Is There REALLY Such A Thing As 'Bad Sex'?

When it comes to bad sex, technique has very little to do with it.


A show that I checked in and out of, during its past season, was Married at First Sight. I shared before that the last official pastor I ever had is on the show; however, this time, it was the two featured Black couples who intrigued me…for a few reasons. One day, I might write a piece on how a lot of folks need to heal themselves before getting married, so they don't expect someone else to do the work for them and/or so their definition of what a spouse "should be" isn't based on brokenness or a tainted perception. But for now, I digress.

Anyway, the two Black couples I'm referring to are Miles and Karen and Woody and Amani. Woody and Amani have been pretty much smooth sailing from day one. Miles and Karen? Eh—not so much (although both couples did decide to stay together and seem to be doing well post-season). If you didn't catch any of the season, something else that I should mention is Miles and Woody are best friends. So, as Miles was sharing some of his concerns about his marriage, including the fact that close to zero amount of physical affection was transpiring, Woody said something that I thought was very fitting for the intro part of this article—"What if you have sex and it's completely trash?"

Bad sex. While I do think there is such a thing as bad orgasms (check out "Who Knew There Was Such A Thing As 'Bad Orgasms'?"), the more that I reflect on my own past sex life, the couples that I counsel and how much research that I do on both sex and relationships, I actually think that "trash sex" isn't really a "thing" as much as people try and make it out to be. Why? Because when it comes to having bad sex, oftentimes, there are things that can be done to quickly turn it from bad to good. Problem is, oftentimes folks chalk a poor experience up to the act itself when usually, there is far, far more to consider. The kinds of things that, if these were openly and honestly addressed, so-called bad sex probably wouldn't be an issue at all. Things like the 10 that I'm about to share with you now.

1. Your Motives Are Unclear


If you live on this planet long enough, you start to get that motives are pretty much the foundation for how things end up going. Motives can also reveal the outcome of many situations too. That's because a motive is either a goal or an incentive. That said, when it comes to sex specifically, it's important that when a situation is new that both people are clear—with each other and their prospective partner—about what their goal or incentive is. If it's just to "get some", it needs to be said. If it's in hopes of turning a relationship into something more serious, that needs to go on record too. That said, if you don't really know what your motive is, it's a pretty good idea to wait until you do. There are far too many people who are unhappy in their relationship and it's not really because they are sexually dissatisfied so much as they thought that sex was gonna automatically satisfy them in ways outside of the bedroom when it did any and everything…but.

2. The Energy Is Way Off

A simple way to define energy is power. A dictionary definition of energy that I like a lot is "capacity or tendency for intense activity; vigor".

What is good sex? It's intense. Good sex? There's a healthy physical and mental energy that is present in both partners. That's why I say that another way that sex can come off as less-than-stellar is if the energy is off. If for, whatever the reason, one or both people don't feel physical chemistry or a mental connection, there's a pretty good chance that the sex itself is gonna be rather lackluster—and that's to put it mildly.

This is actually why many people in long-term relationships can have off-the-charts sex one day and horrific sex, the next. When their energy levels are not in sync, that will play out in how sexually satisfied they end up feeling. So yeah, make sure you're in a healthy physical and mental space before doing-the-do. And, if for some reason, you feel like your partner isn't also bringing good vibes, you might want to hold off until they actually are. For both of your sakes.

3. You’ve Always Gotta Be Inebriated


I've had sex when I was tipsy and when I was high. While some folks wholeheartedly believe that being inebriated makes sex so much better, the only thing it does for me is make me a little less anxious. As far as the sex itself, it doesn't really make a huge difference, one way or another. My point? While alcohol and weed are knowing to boost libidos and intensify orgasms and that's perfectly fine, it's a bit of a red flag if you can't seem to enjoy sex without participating in either activity beforehand.

I actually had a sex partner who could only have sex while close-to-being either drunk or high. I didn't think much about it at the time but, in hindsight, I get that it was because he was struggling with the pressure (mostly from his parents) of being expected to act one way in public when he really wanted to be a totally different kind of person. Both the substances and sex were ways of escape for him. While that is completely understandable, it's not a good idea to be dependent on something that alters you in order to participate in sexual activity. Definitely if you see yourself in this point, do some pondering. You can't be certain if the sex is as good as you think, if you're never sober enough to make a wise and fair judgment call.

4. You’re Rushing

What. Is. The. Freakin'. Rush? Am I anti-quickies? Of course, not. Yet "fast sex" all of the time takes me back to my college days when a lot of the women I knew complained about how they barely got any foreplay (more on that in just a sec) before their partner, quite literally, hit it and quit it. Great lovers enjoy taking in each and every moment; they want to bring in all five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) to the sexual experience and doing that takes time. If you just read that and it's foreign to you because every time you have sex, it's over in 15 minutes or less—don't blame that on the sex itself. Your partner has a lot more to do with this point than the act itself.

