Obviously, what each woman wants from sex is individual. Some want more of it, some want less of it. Some love a duet, others would much rather go solo. But one thing’s for certain. This year has changed our relationship with sex. We’re far more likely to seek out sexual wellness online now, than we were 10 months ago. Brands like Cult Beauty have seen a staggering 80% hike in interest around its female wellness category compared to last year. And sales of sex products on the website have seen an average increase of 61% since March.
It’s a similar story at Singapore-based fem tech brand, Smile Makers. Revenue doubled for the brand and traffic to its site surged when lockdowns first began in February. It’s a trend they saw play out around the world as more cities imposed sanctions. And the uptick in interest has remained consistent across this long and unprecedented year, spiking once again in the UK with the introduction of Lockdown 2.0.
Of course, it’s not all been one long romp. Hilariously, 59% of Brits agreed that completing household chores feels better than sex – because nothing turns us on quite as much as a sparkling-clean sink. Even so, it’s little surprise that the stress of this year has led to more of us looking for a release – and sex has stepped up to satisfy that need. “The very act of sexual intercourse produces a large rise in levels of brain neurotransmitters, resulting in feelings of elation and happiness,” confirms Dr Deborah Lee, from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.
Those long empty nights full of cancelled plans? They seem to have been put to good use, triggering a sexual awakening. Many have been using this time to increase their own sexual wellbeing as well as broadening their sexual education.
Throughout this year, Smile Makers community portal, Vulva Talks, has been inundated by women (looking to improve and expand their sex lives) submitting questions to the sexperts.
We asked intimacy coach, Lisa Welsh, who works with Smile Makers to answer the questions women want to know:
Why do I find it difficult to reach an orgasm with a partner?
This is one of the most-asked questions received by Smile Makers. But the answer is complex and may be down to a few reasons.
"The first problem is that the endgame of having sex with a partner is generally to finish with an orgasm. Of course, having an orgasm feels incredible and it’s understandable to wish for it. But focusing sex with a partner on the achievement of an orgasm can trigger performance anxiety and take one’s mind off of the present moment and of sexual pleasure, making it even less likely that you'll climax," explains Lisa.
Add to that body worries and awkwardness and it can feel very distracting. "The more the pressure piles up, the more the pleasure shrinks away," says Lisa. "So, instead of worrying about whether you’re going to orgasm, try to keep your attention on what is happening in the moment. Focus on the sensations in your body, the connection with your partner and follow your pleasure!"
The second issue (with heterosexual sex), is thinking that an orgasm with a partner has to be achieved through penetrative vaginal sex, and that orgasms induced by external stimulation don’t really count. "The majority of your nerve endings are in the vulva and clitoris, which are often overlooked during intercourse," says Lisa, so it's worth focusing your attention there as that's where the reallllllly good stuff happens.
Basically (sorry blokes), you don't always need to get your manhood involved. Our collective obsession with penetrative intercourse won't benefit the majority of vulva-owners. A recent study by Smile Makers found that only 16% of respondents said they could climax from internal stimulation alone. "It's very common not to orgasm through intercourse only," says Lisa. "Often, it's most helpful to mix external and internal stimulation if you’re having penetrative sex." Break it to him gently, eh.
What can I do if my partner and I don’t have the same sex drive?
Sound familiar? This is very common "and it in no way means your partner is less attracted to you or you to them," says Lisa. You could love each other to bits, but sex drive can be impacted by a number of factors that have nothing to do with you or your partner. Stress, medication, sleep deprivation and overall wellbeing can all play into it. But, "there are a couple of things you can do to help match each other’s moods," says Lisa. "One that's free and easy is to make time during the day for each other. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time [a lunch break, a chat over dinner or before bed], but try ‘mini-dates’ where you're solely focused on each other and take time to reconnect. Ask each other questions about your day, your week, share compliments, basically going back slowly in a seduction game."
