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How My Husband and I Fixed Our Vanilla Sex Life

Photograph by Twenty20

Sexual satisfaction is a tricky thing between couples, especially if you've been married for a long time.

When I met my husband, I was 16 and totally into “doing it.” Our romantic interludes were basically humping like bunnies until we were too tired to go at it anymore. At the time, I had no clear definition of what I liked or didn’t like, and neither of us thought to ask. Whoever thinks teenage sex is good sex probably never had it.

Over the years, and especially once marriage and kids happened, our sex life dwindled to an occasional romp that had a specific choreography. We knew the moves well—so well in fact, that we rarely, if ever, deviated from them.

Step one: we kissed.

Step two: we undressed.

Step three: we had sex.

Step four: we talked about things we needed to do while getting dressed again.

It was all very perfunctory and bland. Now, I’m not saying vanilla is a bad flavor, but when it’s the only option on the menu, sometimes you get hungry for something else.

After 16 years of wedded bliss, I experienced what I consider a sexual awakening, though it didn't happen all at once. This new found sexual realization came in stages that are totally embarrassing to admit, but here they are:

First, I started fantasizing about other men. I’m not proud writing this, but it’s true. Mainly, my focus was sexy celebrities who I’d never have a shot in hell of bedding. I had a Shia LeBeouf phase, a Michiel Huisman phase and even (I can’t believe I’m saying this) a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson period that lasted far too long for anyone’s comfort.

Second, I started feeling frustrated in the bedroom. Our regularly scheduled sex was actually starting to piss me off, and without fully understanding why, I began pulling away from my husband physically, which is NEVER a good move in a marriage.

Third, I started watching tons of porn. OK, I know that so many people are going to outright judge me for sharing that little detail, but the truth is: one in three women in the United States watches porn at least once a week, but I’m guessing somewhere around 99 percent of us are going to totally deny it.

I watched porn for the obvious reasons (sexual desire) but also for another reason: to investigate what I liked. I wasn’t really sure what was so upsetting about my sex life, but I figured seeing lots of different kinks in action would help me solve the riddle.

Then, I talked with my friends. I was shocked to hear so many of them describe having an orgasm after sex with their partners. Like, a genuine husband-made-it-happen orgasm, not one they had to manufacture themselves. With my closest comrades, I asked questions I longed to know the answers to:

Do you climax just from penetration? (I didn’t)

Don’t you get embarrassed that you’re taking too long? (I did)

Do you fake orgasms? (I sure did)

I was shocked at the answers they gave. Some did find sexual satisfaction from penetrative sex alone, but the majority of women I spoke with preferred clitoral stimulation, or as I liked to call it, Vulva-mort, or "She who must not be named." (Probably not a good idea to have a Harry Potter pun while talking about sex.)

These same women looked at me in horror when I described what I thought every married woman (including myself) did during sex: moan and groan and shiver and smile—all to make your partner feel like they did a good job, and then hurry and “relieve” yourself when they’re in the bathroom.

Clearly, I’d gotten sex completely wrong (and I blame “When Harry Met Sally” for it).

It took me a full year to build up enough courage and outright dissatisfaction to finally tell my husband what was going on.

The conversation was painful and confusing, for both of us. My husband was mortified that for nearly 17 years, I’d been faking orgasms with him and he was none the wiser. To his credit, he genuinely believed what he was doing (and not doing) worked for both of us. Learning that he was wrong was a big hit to his ego.

But, because my husband is an absolutely wonderful human being, he took the news as a challenge to undo almost two decades of poor lovemaking.

Almost overnight, our sex life changed. His focus shifted away from what was comfortable and normal to what I was finally able to say I liked. In return, I made two commitments: to relax and let myself receive, and to return the favor by asking him lots of questions.

Sometimes, I’d fall back into bad habits, like apologizing for “taking too long” or getting worried I wasn’t doing it right (major orgasm killer) and my husband would sweetly and amazingly tell me to shut up and enjoy myself. I had no choice but to listen.

It’s been a little over a year since I finally fessed up to feeling dissatisfied, and a few things have changed. My husband and I are so much closer and more connected than we’ve ever been before. Having sex is great, but having great sex is even better. I’m also more confident, which is a weird side effect of getting what I want in the bedroom. Finally, I don’t fixate on celebrities as much as I used to. What? The Rock is hot, and I’m only human.

The biggest lesson of all is that both partners deserve to have their needs met in a marriage and when one isn’t, it can create problems. Talk to your partner about what it is you like and want. You definitely don’t have to settle for 16 years of vanilla sundaes when all you really wanted was some rocky road.

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