Almost everyone wants to know what sex is like for other people. Or to put it another way, what is sexually “normal?” How often, how many minutes, how many orgasms, how many inches, how many partners, how much, where, when? And how?
I’ve spent decades not answering the “normal” question—from patients, the media, from my readers, radio listeners, lecture audiences.
Why? Because people inevitably use the information in terribly non-helpful ways. Both men and women want to compare themselves to some “average,” and judge themselves: either “I’m/we’re like other people, so I’m/we’re OK,” or “I’m/we’re not like other people, so I’m/we’re not OK.” Worst of all is, “I told you, you’re not normal.”
Those are all mistakes. If a sex life works for those involved, it’s fine. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. What others do is irrelevant. And what’s “normal” doesn’t predict the answer to "Does it work for you? Does it work for me?"
Nevertheless, after 35 years of refusing to answer the question, today I’m going to tell you—although not with numbers. In America, here’s what’s sexually normal:
Adults have sex when they’re tired.
After the first blushes of horniness wear off, most people save sex for when they’re too tired to do anything productive. Very few grownups (again, after the first 6-18 months of a relationship) say, “Honey, let’s spend Saturday night making love,” or “Oh, your parents are taking the kids tomorrow night? Let’s have sex instead of going out.”
When we’re tired, the sex is more likely to be short, perfunctory, goal-oriented, and mechanical. Little energy for kissing. No patience for stroking, nibbling, or whispering. And if something goes a little unplanned—a foot cramp, an erection that comes and goes, an uncooperative condom package—we’re more likely to say “You know what? Let’s just forget it.”
Many people are not sober during (or before) sex.
That’s usually because they’re nervous, or they want to reduce their partner’s inhibitions (or simply calm them down) by inviting them to drink. Or because sex is physically or emotionally uncomfortable.
When people are under-the-influence, of course, their decision-making is compromised. They’re less likely to use birth control, and less likely to communicate clearly. And they have less of that fine-motor coordination that makes touching and kissing gentle, graceful, and pleasant. Being clumsy in bed (and not realizing it) doesn’t exactly motivate one’s partner.
And it can be harder to climax, too. It depends on which drug, and how much.
Even intimates are often unsure what their partner likes.
After five or six months together, two people always know each other’s preferences in food, music, movies, driving styles, and Operating Systems. But sex? Many people hesitate to say (“I like to climax from oral sex more than from intercourse”), hesitate to show (“see, softer, like this”), hesitate to ask (“like this, or like that?”).
Imagine cooking dinner for someone and not knowing if they’re gluten-free or vegan. Imagine going on vacation with someone and not knowing if they are terrified of flying (or like to get drunk on airplanes). Now imagine being sexual with someone and not knowing what they like and don’t like. Or not believing that they’re satisfied when they say they’re satisfied.
Maybe that’s what your experience is like. It’s troubling, of course. And it’s “normal”—meaning it’s very common, and socially acceptable.
People frequently ask me about techniques or toys or positions for making sex better. Asking about someone’s preferences—and believing them—is the easiest way to improve our sexual experiences. It requires no equipment, no physical strength, and it’s free.
Many people using Viagra hide it from their partner.
I first predicted men would do this in 1999, and they’ve been doing it ever since. Partly it’s a pride thing (“I don’t want her to know I’m not man enough without it”), but partly it’s self-defense (“So Joe, I don’t turn you on enough?” “Sam, maybe you don’t really love me?”).
It’s true that many erection problems are about the guy’s emotions or the relationship (or both). But many aren’t. And even when yours (or your partner’s) is, the way to explore this is not with accusations, mind-reading, or defensiveness.
It must involve a series of collaborative conversations in which each partner learns more about the other, and the two eventually explore ways to enjoy sex that don’t require an erection.
I don’t say that everyone who takes Viagra has to tell their mate. But most relationships don’t need one more secret.