25 Little Sex Mistakes You Might Not Realize You’re Making

Updated: Jan. 30, 2024

You don't need champagne or satin sheets in order to have a great sex life, but you do need to watch out for these common sex mistakes.

The most common sex mistakes

Having sex with someone new is always a learning experience, but even lovers who’ve been together a while continue to learn and explore what makes great sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average person will have between four and six sexual partners in their lifetime—that’s a lot of opportunity to figure out what feels goods, and what doesn’t, but no matter how much experience you have, many people are guilty of unknowingly making these little sex mistakes. Here’s what experts recommend instead.

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Thinking you need to do it like they do on TV

Like pretty much everything in the movies, movie sex is a concoction of fantasy and special effects only loosely tied to reality, yet many people feel that they must be able to have sex “like in the movies,” says Alex Chinks, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist and clinical sexologist. If you can’t, say, maintain an erection for an hour or achieve a vaginal orgasm it may wreak havoc on your self-esteem and actually make sex harder, she says. “Keep expectations realistic and be open to changing the ‘script,'” Dr. Chinks says. “It’s important to realize that great sex is usually achieved through the simplest acts, and a meaningful connection to one’s partner.”

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Being too embarrassed to talk about sex

File this under funny but true: People are often more comfortable having sex than talking about it, Chinks says. “So many couples are plagued by shame over their sexual preferences and needs, and not feeling as though they can ‘speak up’ to their partners,” she says. “Without good communication, couples often find themselves having sex that feels scripted or repetitive and unsatisfying.” Some couples also may find themselves not having sex at all. And that would be bad. Because in addition to building intimacy, sex confers a lot of health benefits and even increases longevity.

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Feeling like you have to take your socks off

Contrary to that image in your mind, socks may actually be the sexiest article of clothing, as wearing them may increase your chance of having an orgasm. No one is sure exactly why this works but one theory is that in order to orgasm, you need to be totally relaxed and anxiety-free, and cold feet can interfere with the ability to really get into sex, especially for women, says Fran Walfish, PhD, a psychotherapist and author. “Though we usually recommend knocking her socks off, leave them on this time,” she adds.

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Thinking your partner’s orgasm is a sign of your sexual prowess

“People get offended or become shaming if their partner doesn’t orgasm or is not equally aroused,” says Alexandra Katehakis, PhD, clinical director at the Center For Healthy Sex in Los Angeles. But there’s no more of a turn-off than being interrogated by an angry or offended partner, making orgasm even less likely in the future. So rather than take offense, be curious, be kind, and most of all, be patient to see if you can discover the path to stimulation and orgasm together, she adds.

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Thinking it’s your way or no way on the sex highway

People like to have sex the way they like to have sex. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, and yet too many people assume their partners will automatically enjoy sex the same way they do, Katehakis says. So instead of pulling out the French maid costume right away, take time before you’re in the bedroom to have a safe, compassionate conversation. Even if you’ve been together for years, your partner’s preferences may surprise you.

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Not laughing when someone farts

Gas happens. So does falling off the bed, losing a contact lens and burping—even during sexy times. So don’t take yourself too seriously. “While sex should be passionate, it should also be fun, so don’t be afraid to smile and even laugh during sex, especially at the occasional mishap,” says Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor, author, and relationship coach at The Popular Man. “This doesn’t mean making fun of your partner (or yourself). Rather, you’re so comfortable with each other, you’re both able to experience a whole range of emotions during sex.”

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The “no orgasm = failure” mindset

Sometimes orgasm shouldn’t be the end goal, says Melody Li, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate, and relationship specialist. “Sexual pleasure is experienced through the process of teasing, creating desire, experimenting with different types of touch, playing, and fantasizing, and so much more,” she explains. “Focusing solely on reaching orgasm can even lead to ‘performance anxiety’ and emotional disconnection. Instead, let go of making orgasm the goal and stay present with pleasurable sensations and your partner’s responses.”

