3 Signs Your Sex Life Might Be Dysfunctional

When does pillow talk need to get serious? A psychologist answers.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | August 31, 2022

For a society that is brimming with sexual content, we are still pretty bad at having sensitive, nuanced, and matter-of-fact conversations about our own sex lives with the people we are intimate with.

The topic of sex still rings alarm sirens in our minds and inhibits open dialogue. This is especially concerning in situations where one's sex life is causing them and/or their partner psychological distress.

Here are three possible signs that it might be time to make your sex life a topic of conversation with your partner.

#1. Is your partner simply complying for your sake, or vice versa?

We are taught that compromises for the sake of a relationship should be appreciated. But what happens when we bring the same philosophy to our sex lives and try to fulfill narratives that we may not want to?

Generally, this does not turn out well for the relationship. Yet it's more common than we might think, even in men. One study published in Psychology and Sexuality tracked the rates of sexual compliance (consensual yet undesired sexual activity) in heterosexual men and found that approximately 60% of men in their sample engaged in acts of mild sexual compliance with their partners over a 12-month period.

In other words, sexual compliance is highly prevalent in both men and women. And, while the root of the behavior is altruistic in nature, it can adversely affect your relationship's quality, sexual satisfaction, and even your own mental health.

Educating yourself about gender stereotyping and unlearning the self-sacrificing 'martyr' conditioning so that you can invite or decline sexual activity per your desires can help you lay the foundation for a healthier relationship.

#2. Is porn consumption getting in the way?

Navigating pornography consumption while in a romantic relationship can be tricky. Here's what the latest research has to say about this complicated issue.

On average, solitary porn use has been negatively associated with factors like relational and sexual satisfaction.

On the other hand, some couples who watch porn together experience higher short-term sexual satisfaction. There are a number of possible reasons for this result, such as:

  1. Shared porn consumption could point to similar sexual attitudes, sexual preferences, and sex drive. And, generally speaking, people who are more similar to each other have better relationships.
  2. It's also possible that simply engaging in a shared novel and/or exciting activity with a spouse or partner, like watching porn together, may relieve relationship boredom and re-ignite sexual (and non-sexual) interest in one another
  3. Shared porn consumption can also prompt increased sexual communication and experimentation, leading to a renewed excitement toward sex

What matters at the end of the day, according to researcher Taylor Kohut, is whether you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to porn consumption and sex in general. Differences in pornography use are a pretty clear indication that you may not be.

#3. Is the pleasure lopsided?

Recent research published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences reports that approximately 50 percent of men experience an orgasm every time they have sexual intercourse (probably an underestimation based on other data). For women, this number is only about 4 percent. This phenomenon, known as the orgasm gap, can be seen far more in heterosexual couples than in bisexual and same-sex couples.

What this means is that the female orgasm is assumed to be harder to achieve than it is, simply because it is biologically different from the male orgasm. The solution: acts of sexual variety.

According to research, you can use the following steps to close the orgasm gap:

  1. Oral and manual stimulation is key when it comes to the female orgasm
  2. Wearing sexy lingerie/underwear, incorporating mini-massages/backrubs, trying a new sexual position, or taking a shower or bath together increase the chances of reaching orgasm for both men and women

To sum up, the orgasm gap can be reduced by addressing sociocultural factors and by engaging in a wider variety of activities during intimacy.


Sexual health and intimacy are an important part of the health and longevity of a relationship (and even your mental health). Cultivating a safe space for open conversation and room for experimentation can have benefits that go far beyond your sex life.