Should you break up if the sex is bad?
Nah. Not at all.
People are dickheads. If you've managed to find one that's not, and your relationship is healthy and fulfilling in other ways minus the sex, why mess with a good thing? There are so many solutions to bad sex — and so many reasons why sex is bad — that it's at least worth trying to fix the problem you let something so utterly and completely fixable drive you apart.
And yes, yes — I completely agree with you: sex is important. And sexual incompatibility can be a perfectly valid reason to leave a relationship. But the fact is, good sex isn't always inherent. Often times, it has to be learned. And thankfully, it can be taught.
So before you dip out, give it the old college try by ... drum roll please ...
... Finding out what the actual problem is. I'll explain.
Your sex life doesn't suck because of some magical incompatibility loophole; it sucks because you haven't pinpointed where to make improvements yet.
Maybe you're too scared to have that discussion, because it necessarily implies you're unsatisfied, and that dissatisfaction could threaten your relationship. Or, maybe it's because you've done what most of us do and assumed sexual chemistry is innate (nope).
Either way, you've got to try with all your little might to figure out what's not working, what would make things better, and how you can make that happen in a way that works for both (or all) of you.
Writing it down can help. Making a list. Seeing what you need on paper can help you make connections between your desires and methods for fulfilling them. It's also easier to tell someone that sex with them feels like a tampon soaked in KY Jelly than it is to say that out loud.
Masturbation's an even better fix. Until you're certain what feels good to you and what sorts of things turn you on — something you can explore in the context of self-pleasure and self-discovery — it's hard to relate that information to a partner in the form of instructions for improvements.
"It's each person's responsibility to show the other what turns them on," says certified clinical sexologist Dawn Michael, Ph.D. She's very right — you can't expect your partner to psychically intuit what you like and need, but you can tell them how to fuck you better based on your own rigorous R&D.
Okay, now. Say you've tried that already. Say you're clear on what you need and how to make that happen, and you've articulated that to your partner to no avail.
At that point, psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. suggests you take a hard look at whether you're lacking sexual compatibility, or its cousin, sexual chemistry.
What's the difference?
Compatibility is a natural alignment of lifestyle choices and values between two people. In the arena of sex, this typically means you're interested in similar things, or at least in discovering more about what your partner wants; you just need some help refining your skills.
Chemistry is more innate. It's exactly what it sounds like — largely unconscious biological cues that create a sense of passion and high emotions.
Guess which one is more important in a relationship? You're so smart.
According to Tessina, sexual compatibility is important in a relationship because it's something you can work on together — it necessarily implies you both have something to learn and get better at, and that you both want to. Being sexually incompatible is nothing more than a temporary state that requires better communication and self-exploration to break out of.
"Sex is a non-verbal form of communication," says Tessina. And just like you can improve your relationship by doing things like making time to hang out, you can build up your sexual compatibility by talking it out.
Sexual chemistry, on the other hand, isn't as easy to work with. It's more instantaneous, innate and unspoken. If you don't have it, you kind of ... don't have it. It's up to you whether you want to be in a relationship with someone you just don't match with in that way.
However, having sexual chemistry — even the kind that could melt a nuclear reactor — doesn't necessarily make a relationship good. You know this. A mechanical awareness of fuck each other's multiple orifices with graceful aplomb has no bearing on how your partner treats you, or you them, or whether your relationship makes you a better person, and so on.
Luckily, Tessina says that this situation is easily remedied without the dramatic, come-to-Jesus "we need to talk" conversation you've probably been dreading. Instead, she says a gentler, more effective approach is this: "Ask some questions about how your partner feels, and what he wants in bed." Revolutionary, no?
Hopefully, through that sort of non-accusatory questioning, your partner will realize that since their needs matter to you, yours should matter to them, too.
If not, fuck 'em. Metaphorically. If sex is important to you, and you have a partner who's unable or unwilling to at least work with you to create a more mutually satisfying sex life, then you might as well be dating a large, taxidermed rodent. If that's you shit, then I mean no disrespect, but ... come on.
Now's a good time, however, to recognize that not everyone sees sex as one of the more important parts of a relationship. Many people, most famously asexual ones, are perfectly capable of having deeply committed, romance-filled relationships with their partners where emotional connection and shared goals are priorities, but sex is either an afterthought, or simply not a factor.
That brings us to our next solution for your bung sex life: "companionate relationships."
These occur when a couple is very much in love (or in like) with each other, just not in a passionate, sexy way. Usually, companionate relationships are very intimate and committed — in a different way than are mere friendships — but the people involved tend to have sex lives that exist outside the relationship, if they have any sex life at all (some people just don't want to fuck). This is especially common in couples with mismatched libidos or sexual interests, who are compatible in the ways that count, but also have zero sexual chemistry. Companionate love is even one of the seven recognized types of love ... it's just not a popularly represented one.
It is an option, though, and a viable one at that — stay together, enjoy the parts of your relationship that do work, and experiment with using other people or situations to fill the literal and metaphorical holes your partner either can't or won't. Open relationships are another option. So is polyamory. Or some combination of all or any of these.
After all, no one can be everything to a person. Your partner might check the vast majority of boxes, but it's almost impossible for them to hit every single mark on the list of things that make Nancy, or whatever your name is, happy. Is it really so bad or strange that a couple would enlist other people to fill in the blanks where one of them falls short?
I'll go ahead an answer that for you. No, it's not. I'd argue it's much healthier and more adaptive to acknowledge that you may have needs that transcend the boundaries of your relationship, and to find ways to fulfill them in a way that works for everybody.
Good sex isn't hard to come by. Good relationships are. Problem solving is a huge part of good relationships, and experts agree that if you can work together to fix your sexual weirdness, then shit, you're golden.
"If you talk about it, a session of bad sex can be the thing that sets you on a course for lifetime happiness," says Tessina. "Actually discussing the issue and finding a mutually satisfying solution is the key to solving any relationship issue."
All that said, if you feel sexual comparability and mutual libido levels are necessary for you to feel satisfied, you're uninterested in a companionate set-up, and you've tried to everything you can to have better sex, then yeah, break up with your partner if the sex blows. There's no point in staying in a relationship that makes you want to vivisect yourself, and the world is full of people who will fuck you until you hallucinate Mother Gaia then make you waffles.