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Assuming your partner can read your mind

Do you believe that if your partner really loved you, he or she would know how to please you in bed? Think again, Li says. “This is especially relevant for women because American culture has long shamed women who take charge of their sexual pleasure,” she says. “I encourage partners to take the guesswork out of sex and speak up, verbally, or through touch. It’s perfectly OK to ask for what you desire!”

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Sticking with the same positions every time

There is a whole wide world of variety when it comes to sex, yet so many couples stick with the same script every time. It’s time to Change. It. Up. “I think there’s an anxiety in telling your partner that you want something different in bed because it may imply that you aren’t satisfied with the current sex, which isn’t true,” says Bethany Ricciardi, a sex and relationship expert at Too Timid. “Instead, tell them something you want to try, like new positions or places to have sex. Start small.”

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Putting your orgasm solely in your partner’s hands

It’s good sex-tiquette to focus on pleasuring your partner, but when it comes to enjoying sex, nobody knows your body better than you do. Don’t rely solely on your partner to help you orgasm—that causes unnecessary stress on your partner and sets you up for disappointment, says Erica Basso, a couples therapist in Santa Monica, California. Feel free to take matters into your own hands, literally or figuratively.

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Believing that sex is dirty or shameful

Too many people, especially women, grow up believing that sex is dirty and that “good girls” don’t want sex—and those beliefs can really hurt you in the bedroom, Basso says. This simply isn’t true, and if you need help resolving these feelings, a good therapist can help you work through them.

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Skipping the condoms because you’re in a relationship

It’s not just teenagers that “forget” to use a condom; plenty of adults don’t practice safe sex, says Kevin Darné, sex expert and author of My Cat Won’t Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany). But condoms are still the best way to avoid STDs, and even if you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship, you should still think about birth control, he says, adding that too often people will skip contraception on the assumption that they’re sterile, whether that’s from age, prior infertility or some other reason.

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Hiding your leather whip until they’ve moved in

Keeping your kinks or other preferences a secret from your partner will only lead to hurt and misunderstanding, Darné says. “People often make the mistake of holding back on things they enjoy sexually. They don’t want to risk blowing it or turning off someone they barely know,” he says. “However, if that kink is something you expect to incorporate in all your sexual relationships, then do it early on.”

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Underestimating the importance of sex to your partner

A mismatch of libidos can be a huge problem in a relationship. “Essentially the person with the high libido may feel as if they’re a victim of a bait and switch, or the romance and passion are dying,” Darné says. Similarly, their partner can feel as if all they are is a sex object to their partner. You’ve got to find a way to meet in the middle, where both people feel like their needs are being met because as the old adage goes: When sex is good it’s 10 percent of your relationship when it’s bad it’s 90%.

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Avoiding talking about past sexual abuse

One in five women and one in ten men will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to RAINN. And sexual abuse isn’t something that happens and is over; the repercussions can continue for years, especially when it comes to the survivor’s sex life. “If you don’t feel comfortable talking about this with a new partner, be extra aware of facial expressions, verbal cues, and body language,” says Adriane Knorr, sexual assault expert, a doula and owner of The Beating Heart Doula. And if you’re with someone long-term this is definitely a discussion that needs to happen—outside the bedroom.

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Clamming up in the bedroom

With all the emphasis on what not to say during sex (CliffsNotes version: Nothing about your mom, your exes or your boss) it can be easy to forget the importance of talking, whispering and even shouting during sex. “Silent sex is quite unfulfilling, so make sure you’re saying lots of positive things to your partner,” says Douglas Weiss, PhD, psychologist author of 5 Sex Languages. “In addition, look into each other’s eyes during sex to further the communication.” This can make all the difference between feeling like you’re just having sex and feeling like you’re being made love to.

