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Jill Di Donato


'Comfort Sex': Is It A Bad Thing?

Posted: 11/28/11 08:39 AM ET

Have you ever gotten that craving for sex, but not for the usual reasons? After a particularly rotten date, a silly fight with one of my best friends, or maybe just one of those days when nothing seems to go my way, I tend to call a certain "acquaintance" who is more than happy to have me over for a few hours between the sheets. This guy isn't someone I'd date, or even consider a friend, but he does have a knack for taking me from forlorn to very content faster than any other remedy I've tried.

Here's the strange part, though: These aren't wild, amazing, did-it-on-every-surface-of-the-apartment liaisons. The sex is good, but it's not life-changing. And even stranger, that's why I like it. Every time it goes pretty much the way I expect, no more, no less. Our encounters don't rock my world -- but they do leave me full of endorphins and also that warm, safe feeling you get from simply being held. Exactly what I needed.

This is not how I've ever heard that single women approach. When you haven't been sleeping with the same person for years and aren't subject to the sexual monotony that often accompanies monogamy, aren't you supposed to be going for the hair-pulling, multi-orgasmic, passionate throw-down every time?

There are times when I even feel guilty about regularly seeking something that isn't quite that. And what is this something, exactly? Not friends with benefits -- as previously stated, my occasional partner and I are not friends. It's not casual sex because it's about more than sex -- I'm looking to soothe myself emotionally as much as sexually.

Finally, I asked an expert. '"People have sex for a lot of different reasons, and one of them is to be soothed and comforted," Chicago sex therapist Michael Seiler, Ph.D. told me, which sounded entirely too obvious and like it didn't really answer my question. But then I realized: I've always thought of soothing and comfort as part of sex, sure, but a side effect, not the main reason you seek it out.

Here's what I've decided: Sometimes, single people want sex like we want fried chicken or ice cream or a box of Entenmann's chocolate covered doughnuts. It's a quick fix -- you don't expect it to sustain you, and you know it probably wouldn't be good for you to indulge in too, too often. It's what you want right now, though, and right now, that's okay.

And if it's okay, then I figure it's probably okay to share a few things I've learned about comfort sex over the course of having a fair amount of it:

Comfort sex doesn't have to be shady. Part of what makes it comfortable, at least in my experience, is that you do it with someone you know. There's a good reason for that: according to experts, women often don't have orgasms right off the bat with new partners. No orgasm means not so comforting. For me, it takes a while with someone before I build the trust I need to reach climax, and friends I've talked to feel the same way. Cathy (all names have been changed) says she only orgasms if a man goes down on her first. "And to me, that's more intimate than intercourse, so I won't do that with someone until we've been to bed a couple times." Angelina reiterates the point, "I know how to make myself come like clockwork, but that's because I tell my partner exactly what to do. For most guys, this is a total turn-on." But, she adds, "It's physically, not to mention emotionally, more stimulating to be with someone I'm comfortable with."

Comfort sex happens inside and outside of relationships. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows, comfort sex is relatively common, even if you've never thought of it in those terms. There are times when you have sex to soothe yourself or each other emotionally through sex. So seeking it when you're single isn't that strange. Why would being single cause your appetite for comfort sex to vanish?

Predictable pleasure isn't a bad thing. Although we live in a "couples culture," we're also inundated with the message that we should constantly be seeking variety. From positions to roleplaying to multiple partners, we're constantly encouraged to try something new and fresh, especially when it comes to sex. But, argues sex counselor, Ian Kerner, Ph.D., "The virtues of comfort sex are vastly underrated. [It's] like ordering takeout from your favorite Chinese restaurant: Sure, you know what you're getting and there's no need to ponder the menu, but the meal hits the spot."

In my last relationship, after a month of living with my partner, I'd orgasm pretty much every time we had sex in the six years we were together. I'd also enjoy the moments afterwards, when he and I would share an authentic connection, one that was elusive in many other aspects of the relationship. Comfort sex may have been routine, and not as Cirque-du-Soleil as in the showmanship stages of our courtship, but on a lousy day, it made me feel good.

Comfort sex doesn't have to be with an actual person. In case this is news to anyone, women watch porn. Lots of it. And in that strange, not-sustaining-but-what-I-want-now way, porn can be comforting. My friend Kyle, who also happens to be a women's health advocate, enjoys porn on a regular basis. "What I like in porn isn't necessarily what I like in sex. It's mindless, and along with a glass of wine and battery-operated device, provides a very relaxing evening."

If porn isn't your thing, there's a variety of social networking sites where you can safely, discretely, and from the comfort of your own bed, chat until you get off. I never thought of myself as a sex-chatter, until one night I tried it with an old high school buddy. At first we were just catching up on Facebook, but after an hour or two, things started getting a little steamy. I fell asleep afterward completely at ease, satisfied without putting forth all that much effort. Who knew?

