What's holding us back from having more positive, pleasurable, mind-blowing sex? Ourselves.
That's the curious takeaway from a collection of data gathered by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz for the New York Times. Using Google searches, Stephens-Davidowitz delved into martial sex, penis size, early climax and more, all with an eye on how those factors affect the sex we have — or, more realistically, don't have. According to the number-crunching, Americans only manage to have sex about 30 times a year.
The problem behind our lackluster sex lives, according to Google? "Enormous anxiety, with much of it misplaced," according to Stephens-Davidowitz.
This might not be news to the woman who sucks in her stomach during sex or the man who worries that he won't be able to get it up for his perfectly arousing partner, but it turns out that women and men are not as alone in those insecurities as they might feel.
Of course, Google searches tend to reflect what we specifically need more information on, not simply what we're concerned about (or what we're actually quite all right with). And the searches skew heterosexual, based on Stephens-Davidowitz's data.
But the results are still telling about how much we have in common when it comes to sexual anxiety:
Men are worried their penises are too small. "Men make more searches asking how to make their penises bigger than how to tune a guitar, make an omelet or change a tire," Stephens-Davidowitz observed. But the reality is that concern over penis size doesn't really correlate with reality. A 2013 study found that plenty of well-hung men are insecure about their packages, while some smaller men are fairly confident.
Plus, women aren't all looking for giant guys. Other studies have shown women's preferences vary depending on the man, as well as their own orgasm tendencies: Women who experience vaginal orgasms care a lot more about penis size than those who don't. Which leads us to...
Women are worried men's penises might be too big. "'Pain' is the most Googled word used in searches with the phrase '___ during sex,'" Stephens-Davidowitz writes. And while that can't all be chocked up to penis size, there is definitely concern among women that their partners might be too big for their enjoyment. (One is reminded of the Sex and the City episode in which Samantha finds herself taking on her "Everest.")
The comforting reality: If a woman is concerned about the size of her partner's package, he might be concerned too — and by talking about it, perhaps those insecurities can cancel each other out.
Men are worried about coming too fast. Premature ejaculation is the most common male sexual dysfunction affecting men, studies have found. And sure enough, the second most Googled question by men was how to make sex last longer. And that anxiety can directly impact a man's performance. "Being anxious about being able to maintain an erection and/or please their partner can short-circuit the mind-body flow and disrupt the body's physiological response," therapist Jane Greer told Women's Health.
But men needn't be so concerned. For one, coming quickly is beyond common; one study estimated that up to 39% of men experience it. Second, men's female partners might not be judging them like they think they are. In fact...
Women are concerned over why their male partners are coming so slowly. "There are roughly the same number of searches asking how to make a boyfriend climax more quickly as climax more slowly," Stephens-Davidowitz writes. And unfortunately, when a guy doesn't orgasm at all, women can be quick to blame themselves. As one 20-something man told Mic, "Sometimes you just can't get it up and there's no logical explanation."
Women are worried their vaginas smell bad. "[Women] have nearly as many questions about their vaginas as men have about their penises," said Stephens-Davidowitz. The biggest concern is smell, a long-established anxiety aided by pressures from ads that tell women they need to improve their scent.
But that concern is likely overblown, not to mention damaging for women. As Frank Kobola wrote on Cosmopolitan.com, "A vagina is supposed to smell like a vagina. Plus, it's not like Yankee Candle is ever going to put out a 'Balls' scent, so we're pretty much even. Most guys either actively like the way you smell down there or are pretty neutral on the whole thing."
The heartening news is that most of our anxieties are unfounded. "Men and women are united in this insecurity and confusion," writes Stephens-Davidowitz. "Many of our deepest fears about how our sexual partners perceive us are unjustified. Alone, at their computers, with no incentive to lie, partners reveal themselves to be fairly nonsuperficial and forgiving."
And if we stop judging and getting in our own way, we'd enjoy sex a whole lot more.