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  • Lillie Brown

Unpacking Sexual Expectations

The pleasures, pains, and complexities of sex

Two men lay in bed in an intimate embrace with blue sheets, as one partner touches the other's chest.

Sex should be spontaneous. Sex should be frequent. Sex should be passionate. Sex should be easy.


These are a mere handful of the widespread sexual expectations that permeate our culture, often leaving us feeling anxious, disconnected, and shameful if our sexual experiences don’t look like this or intentionally divest from these narratives.


We all come to sex with expectations, and often, we rarely voice these expectations to the people we expect things from. Consequently, unfulfilled expectations can lead to dissatisfaction within our relationships, resentment, disappointment, and a host of other unpleasant feelings. It’s no secret that sex can be complicated, but if we adopt a mindset of curiosity and seek to understand our partners—their motivations for sex, what it means to them, their life contexts—we can begin to have deeply fulfilling and nourishing sex.


So uh, how does one begin to unpack their sexual expectations? I got chu.


Get curious. Curiosity is a powerful antidote to the shame and fear that has shrouded our desires and experiences of pleasure in shadow. Reflect on your own sexual expectations—what were you taught about sex? What beliefs and messages did you absorb? Share this with your partner and ask them what their expectations are. What are the similarities and differences between you? How do you feel about these expectations? What ones do you want to keep and what ones do you want to leave behind? By shining a light on our beliefs and taking the time to explore their origins, we can make a conscious choice to ditch the ones that no longer serve us and begin to rewrite our sexual scripts.


Communicate. Ah, this old chestnut. Any kind of relational communication can feel tricky or awkward at times, but even more so when we’re talking about sex. We all have our own hang-ups and conditioning around sex, but it may help you allay your anxieties to know that these feelings are relatively universal. Go slowly and raise conversations around sex outside of the bedroom—on a walk, in the car, or while cooking dinner.


Explore meaning. Human beings are meaning-making creatures and sex means different things to different people. Reflect on what sex means to you—and know that the meaning you derive from your sexual experiences is fluid—it’s ever-changing; influenced by your mood, stress levels, arousal, desires, and needs in this moment. It might be a pathway to connect deeply with your partner, a form of stress relief, an expression of love, a container to embody your fantasies, or anything in between. It’s deeply personal—and fascinating.


Empathise. Empathy is the key to understanding. As you begin to reflect on and unpack your own sexual expectations, you’ll begin to develop a greater level of self-understanding. This self-awareness expands our mindset and allows us to empathise with others and get curious about the expectations, beliefs, and meaning they hold around sex. If yours differ from your partner’s, it’s not a nail in the coffin for your sex life—instead, focus on the overlap and what’s possible for you erotically.


When we embrace communication and curiosity, we’re able to better understand our partners, how they want to feel during sex, and what kind of sex they want to have. This of course allows us to negotiate and co-create sexual encounters that make us drip, moan, and writhe. Understanding is one hell of an aphrodisiac.


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