Vanilla Sex—Our Best Friend

Vanilla sex—or “just” vanilla sex?

“Vanilla sex” is slang for sex that is plain, or traditional, or unimaginative–not “kinky.” It generally doesn’t involve role-playing, games like BDSM, risk-taking like exhibitionism, or unusual locations. Most people don’t use “vanilla sex” as a neutral term; the implied term is frequently “just vanilla sex.”

I beg to differ.

When people are sexually dissatisfied, the word today from books, magazine articles, websites, and professionals is…get away from vanilla. Go tantric, go nasty, go poly, go handcuffs, go anal, go dildo, go giant dildo.

As a sex therapist, I deal with sexual dissatisfaction every day. Of course, almost nobody goes to therapy as their first strategy; people use it mostly after everything else they try fails. So before calling me, people have typically looked for new positions (sorry, there aren’t any), or tried spanking, or liposuction, or encouraged their partner to get a boob job, maybe scoured porn films for exotic techniques. Or urged their partner to watch porn with them.

People are often surprised when I suggest improving the vanilla.

“But isn’t that the problem,” they ask–“that we’re too vanilla?”

It actually depends on the reason that people are vanilla. If they’re ashamed of their body, or convinced that God hates oral sex, or they believe that “real men” don’t like their nipples caressed, if they feel forced into vanilla sex because they’re afraid of everything else, we can certainly say that more of that sense won’t help anything.

But people who are sexually free can choose vanilla. People who aren’t afraid of their own eroticism can choose vanilla. And choosing to make it better can be a powerful door. So I tell patients let’s get more information, more communication, more comfort with each other, more acknowledging how things really are. Socks in the winter, a towel if you’re starting your period.

And go pee if you have to go pee (and just call it what it is). You’d be amazed at how many people pay me good money so they can ask “what should I do if I have to pee during sex?” No one’s ever asked me “what should I do if I have to pee while watching the Super Bowl?”

As I say in my 2012 book Sexual Intelligence, the two best strategies for improving sex are better communication and more self-acceptance.

Communication: using proper words instead of “y’know,” and talking about what’s actually going on: I have a cramp in my leg; I need to switch hands; please slow down a bit; I’m not ready yet for intercourse; I’ll never want a finger in my butt, so please quit asking.

As my friend Lonnie Barbach once said, “the most important sentence in the English language is ‘a quarter of an inch to the right, please.’”

Self-acceptance: your body is the way it is; you’re not going to lose 10 pounds this weekend. You can climax from oral sex and hand-jobs, but not from intercourse alone—and that’s not going to ever change. One breast is bigger than the other, one nipple has a few stray hairs, your penis is exactly the size it is. Nobody gets erections (or orgasms) every single time they want to.

Vanilla sex isn’t what makes people bored. Focussing on distracting stuff does. Feeling disconnected does. Having sex when you’re resentful or too tired does. Having to give the same instruction every single time (“you can pull my nipples, but please don’t pinch them”; “that’s way too much teeth on my balls”) does.

If you and your partner(s) enjoy some kink, or a different time/place/activity every time you have sex, by all means have a good time. Nothing wrong with that if it works for you.

But for most people, wilder isn’t necessarily better. In fact, wilder actually pulls some people away from the connection and focus that can make sex enjoyable. For better sex, don’t diss vanilla—slow down and get to know it better.

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