Equally important is communicating effectively and feeling comfortable enough to express to each other what you'd like. "This can be stressful as you might be concerned about hurting your partner’s feelings, so think of positive ways to say it. For example: 'I like it when…', 'I would love to try that with you…'," says Lisa. And remember, not everyone gets aroused purely through sexual stimulation. So try giving your most powerful sexual organ a tickle – "your brain," says Lisa. If you often find one of you is not in the mood when you climb into bed distracted and tired at the end of a long day, but you do start feeling hot under the collar when there's a steamy scene happening on the telly, try visual or audio stimulation instead. "Read or listen to some erotica, write down fantasies or erotic memories and ask your partner to share with you some of theirs," says Lisa.
I don't feel pleasure from sex with my partner, am I normal and what can I do?
This is common and many vulva owners feel the same way. “The good news is that you can increase your pleasure dramatically with some fun and simple tweaks!”, says Lisa. “Try positions that allow you to grind your vulva [try doggy but tip your hips up and lie your head and arms on the bed, or try the pretzel dip, but rather than thrusting fast, grind slowly]," says Lisa. And remember to get yours and your partners hands involved, or a vibrator, to stimulate your clitoris whilst you have penetrative sex. "Another simple trick is to apply lube to your vulva (not just vagina). It reduces friction, heightens sensation and just feels great. Finally, include a variety of play in your sexual encounters - intercourse isn’t the only way," says Lisa.
It's important to be aware of both yours and your partners pleasure, but concentrate on satisfying yourself first, then once you're confident, you can look at making it explosive for the both of you. Use your breath and focus on the sensations of touch, forget about other distractions to ensure you hone in on what's happening with your body. Focus on that rather than getting preoccupied with other thoughts.
Finally, when you masturbate or when you have sex with a partner, observe what you like. Then when you’re attuned with this, you can steer things in the direction that gives you most pleasure and discover the moves that work for both of you. You don't need necessarily to explicitly say it, sounds (such as moans) work.
What can I do to enjoy anal sex?
This of course is a very intimate type of sex, so only do it if you really want to. Prep is key, say the experts at Smile Makers. "To help make it more comfortable, you should consider adequate preparation for the body (outercourse). Maybe climax beforehand using stimulation of the clitoris and lubricant. If you are looking to try this experience, stimulate the perianal region and start slow – try using one finger to get used to the sensation and ease into it via breathing, which will help you relax."
I get performance anxiety when I have sex with my partner, how to move past that?
If you relate, you're not alone. “51 percent of vulva owners feel insecure about their performance in the bedroom according to a survey conducted by Zava of over 1,000 Europeans and Americans,” says Lisa. “It’s really no surprise when you consider how sex is portrayed in movies and most porn. It doesn’t tend to focus on the pleasure of the vulva owner and can leave you wondering if you’re normal. So, let’s get some facts straight… you are normal, your insecurities are common, and you can move past this anxiety!
Keep in mind that porn is entertainment, not education. You aren’t expected to put on a show! So, try not to worry about how you're 'performing' and focus on your connection instead. Connection to your breath, to the sensations in your body, to the energy rising inside of you, and to your lover. With practice, you will be able to stay present in your experience for longer without worrying about your performance.”
How can I use a vibrator with my partner during a relationship?
"If you are interested in using a vibrator during a relationship, ideally buy one together so it’s a shared decision," says Lisa. "Before you purchase, do some research and spend some time talking about what you like and how you might like to use it – this will heighten arousal and get you both in the mood. This can open doors to help you share about your fantasies and try new things, not just using toys. If you use one on your own, show them how and communicate how it empowers you to explore your own pleasure, which can help you both have better and more pleasurable sex."
Of course you can ditch your partner altogether. In terms of discovering what really, really turns you on, no-one's going to do a better job than you. So take the time to explore and experiment with different positions, toys and tools.
This was originally published on GLAMOUR UK | Elle Turner