Be careful of comfort sex with an ex. Although comfort sex might be the most tempting with an ex, for me, this has been a slippery slope. Sex with an ex is loaded with all kinds of other issues -- anger or disappointment over the break-up, longing for a return to a something that obviously didn't work in the first place, and of course, memories that can trigger distress rather than comfort.

My friend Amelia, who'd regularly indulge in ex comfort sex says she did it "because he felt familiar," not because she wanted to get back together with him, but the nostalgia rationale is problematic, too. It might feel good in the moment, but if you make it a habit, it can keep you from actively looking for a new partner, someone with whom you don't share a broken history. Amelia eventually had to quit him. "Sometimes the sex would leave me feeling sad afterwards," she told me, "so it just wasn't worth it."

That's a lot to consider when you were looking for sex that you don't have to think about that much, but figuring out what that yearning was about helped me, at least, feel more in control of my choices. It's fun to be impulsive, but that impulsivity can be a lot more fun -- and, well, comforting -- if somewhere in your mind you've considered all of the options, and possible outcomes. The ultimate litmus test I've found for comfort sex is this: When I feel that familiar yen, I ask myself the same basic question I would with a box of Entenmann's in hand: Is this going to make me feel better or worse in the morning?

RELATED SLIDESHOW: 7 Steps To Mind-blowing Sex

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  • 1. Don't Talk Yourself Out Of What You Need

    It's too easy for us women to convince ourselves to settle for less. We're so helpful and accommodating, so eager to please and afraid of rejection that we're quick to give up the things we need, including when it comes to sex. What we need to see is that doing this will leave us chronically frustrated. While it's true that every relationship requires a certain amount of compromise, going without the things that we really need just doesn't work. We'll end up unhappy in the relationship or resentful toward our partner. The bottom line is, we need to know what we can't live without, sexually, and what we just can't live with. We ignore these non-negotiables at the expense of a fulfilling sex life.

  • 2. Share Your Needs And Feelings With Your Partner

    If you can't ask them for what you want in bed, you shouldn't be sleeping with them. Good sex happens when we feel safe and at ease. If we're afraid to ask for something or to tell our partner that we don't like something, sex will never be more than mediocre. This second tip follows from the first one, in that once we identify what we want and don't want, we have to express these things clearly. It's unfair to expect our partner to be a mind-reader and "prove" that they care by somehow knowing what we want without our having to tell them. Healthy sex comes out of healthy communication.

  • 3. Accept Your Body As It Is Now

    We need to be in touch with our bodies; with what feels good, what feels not so good and what feels wrong. We also really need to stop judging ourselves in terms of our weight and our shape. Only a superficial dope would give us a hard time over our imperfections. If someone makes us feel bad about our physical selves, this is more a reflection of his inadequacies than of our own. Our negative self-talk has to stop. The running commentary on how fat we are, how much cellulite or how many wrinkles we have is guaranteed to kill the mood, often before it even starts. Feeling good about our bodies is crucial if we're going to let go and enjoy ourselves. Being physically self-conscious will keep us from experiencing the joyful abandon of great sex.

  • 4. Never Refuse Sex As A Punishment Or Use It As A Reward

    In the bad old days, some women were led to believe that the way to get a man to toe the line is to offer sex for good behavior or withhold it when the man has displeased them. Most of us today recognize this as hateful behaviour and a recipe for disaster. Men don't want to be controlled or punished, especially around sex. They don't want to be made to feel like little boys. When we're hurt or angry at our partner, we need to share our feelings with him in an adult way. We can even say that we're too upset for sex, right now. What we mustn't ever do is make him feel like we're deciding when he gets to have sex, based on whether he's been "good" or "bad." On the other hand, using sex as a reward turns us into sex objects and makes sex into a commodity for our partner to "earn." It's no longer two people being intimate or enjoying each other. Commodifying sex makes it into a business transaction and our bodies then become objects for trade.

  • 5. No Pets In The Room

    We might love Fluffy or Rover, but they don't belong in the bedroom when we're being intimate. Our pets are very territorial and could get jealous or want to play, too. Dogs might bark or even growl. Cats might jump onto the bed and start walking around. We can avoid these disasters by remembering to shut the door and leave our four-legged friends outside.

  • 6. Have A Sense Of Humor

    Sex is about connection and intimacy, but also it's about having fun. It can be mind-blowingly great or occasionally, things can go wrong. Having a good sense of humor about sex will keep things in perspective. Being able to laugh at ourselves and at the comical aspects of sex will take the pressure off the whole experience. We might love and adore our partner, but we don't have to be so serious about making love to them. Humour relieves pressure and is a great way to connect.

  • 7. Enjoy The Give And Take

    The best sex is the kind in which each person is trying to please the other one. The sharing in sex is one of the things that make it great. It can be technically amazing, but when one person gets the impression that the other person really isn't there with them, it can ruin the whole experience. What makes someone a fantastic lover is not their technical ability or their repertoire of moves but their attentiveness and their efforts to make their partner happy. When both people show that they really care about meeting their partner's needs, sex becomes something wonderful.


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