Paralysis by analysis

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MARCH 19, 2013

Sleeping with someone for the first time is so terrifying. There’s this unspoken expectation that everything should go perfectly. I’ll take your shirt off and you’ll have a chiseled six pack, and we’ll come together while fireworks explode in the background. Thanks, Hollywood. The only image floating in my head is Ryan Gosling tenderly pulling off my clothes, our movements so well choreographed (and choreographed they are) that we seem destined to sleep together.

Instead, we fall together in a mess. You pull my dress off and leave my shoes on, for some reason. You make this terrible grunting noise while taking off your belt. We’re awkwardly squeezed into a twin-sized bed, making out. My hair gets caught under your elbow. You decide to go down on me. It reminds me of a blind dog furiously lapping at a bowl. You give up after a few minutes. The condom’s across the room, and I get out of bed and grab it. The sex begins, and I remember once again that you are not Ryan Gosling and that this is not Hollywood. The rhythm is off, and my neck keeps getting pushed against the headboard. The moans that fill the silence seem forced.

If trying to coordinate an intimate act with someone isn’t hard enough, there’s also the distracting internal monologue. I once got coffee with a friend who complained about first-time sex with her crush. All she could think about, she told me, was how much she was moving around. Apparently her ex told her she wasn’t “lively” enough during sex. Now, she was focusing on wiggles and hip gyrations rather than enjoying herself.

The tendency to be sidetracked by tiny details is a common one. In fact, the economic world has a term for it: paralysis by analysis. It describes what happens when we overthink a decision so much that we’re too paralyzed to choose at all. I think the term can be applied to the bedroom as well. We often worry so much about how we look or what our partner is thinking that we don’t enjoy one of the most pleasurable acts out there.

Research indicates that 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men experience sexual dysfunction, a broad term that includes lack of desire, arousal problems and performance anxiety. So much of these issues stem from being in our heads during sex rather than in our bodies.

I think people often forget that being in bed together is already an indicator that your partner finds you cool or witty or, at the very least, sexually attractive. By the time you’re between the sheets, the hardest part is over. You’ve usually gone through the awkward getting-to-know-you stage and established that there’s mutual interest. Sex is supposed to be the fun part that comes afterward.

Not to mention your partner probably isn’t fixating on whatever imagined problem you have. No one cares if you have a double chin in missionary or if your orgasm face looks like you bit into a lemon and then got punched in the chest. I promise no one is staring at your thighs or counting to see whether you have a four-pack or six-pack (or any pack at all). Most of the time, everyone is just stoked to be getting laid.

If you’re really in your head during sex, slow things down. Focus on your breathing and the sensations of your body. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling.

I once dated a guy who had trouble keeping it up. Instead of ignoring the limp elephant in the room, we talked about it. He told me he was nervous, and I told him I was, too. Sometimes, just hearing your partner tell you they’re experiencing the same thing is enough to solve the problem. During the talk, I reassured him that I found him attractive and liked sleeping with him. We never ran into the problem again.

Real-life sex, with all its chaos, is rarely like the movies. Expecting it to be perfect from the get-go is only going to lead to disappointment. The act involves complicated movements that require synchronization, the exchange of body fluids and so much more.

Most people don’t look like models. At some point in your life, you’re going to fart or queef during sex. Let’s get the embarrassment over with now. Getting paralyzed or overthinking it takes you out of the moment. Shit happens. Let’s laugh about it and then keep having awesome sex.

Aside from continuing the human species, sex exists for pleasure. We may want it to be seamless every single time, but is that really the best marker of good sex? You can’t enjoy it if you’re busy analyzing everything down to microscopic detail. Let’s be real. It’s not some test of your beauty or body. It’s just sex.

Contact Elisabeth Bahadori at 


APRIL 17, 2015