Apparently, sex can be awkward. Like, well awkward. Also, it can be massive cringe! Right? Who knew? So here we’ll find out why, why it’s not actually a bad thing, and what to do when sex is awkward.
There are lots of reasons why talking and doing sex can be awkward.
Asking is awkward
Asking for what we want and need can be awkward, even when it’s not about an awkward subject like sex. Do you always know exactly what pizza you want, or what chocolate bar, or packet of crisps to buy? Do you find it awkward negotiating what you are going to do with a mate or a group of people? When people ask you what you want, do you always have an answer ready? Of course not.
We’re often not given permission to think very carefully about what we want or need. Often don’t get much practice. We might just want to find ways to go with the flow, or do what other people want. Maybe we would choose the thing that is expected of us. Or try to guess what the other person wants you to want and just want that. So if you find it awkward asking for what you want, times that by 1000% for sex. Because…
Many of us aren’t used to talking about sex
I don’t know if it’s cos we’re in the UK, or what, but many of us are not used to talking about sex. Even people who can teach about sex can find it difficult to talk about what sex they might actually want IRL. Sex is a topic that has a lot of stigma attached to it. To prove it, think about your favourite swear word – has it got something to do with sex? :rest my case emoji:
It can feel quite exposing and vulnerable talking about what sex we might want because we aren’t supposed to talk about it. Everything we are taught about sex is that it’s private, and that it’s rude or not polite to talk about. We don’t get to practice talking about sex very much at school because there isn’t enough good relationships and sex education (ahem). So we mostly get taught either: don’t talk about it, or if you can’t talk about it you shouldn’t be doing it. That’s not helpful!
Often we can’t even articulate what we want because we can’t find the right words for different kinds of sex. Like do you say ‘frottage’ or ‘dry humping’, ‘intercourse’ or ‘f***ing*, ‘penis’ or ‘cock’, or ‘vulva’ or ‘p****y’ or ‘c*nt*’. How about using words like suck, lick, blow, insert, enter, moist, wet, or nibble? Are you just massively cringing right now even reading this?
It’s an awkward thing to do
If you’ve not done sex before then you may find it weird and awkward to do. Sex can involve doing things that you’ve never even been close to doing before. Putting body parts in your mouth, touching someone else’s tongue with yours, licking someone, doing vigorous cardio lying right next to, on top of, or under someone else.
You may also be seeing bits of anatomy for the first time and these bits of anatomy can change right in front of your eyes. There will also be unfamiliar sounds, smells, feelings, and tastes.
This can be true for the first time you might have sex (hey, not all of you want to have sex). Or the first time you have sex with someone. Even if you have had sex with the same person over 450 times it can be awks. There are always going to be moments when things feel strange, not going the right way, or awkward. There will also be times when sex is a bit funny.
One of the things they rarely show in sex scenes in porn, TV, or film are the moments when something happens that makes someone giggle. Like when they fall about laughing because they were trying a position that really was not going to work out (eg wheelbarrow). Or someone farts, or the cat comes in.
That’s not to say that sex should always be funny (which is the only other way that British people can talk about sex apparently). It’s just occasionally it might be a little bit funny and that’s okay. It’s at these times where things go ‘off script’ where we can feel more connected and more real with each other.
Embrace the awkward
I honestly think that if you are having sex that is never awkward then you aren’t doing it properly. As you can see, there are so many reasons for sex to be awkward that it’s bound to happen at some point. So don’t pretend that it’s not awkward, instead embrace those moments.
If you’re pretending that there are no cringe moments then you’re missing out on the kinds of connection that can make sex so special and intimate. I think we should be aiming for connection and mutual enjoyment, rather than just having sex just because we want to ‘have sex’. Does that make sense? Though people don’t just have sex to enjoy it.
Also, if you try to avoid awkward moments then you might end up following a script of how sex is ‘supposed to go’. Perfectly performing sex in that way might mean that you look competent and really good at it but I think it means the opposite. If you follow the script for perfect sex then you are paying more attention to that than your own experience and also the experience of the person you are lying on top of (or next to, or under). That means that it can be non-consensual.
Communication is more important than feeling cringe
I’ve written several times at BISH about this, but communication is more important than ‘doing it according to the script’. Whether you want to talk in some detail about what kinds of sex you want to do before you do it, or whether you are doing more on-going communication during it, or even if you are doing both, there can be awkward moments.
Learning about consent from handshakes
As I’ve said above, there are plenty of reasons why talking about our wants and needs can be difficult and awkward, but if we avoid them then we run the risk of having crap and non-consensual sex. Sex needs to be mutual to be truly pleasurable, and it can’t be mutual if you are not taking each other’s needs and wants into account.
So if something awkward is happening, allow it. If something isn’t working out as you planned, or if it’s not feeling as great as you thought. Or if it’s not feeling great for the other person, or you want to giggle, then take a short break. If it’s getting tense and frustrating you can say ‘this is frustrating isn’t it’ or ‘let’s not try and force this’ or ‘I’m feeling a bit awkward’ or something similar. Don’t just keep on going as if nothing’s happening. Just be slow and come back to paying attention to the person you’re with and your own body.
Here’s how to do sex talk
How to make first time sex better
If you want to hear an excellent podcast about this listen to my mate Meg-John chatting with their mate Elsie at the Meg-John and Justin podcast.
Do leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add or if you have questions. I moderate all comments before they go live. Click here to ask me a question
© Justin Hancock, 2022
Around 100,000 young people per month get their RSE from BISH. It competes with big media companies selling ads, digital platforms harvesting intimate data for profit, and the right. This website is crowdfunded by wonderful people like you, can you become a Patron today?
Buy my book from Bookshop and I earn more £ / $!
If you’re over 18 and really into sex ed I have a podcast you might like called Culture Sex Relationships.
If you want to teach about this stuff, don’t just show people a website – that’s kinda boring! Check out my very popular RSE resources at bishtraining.com
Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here