5. There Is No Foreplay (or Afterplay)


Intercourse is amazing. Lord knows that it is. But back in my sex-having days, the thing that made sex feel extra sweet and special, what made me feel like a true connection was being made, wasn't the act itself so much as the foreplay that came before and the afterplay that followed.

I think it's because foreplay is like putting all of the ingredients together to make a meal and intercourse is like having the meal after it's already prepared—if some ingredients are lacking, the meal isn't gonna taste just right. Meanwhile, afterplay is a moment of feeling very safe, appreciated and valued. Because, c'mon. Many of us know what it's like to have sex with someone, have an orgasm, and then roll over and immediately be like, "Why did I just do that?" And "that" would be him.

8.5 times outta 10, when you want to experience afterplay with someone, what you're conveying is you desire to still be intimate with them, beyond sexual pleasure. And when two people share this sentiment, the sexual experience, from beginning to end, tends to be pretty damn good.

6. You’re Faking It

I'm not a fan of faking orgasms (check out "Why You Should Stop Faking Orgasms ASAP"). The word "fake" in the phrase, pretty much gives away the reason why. To be fake is to be disingenuous, deceptive and a fraud. And, even if those words aren't your intention when it comes to sex, being fake is also about pretending to be something that you're not. Y'all, I've had plenty of clients who've been faking sexual pleasure with their partner, for years now. Two things that always baffles me about that is 1) how their partner hasn't picked up on it and 2) how resentful "the faker" is, when they are the ones who are choosing to live a lie. Only a peak ego maniac would prefer you acting like you've seen the mountaintop than actually getting there. Besides, if you're with someone like that, you are definitely engaging in what qualifies as being bad sex—and let's be real, a bad relationship too.

7. You or Your Partner Is Selfish AF


A selfish lover is a bad one. That's a sweeping generalization that you can bet on every time. The reason why I say that is because, the individuals who have a fulfilling sex life can 1000 percent vouch for the fact that, it's mostly because they are as into getting their partner off as their partner is into giving them pleasure in return. Neither is focused on self nearly as much as they are intentional about satisfying the one who they are with. So if, for whatever the reason, you are in a sexual relationship where you find that you are not getting your needs met—not some of the time but each and every time—you are engaging in a classic definition of bad sex. There are no ifs, ands or—pardon the pun—buts about it. Again, not because of the sex act but the mentality of the person who you're having sex with.

8. “Getting Yours” Isn’t a Top Priority

It might seem a little crazy that this would be a sign that you're participating in bad sex on the heels of what I just said about a good lover being a giver. Here's where I'm coming from. Although I stand by my point that good sex is when both people are giving their partner what they need, at the same time, it's ridiculous to think that your partner should be able to read your mind. If you're not clearly communicating what works and what doesn't (even if "it" switches up from time to time), you're not making your own pleasure a top priority, so I'm not sure how you could be in anything less than ho-hum sex.

Am I saying that you should have an orgasm all of the time? Whew, that's a loaded question. First, there are many ways to climax, so honestly, I don't see why you shouldn't. However, my follow-up statement would be, you can still really enjoy yourself without always climbing the walls. But if full satisfaction isn't what's happening, at least 80 percent of the time, that's a problem. A serious one, if you ask me.

9. You’re Doing It FOR Your Partner Rather than WITH Your Partner


In order to get a good idea of where I'm coming from with this particular point, you might wanna first check out the article, "Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?". Some people have yet to experience good sex because they are so focused on engaging in sexual activity because they either believe that is what will keep their partner happy or that is what their partner expects of them. I don't care if it's oral or intercourse, don't pressure yourself into doing something that you're not ready to do. Trust me, I've spoken with far too many women who have a really unhealthy view of sex and it's all because they didn't participate out of desire; it was more like what they deemed to be obligation. Ain't nothin' good, wise or healthy about that. Ever.

10. There Is Constant Post-Coital Regret

Some people don't live with regrets. I've written an article on the platform before about why I don't trust that (check out "Why Regret Might Not Always Be A Bad Thing"). Regret is remorse and remorse is how we correct certain actions. And that's why this article is ending with post-coital regret being something else that could cause you to see sex in a negative light. The regret could be that you keep picking partners who don't deserve you (check out "Don't Mistake A Great Sex Partner For A Great Life Partner"). The regret could be that you tend to use sex to "mask" or repress other emotional issues. The regret could be that you keep having sex, thinking that it will make your life better when it just…doesn't.

Again, I don't think anything is wrong with regretting things. I truly don't. Yet if that is the feeling that you have, pretty much every time you get out of a bed, that is not something you should ignore. Speak with a trusted friend, therapist, counselor or life coach. Your mind, body and spirit are alerting you that something isn't quite right and you need to tend to that…so that you can experience good sex in the future.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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