I recently polled my Twitter followers about what they find themselves saying most often during sex, other than exclamations of pleasure. While I answered my own question by guessing I say “Slower, please!” more than any other directive, I think the words that really pass my lips most frequently mid-bang are, unfortunately, “I’m sorry.”
With newer partners, I often apologize for things they don’t yet know about my body or my preferred style of having sex: “Sorry, my knees don’t bend that far.” “Sorry I’m taking so long to come.” “Sorry, can we try using a vibrator instead?”
You would think that these worries and insecurities would fade away as a relationship develops. My partner of over 2 years, for example, knows how long it typically takes me to get off, and knows, too, about the intricacies of my particular body and its particular pains and quirks. And yet I still find myself apologizing to them for all sorts of things while we’re gettin’ down: “Sorry, can you do that slower?” “Sorry I forgot to shave today.” “Sorry I haven’t come yet… Are you getting tired?”
Let me be clear. There are obviously some good reasons to apologize during sex. If you bonk your partner in the face with your elbow while changing positions, or call them a name they’ve recently told you they don’t actually like, or accidentally get a little toothy during oral sex (and they’re not into that), you should say you’re sorry. In some cases you may even need to grind the encounter to a halt so you can figure out what happened and how to fix it, whether you do that by fetching a cold compress or by having an hour-long emotional conversation. But these circumstances are not the same as the ones which lead many people to apologize for simply existing sexually, or for having a body that (like all bodies) doesn’t always cooperate.
One lesson I’ve had to learn over and over – and that I still honestly struggle to internalize – is that most people, or at least most good people, don’t pursue sex purely for selfish pleasure. They don’t want their partners to essentially be poseable mannequins or efficient sex robots (although those archetypes can be fun to roleplay once in a while!). No, if someone is attracted to you and has enthusiastically consented to have sex with you, in all likelihood they are turned on by your body, your sounds, your responses, your presence. It makes no sense to apologize for these things when they are, in fact, some of the very things that no doubt get your partner(s) going.
That said, kicking this habit is more difficult than it seems, especially if insecurity and politeness-to-a-fault were baked into your upbringing. (This is definitely true for me, as someone who was socialized as female and, um, Canadian.) An encouraging and empathetic partner can be helpful in overcoming this tendency – mine, for example, often reminds me that they’re banging me because they like banging me, not because they want the encounter to wrap up as quickly and easily as possible. What fun would that be, anyway?! They’ve also been known to calm my anxieties via affirming dirty talk – “You don’t have to do anything except receive all the pleasure I’m about to give you,” for example, or “I can’t wait to go down on you for a long, long time.” Once, during a doctor/patient roleplay scene, they even told me, “I don’t have any other patients after you, so we can take our time with this treatment.” Hubba hubba!
But as is so often the case, your insecurities and anxieties can’t be entirely solved by an external force, no matter how charming that force may be. Disavowing the mid-sex apology requires internal work as well; to move past this habit, you may need to interrogate your own deepest fears and oldest traumas around sex and relationships. Journaling, therapy, and conversations with a trusted friend can be useful avenues for unpacking your hangups. It can be painful to plumb the depths of your own psyche, and at times, you may be tempted to abandon the project – “Who cares if I apologize during sex too much?! It’s fine!” – but if you can heal some of your inner torment in this area, you will make sex better not only for your partner(s) but also for yourself. You deserve pleasure, guilt-free!
Despite all the processing I’ve done to figure out why I apologize during sex and why I don’t need to, I still feel the impulse come up during sex pretty frequently. I’ve found it helpful to replace that reflexive “Sorry!” with an intentionally-chosen comment that more accurately reflects what I want to communicate. Instead of apologizing for “taking too long” to come, for example, I might say, “Thank you for being patient with me.” Instead of apologizing for my lack of flexibility, I might say, “I appreciate the way you accommodate me and my needs.”
I’ve also noticed that sometimes my apologies are a backhanded plea for reassurance from my partner – and I’ve gotten better at asking for that affirmation directly instead of vaguely fishing for it. I might ask, for instance, “Can you reassure me that you want me to take my time?” or “Can you remind me how much you love my body? I’m feeling a little insecure today.” A good partner will want to ensure that you feel safe and appreciated; there’s no need to feel ashamed about needing or wanting some encouragement and sympathy from the person you’re sleeping with.
While I totally understand why so many people find themselves apologizing during sex – mostly because I continue to struggle with this behavior myself – I really think we all deserve better than sex that’s fraught with guilt and worries. Your relentless apologies may frustrate your partner(s), but more importantly, they (and the impulses behind them) can also stunt your ability to enjoy sex. This is a habit worth nixing, even if it takes a lot of internal processing. Pleasure unfettered by shame is beautiful, transformative, and worth pursuing – sorry-not-sorry!