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I've heard it and I’ll bet you have, too: someone minimizes a bad sexual encounter by saying “It’s just sex”—as if their definition of sex easily accommodates experiences that, honestly, most of us would rather not have. Bad sex comes in so many varieties. Let’s look at some and see if we can flip the script.

What Constitutes Bad Sex Anyway?

Sex where you don’t get turned on enough to orgasm

Some people never orgasm and don’t miss it—I don’t define bad sex solely by the presence or absence of climax. But for many, orgasm-less sex can be super-frustrating. It’s also related to how aroused you are (not)—so sex without orgasm is often sex that isn’t turning you on. If you’re having trouble getting aroused, try to figure out what would turn you on and ask for it—including a slower pace with more pleasure-inducing play. If you’re stressed, make sure you’ve had enough sleep, do some meditation, or exercise to give your mood a boost.

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Do you find yourself never being interested in sex? Maybe start looking at your sexuality from a different perspective. Is it possible you’re on the asexual spectrum? Do you have unresolved trauma? Is a therapist what you need? Some people who experience a reduced libido are dealing with a medical issue like depression or a response to SSRIs or hormonal birth control. If you think this is the case for you, consult with a medical professional.Arousal is the on-ramp to orgasm. It isn’t optional. And contrary to porn films, a hard-on that lasts all night is not the crucial factor. Speaking of which...

Sex that hurts

This is related to the last kind of bad sex in two ways. One, if sex hurts, it’s hard to get aroused. Two, having sex when you’re not aroused can hurt. Pain can come from various sources: penetration too soon, too hard, too long, or with a body part or toy that’s too big for your comfort; vulvovaginal and pelvic conditions including vaginismus, vulvodynia, pelvic inflammatory disease, or trying to have sex with a urinary tract infection, yeast infection, or STI; and non-sexually-specific pain conditions, like fibromyalgia, can make penetration a painful experience as well. If getting aroused isn’t the problem and you are still in pain, talk to your doctor and try to figure out what’s going on.

Sex without enough communication

By communicating your likes and dislikes, you can help create an atmosphere where you and your partner may feel more comfortable—or at least knowledgeable—about your wants and desires. If you’re not having fun, pleasurable sex, there’s not only a lot to talk about—there’s also a lot to learn!

Boring sex that you’re not invested in

Emotional investment is not required for good sex, but for some, sex must include connection, and if that’s gone, the fundamental reason to have sex could feel absent. Some of us can definitely love the one we’re with (or skip the love, TBH); others will have to wait for Ms./Mr./Mx. Right.

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When your sex partner isn’t invested in your pleasure

This might be an uninformed partner or a selfish one, a drunk one or a stressed-out one. There are worse kinds of sex, but this is a good reason to get up and leave.

Drunken fumbles and unwelcome blackout surprises

Yes, everyone has the right to make choices about their party substances, but remember, most make it harder to connect and to orgasm. Alcohol is a depressant, which means the nerves that connect your clit to everything else won’t be on high alert.

Manipulative (all the way to downright nonconsensual) sex

Getting negged or pestered into doing something we’re not enthusiastically consenting to is not just wrong, it’s criminal. Having sex with people who don’t listen when we tell them what our boundaries are; not feeling safe; or not actually being safe—when sex veers into trauma territory, the most important things are to recognize it and then to get the hell out.

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Confession time: I actually value the bad sex I’ve had. But I would never use those unfortunate instances to define the big and potentially pleasurable category of sex, regardless of how muchI’ve learned from them. Because the bottom line is, I should never have had to get my information about sex from creepy or eye-rolling or disappointing experiences—and you, dear reader, should never have to write or laugh that stuff off. The path to better sex for all of us begins when we learn to recognize bad sex from the beginning and then learn how to say no.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Dr. Carol Queen is BUST magazine's sex advice columnist. Her latest book (written with Shar Rednour) isThe Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone

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