What is Healthy Sex?

Healthy sex is less clinical and much sexier than you think. It's not all about disease prevention or neurology (although is it about that too). It's more about fantasies and enjoying sex the way you want to. Dr. Sonia Borg, an accomplished sexologist and author of the books Oral Sex He'll Never Forget (currently available on Amazon.com) and Oral Sex She'll Never Forget (due out this March), identifies healthy sex as "feeling good about the sex we're having." It's essential, she says, that no one - not even professionals - should define "healthy" or "normal" sex for others. Sexuality is a personal thing, and, consequently what makes for a healthy sex life is going to be different for different people.

There are no rules for how many times a week you should do it (although many studies seem to suggest at least twice a week is a baseline number). There's no law about how long each session should last, and there's no guidelines as to what, exactly, you should be doing in the bed. Nevertheless, there do seem to be some common elements that cut across the sex lives of all sexually healthy individuals. According to Dr. Sonia, these common ingredients include "trust and honesty, freedom from guilt or shame, and allowance for the other person to feel how they feel."

When it comes down to it, communication is the key. To some extent, this is obvious; sex is a team effort, and if you can't trust or even talk to your partner, the team will fall apart. But sex isn't doubles tennis; it's a private matter. And when it comes to sex, developing an open, trusting relationship can be exceedingly difficult. Sexuality is the kind of thing we've been trained to guard carefully, and the thought of opening up to a partner in order to fulfill private desires can be pretty disconcerting. We tend to respond accordingly: "People often would rather let their sex lives and relationships waste away than share some of their fantasies," says Dr. Sonia, "because they fear that their partner won't want to hear it, or they don't feel like they can trust their partner."

These fears run deep. People often feel intense guilt and shame when it comes to sex. It's not their fault; it's an issue of a taboo that functions on the much larger scales of culture and society. And this guilt doesn't just manifest itself as emotional discomfort and unsatisfying sex lives; it actually has a large-scale and negative influence on public health.

Overcoming Sexual Guilt

Healthy sex isn't the same as safe sex, but they are connected. As Dr. Sonia points out, statistics show that in countries where sex is stigmatized, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are highest. In Kenya, for example, according to Dr. Sonia "there is very little sex education and people are not really allowed to talk about sex to anyone, Books on sexual health are burned, and the stigma regarding sex outside procreation is so strong," and STI rates are incredibly high. According to the World Health Organizations (WHO), 7.8% of adult Kenyans are HIV positive. On the other hand, it's clear that in countries where sexuality is not a taboo subject, STI rates drop as a consequence. Sweden, for example - a country that is generally considered one of the most sexually progressive on the globe - has an HIV prevalence rate of under 0.1%. The US falls somewhere in between; unfortunately, at 0.7% the US actually has the highest HIV prevalence rate of any industrialized country - a fact that may be attributable to the relatively puritanical view of sexuality that persists here.

Dr. Sonia suggests that celebrating sexuality may act as a partial remedy for both the public health concern of widespread STIs and for personal issues including unsatisfying sexual lives. If there is no shame in sex, we can talk openly and honestly about getting what we need to protect, share, and celebrate our sexuality. "Looking at the [HIV prevalence] numbers," she says, "it seems pretty clear that our attitudes about sex have a lot to do with [STI prevalence]. So if we can change our attitudes towards sex, if we stop experiencing shame, and instead put our energy into celebrating sexuality, how different is that going to be?"

The key is to focus attention on sex; the only way to ease the guilt and shame connected with sex is to make sex something that can be talked about. If you're someone who feels uncomfortable talking about sex or if even thinking about your sexuality unsettles you, don't just ignore these feelings. Sex is natural, and your response to sexuality is just as natural, and it is also incredibly important to your overall well-being. There are things you can - and should - do to validate your own sexuality.