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Taking a rejection of sex as a rejection of you

When one person is in the mood and the other isn’t, it’s easy for the amorous partner to feel rejected. Yet it’s more likely their partner doesn’t mean “no, not you” but rather “no, not now but later,” says Erika Boissiere, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco. “Think of it like going to lunch. If your partner says they’re not hungry do you wail ‘You always say no’ when I ask you to lunch?” she says. “More likely you’d say ‘Do you want to go another time?'” Don’t jump to all-or-nothing thinking and try not to take it personally.

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Using the golden rule during sex

Do unto others what you’d like them to do to you sounds like a great idea when it comes to sex, but that breaks down pretty quickly when you get to the details, says Ava Cadell, a sexologist and founder of Loveology University. “The biggest mistake people make is that they make love the way that they want, not the way their partner wants,” she says. “For example, a man might blow in a woman’s ear as part of foreplay because he wants her to do it to him, while she may hate having his breath on her ear.” Instead, use this golden sex rule: Ask what they like, and be vocal about what you like.

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Using certain words without checking with your partner first

Porn has introduced some pretty interesting vocabulary into the bedroom, but just because the person on the screen loves it doesn’t mean your real-life partner will enjoy it. “Don’t talk erotically and graphically without checking if your partner likes dirty talk,” Cadell says. It can be an instant turn-off to some people. Not sure what to say? “I tell my clients that there are two erotic words that never go wrong: ‘YES’ and your lover’s name!” she explains.

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Assuming cleanliness equals healthiness

“A common sex mistake people make is mistaking good hygiene for good health,” says Noni Ayana, a sexologist and founder of E.R.I.S. Consulting LLC. But just because your partner takes care of their personal hygiene doesn’t mean they’re free of STDS. Most STDs don’t show outward symptoms. A healthy sex life should include ongoing dialogue between sexual partners discussing a plan on how to keep each other safe and healthy.

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Hitting this one super-painful spot on women

The fourchette is the thin area of skin across the bottom of the vaginal opening and is, by far, the most common place women experience pain during intercourse, says Nicole Prause, PhD, a sex expert at Liberos. “Couples seem to overwhelmingly focus on penetration and pounding, and sexual positions often are not mindful of creating extra friction across this sensitive area, causing it to burn, swell, and even rip,” she says. The remedy? Lots and lots of foreplay, checking in regularly during sex and stopping anything that’s causing pain.

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Stopping sex if a partner has erectile dysfunction

“I have no idea why the myth persists that an erect penis must stay erect to show interest. Sex that is focused on pleasure is likely to explore many different types of pleasure, including relaxing pleasure, like a massage, and comforting touch, like hugs,” Prause says. “An erection alone does not mean that it is ‘penetration time’ and is not the only indicator of what a guy might want. Just as with women: ask.”

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Not making eye contact

Staring deeply into each other’s eyes may be a staple of romance movies but is one of those things that can feel deeply awkward in real life. “Prolonged eye contact can be uncomfortable, making you look away or laugh, but if you do, you’re missing a chance to deepen your sexual connection,” says Davia Frost, sex and intimacy coach at Frosted Pleasure. “Looking someone in eyes isn’t just about respect—it’s also about connection and vulnerability. This does take a certain amount of courage and feeling safe but it will come with practice.”

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Forgetting what the biggest sex organ is

Nope, it’s not what you’re thinking. The biggest organ in your body and one that’s integral to good sex is your skin. “The skin covers 22 square feet and has 1,000 nerve endings per square inch, allowing for nearly endless sensation,” says Jessi Leader, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Minneapolis. “Instead of going straight for the game-winning goal, take time to stretch, warm-up, practice, become energized and communicate. Sex will feel much more powerful and intimate if you are able to slow the process down in order to touch, feel, and explore each other’s bodies,” she advises.

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Forgetting to follow up

What happens after sex can be just as important as what happens during sex. Once sex is over, you might be tempted to get up and go about your business or fall asleep, but putting a little effort in afterward can pay off big time. “Sex can be a very strong physical bonding experience, and following it up with a short conversation can help you increase your emotional bond as well,” Bennett says. If your life between the sheets has seen better days, you’re not alone.

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