Sex – according to Hollywood rom-coms, at least – is all about smouldering gazes and mind-blowing orgasms. But in a survey conducted by global condom brand Durex, the latter isn’t always the case, especially for women. 

The study, which surveyed 400 young adults in Singapore aged between 18 and 29, found that one in two women have had sex even when it was not pleasurable.  

Women may be unaware of what makes them pleasurable,” says intimacy and relationship coach Dr Angela Tan, on the most common reasons why women may feel uncomfortable during sex. “The deeply rooted stigma around masturbating or exploring themselves, as well as voicing out and letting their partner know what feels good or not good, created this ‘pleasure gap’. During sex, fear, shame, and self-judgment can surface, which may stop them from being present and instead get stuck in their internal world of negative emotions.” 

Dr Angela Tan

Some women might feel that their pleasure is a taboo topic to bring up with their partners, and thus they continue with sex out of obligation to please their significant other, adds Dr Tan. “In some cases, there is even guilt for rejecting a partner too many times. In the worst case [scenarios], there might even be coercion from the partner,” notes the doctor. She also highlights cases where “women have multiple uncomfortable experiences and painful sex, and thereafter conclude it’s something wrong with their bodies”. 

The Durex survey highlighted the need for more reliable and relatable platforms for sex education, says the brand. The findings conclude that many sexually active young adults have worrying misconceptions about sex. 

For example, over 20 percent of respondents also believe that a woman will not get pregnant if she is standing up during sex, “as gravity will prevent the sperm travelling upwards”. Many of the respondents also think that a woman cannot get pregnant if a man pulls his penis out of a woman’s vagina before ejaculation; if she has unprotected sex during her period; or if it’s the first time she engages in sexual intercourse. All of the above statements are false. 

Proper sex education and open communication will also help with understanding sexual needs, says Dr Tan. “The lack of proper sex education causes some women to be unaware that sex can be pleasurable. Additionally for those with no prior experiences, there might be no one in their circle who can share relevant information, or most in their circle might just agree that sex is not a great thing for women.” 

Here, the intimacy and relationship coach shares more about how one can learn to familiarise their body and desires, the importance of normalising conversations about sex, and some methods for enhancing the sexual experience. 

How can one stay attuned to their body and desires?

Dr Angela Tan: “One of the most fundamental mindsets that needs to be changed is that us women also have the right to experience pleasure – and that we deserve pleasure, and we should own it. Be open to exploring your body with yourself and/or your partner. 

Be mindful of what aspects of the body turns you off and make an attempt to make peace with it. Recognise that pleasure can happen in all parts of our bodies, not just the genitals or breasts. Create the time and space to learn more about your body, whether it’s on your own or with a partner.” 

Why do we experience so much shame in talking about our bodies?

Dr Angela Tan: “Much of the shame is due to cultural and societal taboos. Women who openly discuss desiring sex and pleasure are deemed inappropriate or even promiscuous. Virginity is placed on the pedestal. Hence, any suggestion that a woman is no longer a virgin immediately devalues the person. These talks become disgraceful, shaming, judgement, and in some cases, degrading. 

As we shy away from talking about genitals, many societies and cultures have nicknames for genitals. There’s so much shame around saying the exact name of the genital. And often, genitals are also used as swearing words. Unfortunately, that’s how many of us are being brought up and conditioned, and we unconsciously connotate these words with a negative spin.” 

Why is communication between couples important when it comes to sex?

Dr Angela Tan: “Sex is the bridge for partners to understand each other on their desires, fears and concerns. Communication helps couples overcome their fear of sex and help each other work through it. Sex is not merely an act, it’s a process that goes beyond physical boundaries and it’s a deep connection experience. By sharing our vulnerabilities, the connection becomes deep, meaningful, and fulfilling.” 

How can one enhance their sexual experience for pleasure? 

For males: “For those who always rush in ‘head-on’…slow down. Find out what your female partner would like, and check in if the activity is comfortable for your partner. 

Don’t rush to penetration. Foreplay provides a lot of sensual pleasure for your partner. Be mindful that over 70 percent of women have an orgasm through stimulation of the clitoris instead of penile-vaginal penetration.” 

For females: “Know what you like, what turns you on, be vocal and guide your partner through it. Your partner will be more than happy to hear from you. Some basic tips could be setting up the room the way you like it, be it with scented candles, or with some slow jazz playing in the background. Setting the mood and building up the suspense is also a great way to enhance your sex experience.”