Is there a more difficult subject than sex? On the surface, sex is quite straightforward. It’s a series of sexually charged behaviors. On another level, sex serves as a portal to our innermost human desires—for connection, escape, pleasure, validation, and power.

We live in a predominantly “sex-negative” society, and most of us have spent years internalizing the message that sex is bad/dirty/wrong/sinful/dangerous. Those who engage in free sexuality or give sexual services are frequently pushed to the margins of society, with their behaviors classified as unlawful and taboo. For those of us whose sexual identities, gender expressions, skin, and bodies are systemically marginalized in our culture, the message that “you are wrong just the way you are” can feel oppressive. These harmful ideas collide with the undeniable fact that sex elicits great vulnerability—physical and psychological nakedness. And the end consequence is a perfect storm of difficulty!

But here’s a modern take on the classic. We are no longer only assaulted with shame and silencing messages about sex. We also absorb a slew of well-intended messages pushing us to be self-assured in the bedroom. We are told to be sexually liberated—to be sex-positive, emancipated, free, and brave. This diametrically opposed pair of messages offers a fresh take on an old theme. Internalizing the idea of liberation-at-all-costs is hauntingly similar to internalizing the puritanical message. That danger? Disconnection from one’s own self. Under this new paradigm, sex is a performance, an attempt to relieve shame by demonstrating your comfort with sexual expression, freedom, and prowess.

As a result, if you want more confidence in the bedroom, you must first practice self-compassion. If we are devoted to developing relational self-awareness, our intimate relationships can be a potent crucible for growth and healing. Relational self-awareness is an ongoing curious and caring engagement with oneself that serves as the foundation for a healthy personal relationship. What has become very evident to me in my work as a relationship educator and couples therapist is that fostering sexual self-awareness must be part of our relational self-awareness.

Sexual self-awareness necessitates a transition from an outside-in to an inside-out experience of our sexuality, quieting the noise in order to create a deep, close, and nuanced understanding of our erotic self. Each of us deserves to feel comfortable in our own flesh and to be able to express our desires and demands in the bedroom. Each of us needs an actual, rather than a fake, feeling of erotic assurance. As a result, the path to erotic confidence must be fueled by strong self-compassion. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion involves three components:

  • Self-kindness is the ability to relate to oneself in the same way that one would relate to a close friend.
  • Understanding that we are not alone in our challenges and uncertainties is a sign of our humanity.
  • Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating present-moment awareness without judgment.

Being on your own team is what self-compassion entails. It is a continuous commitment to forgiving oneself for not having it all figured out, for being imperfectly and profoundly human. It is also a requirement for amazing and satisfying sex.

Real-life sex is nothing like what we see in movies or on porn, and real-life partners are far from flawless. Self-compassion enables us to confront these moments with humor and playfulness, so that the “mistakes” become the substance of intimacy rather than embarrassment, connection rather than despair. The degree to which we can accept our flaws determines our willingness to take risks in the bedroom—asking for what we need, losing ourselves in the moment, and savoring the feeling of providing and receiving pleasure. Self-compassion enables us to present ourselves genuinely in order to build intimacy with another person. True erotic confidence is a willingness to be seen in all of our humanity.

Your sexual self evolves as you progress through life, so it’s never too late to become more self-compassionate and, as a result, more sexually confident. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Pay attention to your inner dialogue.

We have an internal dialogue all day. Start paying attention to how you speak to yourself while having sex. Are you self-conscious about the way your body looks, smells, or feels? Do you force yourself to have an orgasm swiftly… slowly… softly… or loudly? While these performance anxiety are normal, they are the polar opposite of self-compassion. Replace the critical voice with a friendlier one: “Everything is OK.” Allow yourself plenty of time. Everything is fine.”

2. Bring awareness into the bedroom with you.

Mindfulness is present-moment awareness that is free of judgment, and it is a cornerstone of self-compassion. Dr. Lori Brotto (2014) discovered that teaching women mindfulness techniques made them feel more entitled to sexual pleasure and more likely to have an orgasm.

3. Recruit a teammate.

Sexual desire, sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, erectile function, and decreased pain are all linked to being able to talk about sex with your partner. Talking about sex with a partner builds trust, and trust makes it easier to talk about sex.

Carrying some level of sexual shame is an unavoidable effect of growing up in this culture, therefore many of us must practice moving away from sexual shame and toward wholeheartedness. Putting pressure on yourself to be confident in the bedroom may result in a shame-filled narrative. Compassion toward your lovely, growing, and imperfect sexual being, on the other hand, lays the groundwork for experiencing delight and genuine excellent connection in bed.