him for being so selfish, but I told him to be patient, as I believed she was regaining confidence in her body. She was: The vibrator reminded my friend that she needed clitoral stimulation, and the more she used it, the more it triggered, and fed, her desire. But she also needed an emotional connection from her husband: he had to want to take the time to pleasure her. They started incorporating the vibrator into their love play, and even though it shouldn’t really be news, he learned that the clitoris – not the vagina – was the centre of her sexual universe.
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Don’t shut out negative thoughts – notice them

Dr Jenny Taitz is a clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy

The issue: The one thing my single male and female friends always ask me is how to stop worrying what a new partner is thinking about them during sex. One friend obsessed about it so much, someone stopped mid-session to ask if she was okay because she looked stressed.

The advice: I tell them it's totally normal to feel vulnerable and have thoughts that prevent us from feeling it during sex. But when it spirals, and they’re worrying whether the person they’ve hooked up with is having fun, at the expense of their own, they should practise 'turning the mind'. It’s a technique I teach my patients from dialectical behaviour therapy. So when something unhelpful pops up, like ‘Am I pleasing him/her well enough?’ or ‘Was his/her last Tinder date better than me?' instead of blocking the thought out, you acknowledge it but then ‘pivot’ and focus on something happening in that moment, for example, that their hands are on your body.

When we try and force negative thoughts out of our mind, they usually come back with momentum. Accepting and refocusing as often as you need to trains the brain to return to the present, and helps you focus on how sex actually feels for you.
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Get creative with touch and play

Kate Moyle is a psychosexual and relationship therapist and partner at Pillow app for couples

The issue: I had a friend who struggled to maintain an erection with his girlfriend. They’d been together a year and the second time it happened, they ended up arguing. She was convinced he didn’t find her attractive, but that wasn’t the reason. He’d been through a stressful time at work, which had knocked his confidence and left him worrying about things in an irrational way – including keeping an erection. After the row, he was too nervous to initiate sex, and a month later he called me thinking his girlfriend was 'probably right'.

The advice: I broke it down for him, logically: Did he still fancy his girlfriend? Yes. Has it only ever happened twice? Yes. Could he get an erection when he wasn't thinking about it, say, in the morning? Yes. I explained that many sexual problems are rooted in anxiety, and unfortunately the brain will prioritise anxiety over arousal as it thinks something is about to go wrong. The key was to work out the pressure point, which, for my friend, was intercourse. I suggested they ban it for a month and get creative with touch and play because skin-on-skin contact releases oxytocin – the hormone that helps us feel connected and intimate.

My friend said talking to his girlfriend about how he was feeling was a huge relief. She apologised for overreacting and they introduced sensual experiences to temporarily take the focus off intercourse, including undressing each other and lying naked together with their legs entwined before going to sleep. After doing this several times, they were so turned on by not having sex, that’s exactly what they ended up having.
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Farting during sex is NBD

Dr Debra Laino is a certified sexologist, therapist and national speaker on topics of human sexuality and health

The issue: A couple of months ago my friend farted loudly during sex. It had never happened to her before and she was mortified for days.

The advice: “It happens!” I told her. I also said that if her partner was turned off by this totally NATURAL bodily occurrence, then they were living in a fantasy and not worth her time. I also pointed out that if she continued to put pressure on herself never to pass gas ever again during sex, then sex would become awkward for her.

It might sound simple but the best thing to do in situations like this is to laugh about them. Embarrassment comes from taking ourselves too seriously, or setting expectations that aren’t always attainable or realistic. Sex gets hit hard when it comes to concepts of perfection but no one is perfect: we’re human. And we fart. Having a sense of humour about our eruptions, and ourselves, takes the edge off and can bring you and your partner closer together.
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Enjoying a spank doesn’t mean you’re a sex addict

Dr Tanisha M. Ranger is a licensed psychologist, certified sex addiction therapist and owner of Insight to Action LLC

The issue: One area I frequently get asked about from my friends, probably because I specialise in helping people with a sexual addiction, is whether masturbating every day, watching porn or engaging in consensual BDSM makes them a sex addict.

The advice: I tell them that when it comes to sexual addiction, it's not about what you do – it's about what those consensual sexual activities are doing to you. So if they’re not preventing you from maintaining and nurturing your relationships, fulfilling your obligations at work or feeling good about yourself then, no, you’re probably not dealing with sex addiction.

I also remind them that masturbation isn’t a negative thing – it’s a fabulous way to explore and satisfy your body and your sexuality on your own terms. But if you notice a negative pattern in your sexual behaviour, such as masturbating because you’re avoiding dealing with an emotion, watching so much porn that you’re missing out on important things, or not being able to engage sexually without a dominant/submissive aspect like spanking or binding – that’s when it can be problematic, and it's best to see a therapist. They can help you manage your emotions and provide strategies to overcome any negative associations to do with sex.
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Spend 20 minutes warming up for sex

Dr Jennifer Gunsaullus is a sociologist, sexologist and relationship, intimacy and sex coach

The issue: I’ve had girlfriends come to me about pain during sex, which unfortunately is really common. In one national study, a third of women said they experienced pain during their last sexual encounter.

The advice: After reassuring them that they’re not alone, I tell my friends there can be many reasons for sexual pain, and if it’s happening every time they have sex, or is particularly painful, they should see a doctor. Sometimes it’s a medical condition like vaginismus (when the vaginal muscles contract or tighten when you try to insert something into it) or vulvodynia (a burning sensation on the vulva). But one of the most common causes is friction and tension from lack of lubrication and arousal.

I asked one friend if things ‘moved quickly’ when she and her husband had sex? She said they went straight to intercourse within a few minutes. Ouch! Even if we think we’re raring to go, mental arousal can happen before blood flow to the genitals and production of natural lube. If you haven't warmed up for sex – and it can take 20 minutes for vaginal tissues to get sufficiently lubricated – penetration is going to be a pain.

It sounds simple but the solution can be slowing down and enjoying non-intercourse sexual play first. I reminded her that foreplay shouldn’t be an optional add-on to sex; it’s essential for female pleasure. I then asked what got her excited, and how she liked to be touched? She said she liked knowing her husband’s hopes for sex in advance, so she could shift gears into thinking about sex. She also liked it when he slowly kissed her neck and breasts, while sharing why he was attracted to her. It made her feel sexy and relaxed. I told her to share this with her husband so that they could approach this as a team. The next time we met, she said they were moving more at her body’s pace, noticing her breathing and being aware of whether she was aroused or tense – and after a few months, pleasure had replaced the pain.

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