03/05/2013 12:50 am ET Updated Aug 23, 2013

Premarital Wisdom: The Truth About Sex

Can you imagine how different your marriage would have been had someone laid it on the line and honestly told you what is normal to expect in the bedroom? What a disservice we do to engaged couples when we don't honestly tell them about this central aspect of their marriage. Although we've certainly exploded the taboo around seeing sex portrayed in the media, very few sources speak explicitly and honestly about what average, everyday people are thinking about and doing in the bedroom.

What is Normal

Like love, romance, and marriage, sex is fraught with misconceptions and assumptions about what is normal. Thanks to Hollywood and mainstream media, most people develop an idea about what sex "should" be like (it would be helpful -- possibly life-changing -- to strike the word should from the English language -- or any language, for that matter). Here's the common list of shoulds:

  • I should always feel hot for my partner.
  • I should always be attracted to my partner.
  • I should always want to have sex with my partner.
  • We should be having sex 2-3 times a week.
  • I should never fantasize about anyone else.
  • We should always know how to please each other.
  • Sex doesn't count unless we both have orgasms.
  • Sex doesn't count unless we have intercourse.

Here's the reality:

  • You won't always be hot for your partner.
  • Not only will you not always be attracted to your partner, you may, at times, feel turned off by your partner. Like love and hate, attraction and withdrawal exist on the same continuum. When you soften into withdrawal, you open the doorway to attraction.
  • You and your partner decide what works for you in terms of frequency. If you're both okay with once a month (or less), that's fine. Like marriage, there's no paradigm or model that you have to mold yourselves into. If it works for you, great. If not, you can work on changing it together. People have different levels of libido, and if you and your partner aren't very sexual, that's fine.
  • It's normal to fantasize about other people.
  • It's normal to fantasize about the same sex even if your preference is the opposite sex. This doesn't mean that you're gay or that there's a problem with your sexuality.
  • It's okay to fantasize about the opposite sex even if your preference is the same sex. This doesn't mean you're with the wrong person.
  • It's normal for your mind to drift during sex.
  • It's normal not to enjoy it every time.
  • It's normal to be bored sometimes.
  • It's normal to want it to end sometimes.
Sex comes in many difference forms. You can make love without having intercourse. You can make love without having orgasms. We live in a culture that is outcome and achievement oriented which means we only value the end result: orgasm or intercourse. A healthy sex life includes all forms of connecting with your bodies, from kissing to intercourse and everything in between.

Many relationships have a high-desire and a low-desire partner. This can be challenging if your partner wants sex 4-5 times a week (or more) and you're happy with 1-2 times a month. Challenging, yes; a deal breaker, no. Like any other difference in a relationship, you can work to find creative and respectful ways to handle differing needs. But it's not a reason to walk away.

Good Sex and a Good Lover

When I ask my clients to define "good" or "bad" sex, they're usually at a loss for words. Sometimes they mean that they're not having enough sex. Other times they mean that their partner doesn't turn them on enough. I generally hear confusion about their partner's responsibility and a lack of responsibility for their own sexuality, as if it's their partner's job to "make them feel" aroused.

If you're an infatuation junkie, a love addict, or have been attached to the chase in any way, you likely define good sex as the moment when the object of your longing returns your gaze. It's a drug-like high when you finally tumble into bed with the coveted lover, and even if the chase turns into a relationship, if you're the pursuer you'll always experience sex as a confirmation that your partner loves you, which will make the sex sizzle with an ecstatic quality. You may feel hot and bothered during the sex, but afterwards you generally experience a hollow pit in your belly that makes you want to cry (and you often do).

Here's my definition of good sex: two loving people in a loving partnership showing up to express and receive their love through their bodies. Good sex is when each partner is connected to his or her own sexuality and can bring this aliveness to the partnership. Like love, no one can "make you feel" turned on. In other words, the fire ignites first inside of you, and through your lovemaking (which may or may not include intercourse), two flames intermingle and the fire burns brighter than it did individually. Good sex -- like good love -- is when you're concerned about your partner's pleasure: if you each put the other first, you'll both come in first. Good sex isn't about outcome (orgasm) but about connection. Good sex leaves you feeling close to your partner and close to yourself. You may cry because you've been touched in a deep place inside of you, but they're not tears that arise from feeling used (as in the above scenario).

I often hear my clients say about an unavailable ex, "He was such a good lover." I can only assume that to mean that, because of his unavailability and possible jerkiness, the ex flaunted an air of superiority, which translated into the image of hotness in my clients' eyes. This, of course, has nothing to do with good love or good sex.

Again, if neither you nor your partner are naturally very sexual and you're both fine with infrequent sex, let go of the worry! You're fine. There's no rule that says that a good marriage depends on frequent sex. Yes, we read things in Cosmo like, "Sex is the glue of a marriage," and while that may be true for some people, it cannot possibly be true for everyone. We live our lives with a severe expectation of achieving "normal", and when the reality of who we naturally are deviates from this benchmark, we feel inadequate and like something is wrong with our relationship. Claim who are you: if sex isn't your thing, fine. Figure out what is the glue for your relationship and focus your energy there.

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety - whether single, dating, engaged, or married - give yourself the gift of her popular E-Course.