"If you're experiencing something negative about sex, take note of that," recommends Dr. Sonia. "Ask yourself 'why do I feel that? Why did I think that? Why, when I go to undress my wife or touch my partner, do I lose my desire?'" You'll hopefully start to notice patterns; you'll see what actually turns you on and what doesn't, and you'll also start to become aware of your own moral stance towards sexuality. Again, the important thing is not that one person's sexual morality is inherently better or even "healthier" than another's. What is essential is that you feel comfortable with your sexuality, and that you feel good about the sex you're having.

There's no reason to live your life feeling sexually unfulfilled. "If we do not feel good about the sex we're having, we're sexually violating ourselves," says Dr. Sonia. "And we probably violate ourselves more than anyone else does. If we continue on with something unhealthy, then shame on us." Luckily, change is definitely possible. Dr. Sonia offered us a four-step approach to develop a healthier sex life.

  1. Define what healthy sex is. Be specific - say something like: "Healthy sex, for me, is having sex three times a day."
  2. Identify the type of sex life you'd like to have, and describe it in great detail. Again, try to be precise. For example: "Both my partner and I orgasm every time we have sex, once a month we have a sexual adventure, or have sex outside the bedroom. Oral sex is a part of our foreplay. We have sex at least once daily."
  3. Identify the gaps between your desired sex life and your actual sex life.
  4. Each day or week - some defined amount of time - take action on those items.

It may sound obvious, but taking action is essential. Dr. Sonia notes that "People use the same masturbation pattern from the moment they start until the moment they die, unless they make a conscious effort to change. And the same is true with sex with a partner - I mean, how often do you hear people who are in a long-term relationship complain that sex is always the same? And it will be, unless we consciously decide to change it. That's why you need to take specific actions to change - if that's what you want. Without taking action, things won't change."

And it's worth it. New studies are completed every day showing new and more astonishing (psychological and physical) health benefits that can be gleaned from a healthy sex life. 

Read 12 Ways Sex Helps You Live Longer to learn more.

Good Sex = Healthy Sex

It's clear that a healthy sex life means a fulfilling sex life - whatever that means to you. So finally, to answer the question on everyone's mind, Dr. Sonia does have some great tips on how to have better sex. We will let her tell you in her own words:

  • Be a good masturbator.  Pay attention when you're masturbating, and go through all the stages of the sexual response cycle - excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. You can do mutual masturbation with your partner; it's a wonderful thing. It's like getting access to the owner's manual for how to please your partner. Most people have trained themselves to masturbate and climax quickly, but by watching your partner, you can see them go through the stages, then do a little hands on and, working through from beginning to end, you can learn to really extend sex and please your partner.
  • Mutual masturbation is a good thing   to do when you're not having intercourse. For example, if you don't have sex while the woman's on her period, or if one of you is too tired for full-on sex, or maybe there's a new child in the house, or whatever it is - use those times as an opportunity to learn.
  • Connect with your partner.   If you're thinking about work, or cleaning the kitchen, or what's for dinner, you're not in the moment and it is going to show up in your love making. Stop those thoughts and work on being in the moment. Tell your partner what is going on, so they can help bring you to the present.
  • Do kung fu.   Well, not really... There is an exercise that is used in martial arts to practice connection called "sticky hands." In martial arts, being connected to your opponent could be a matter of life or death. So in this exercise, you put your palms together, and one person leads - kind of like a dance - and you push your hands back, and forward, and move it in circles. It's very simple, but it helps you get in synch and get in the moment so you can have sex. It's huge.
  • Share your fantasies.   And encourage your partner to do the same. Be open-minded; not judgmental. There's a good chance you and your partner might have the same adventures in mind.
  • Turn on the lights.  Every once in a while, brighten things up a bit, and make eye contact when you do.
  • Be vocal.   Allow sounds to come out while you're having sex.
  • Have naked conversations.   It sounds weird, but it's all about communication. Being naked will make you both feel vulnerable, and you may be able to overcome some of the toughest emotional blocks to communication.