By Julie Compton
At 30 years old, Olive Persimmon had only had sex with two people less than 10 times in her life.
“I didn’t want to be that person anymore,” Persimmon tells NBC News BETTER. “I wanted to be in a relationship, I wanted to find love, I wanted to have good sex.”
She says the lack of intimacy made her determined to become a great lover, but it turned out to not quite be what she expected.Great sex is about letting go of control
When Persimmon eventually had sex again, all she could think was: “Am I doing this right? Does my body look sexy in this position? What was that weird noise we just made?”
“I was so very much in my head and judging myself, and judging my partner and trying to figure out what the heck was going on,” Persimmon recalls.
The problem, she says, was she believed being a great lover was about knowing all the “tips, tricks, and positions,” but she realizes now it’s about a lot more.
It’s common for people to see sex as a performance — something they need to get just right, rather than as a sensual experience, according to Sarah Byrden, a sex educator and speaker.
“Pleasure’s not a mechanical thing,” Byrden says. “Pleasure has to include things like communication and relaxation, trust, eye contact… sort of relating [to each other], and tuning into something more personal than what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Many couples are fixated on orgasm — both their own and their partner’s — as an end point, Byrden says. She says orgasm is important, but we shouldn’t be overly focused on it.
“I want to deconstruct orgasms as a single event that we’re working toward and open it more up to a context of orgasmic pleasure rather than this one goal,” she says.
Instead of focusing on sex as a performance, Bryden recommends looking at it as playful.
“How turned on can you get without moving straight to the genitals?” she asks. “Can you explore together in a way where you are highly aroused?”
Determined to turn her situation around, Persimmon set out on a journey for sexual self discovery, which she chronicles in her laugh-out-loud book “The Coitus Chronicles: My Quest for Sex, Love, and Orgasms.”
From BDSM classes, to orgasmic mediation sessions, she found out a lot about herself.
What she learned, she says, was that she had a lot of shame around sex, and a huge fear of intimacy that caused her to avoid it.
“I like to be in control, I was kind of a control freak, and I didn’t know how to give up control when it came to sex and dating,” she recalls.
After having sex with her ex-boyfriend that first time, Persimmon talked to him about her insecurities. She says it required her to open herself up to vulnerability, which she’d never done before.
“If you’re in your head and you’re not connecting with your partner, even the right moves are not going to allow your body to relax, and you’re going to experience the most pleasure when your body is relaxed,” she says.
The relationship lasted only a few months, says Persimmon, who recently got out of another, longer term relationship. She says the relationships taught her a lot about the importance of vulnerability and communication.
How you feel about your body makes a big difference when it comes to allowing yourself to be vulnerable with sexual partners, according to Emily Nagoski, PhD, a sex educator and author of the best-selling book “Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life”.
If you struggle with body confidence, Nagoski recommends an exercise by Drs. Eric Stice and Carolyn Becker called “The Body Project.”
Every day, stand in front of a mirror naked, or as close to naked as you can tolerate, she instructs, and write down everything you like about what you see.
“If it is your eyebrows, write that down,” says Nagoski. “If it is your wrists, write that down. If it is the spirit in your eyes, write that down.”
It may be strange at first, but over time, it will help you notice all the beautiful things about your body.
“What happens is you teach your brain to notice how beautiful your body already is, which helps to immunize you against all the cultural messages that tell you your body is supposed to be different,” Nagoski says.Great sex is about exploring new things (a “yes, no, maybe” list can help)
Do you want to try new sexual experiences with your partner, but don’t know how to tell them? Maybe you’re afraid they’ll judge you, or it’s just too awkward. If that’s the case, Persimmon recommends this “Yes, No, Maybe” list.
The list contains bedroom activities you might be interested in trying together. Both you and your partner will check what you are definitely willing to try, what you might be willing to try, and anything you definitely are not willing to try. When you’re done filling it out, you can exchange lists and see what you are both interested in.
The list will allow you to explore new possibilities together while maintaining boundaries.
“It’s a starting point for a conversation,” says Persimmon.