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The Rules of Being Good at Sex

Researchers have boiled it down to five core things.
Inti St. Clair / Getty

Generalizing about what makes someone “good in bed” is tricky. Simply put, what people find fulfilling and satisfying varies widely from person to person. There are, however, a number of things those described as good in bed tend to do. We know this because research has shown a correlation between seemingly instinctual elements of their game and their partners’ level of sexual satisfaction. I say seemingly instinctual because they may have just ganked their moves from an article very much like this one.


Regardless, the effects are pretty much the same: a better sex life and a happier partner. Interestingly, giving and getting great sex is linked to a number of positive outcomes not related to fucking—including more satisfying relationships, higher wages, better health and a lower probability of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. If all that appeals to you, then you may want to read on to ensure you’re hitting all your beats.

Make your partner feel sexy.

A study from 2010 looked at female participants’ sexual satisfaction and found that it was “predicted by high body esteem and low frequency of appearance-based distracting thoughts during sexual activity.” Put another way, the more confident someone feels, the higher the likelihood of them having a great experience. While a study that plotted men’s self esteem and sexual satisfaction was harder to turn up, my guess is this connection might be observed across all genders. I know I certainly have a better time when my partners are being especially effusive. So say something nice. Or at least moan something nice.

Get familiar with the terrain.

If you think the desire one is sort of obvi, you might also think that having a working knowledge of your partners’ genitals would be a given. Sadly, it’s not. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Eve Appeal, a research-based women’s health organization in the UK, most men can’t properly identify the difference between the vagina and vulva. Moreover, I’ve heard plenty of women use the former when they really mean the latter. Becky, regardless of how short the skirt Kayla wore to the office holiday party was, you could not, in fact, see her vagina. No one could.


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“Vulva” and “vagina” are the “less” and “fewer” of the body. Once you know how to use each word properly, hearing them used interchangeably will sound like nails on a chalkboard and you’ll be compelled to say something like: The vagina is the muscular and tubular part of the female genital tract while the vulva refers to the external female sex organs which include the mons pubis (the mound of fatty tissue that sits on the pubic bone), the labia minora and majora (the inner and outer lips), the urinary meatus, and so on. Not for nothing, people can be just as in the dark about how male parts work. Around a third of partners I’ve been with since having a vasectomy were unsure whether I would produce ejaculate upon orgasm.

Crack a book or watch a good youtube explainer like this one or this one courtesy of sexologist Lindsey Doe. Knowing how these bits function will clue you in to what sorts of stimuli might feel good. This is info that the best fuckers have locked down.

Get to know your partner’s preferences.

Another constituent part of the vulva is the clitoris. If you or your partner has one, you’d likely do well to know its location, its idiosyncrasies, and its importance. Data from recent OMG Yes Sexual Pleasure Report: Women and Touch demonstrate—for the first time ever, in a nationally representative sample of American women—just how important the clitoris is to female orgasm.

Nearly three-quarters of women said that clitoral stimulation during intercourse was either necessary for their orgasm or made their orgasms better. But before you get carried away and blitz the thing, know that while clitoral stimulation is important to many women, how people like to have theirs stimulated varies greatly between individuals.


Despite what we’re led to believe, male genitals too can be quite specific in how they want to be handled. But regardless of what they’re handling, truly apt diddlers take their time in approaching the area, soliciting verbal feedback, and registering non-verbal cues throughout.

Flip the sexual script.

Great bedmates know that keeping things varied in the bedroom is a great strategy for taking their partners’ where they want to go. "It is significantly easier for women to experience orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts as opposed to just one act," says Debby Herbenick, associate professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, and (my) co-author of Great in Bed. "For example, vaginal sex plus oral sex would be linked to a higher likelihood of orgasm than either one of them alone. This may be because more sex acts mean that people spend more time having sex."

Don’t underestimate the power of foreplay.

Not everyone stresses kissing, but a study from University of Albany hypothesised why for many people, kissing can be so integral to good sex. They posited that kissing plays a vital role in mate selection—we get to “know” a prospective mate chemically by the taste of their mouth and lips.

They went on to say that kissing promotes bonding, partly because we know that we are putting ourselves at risk by kissing somebody and also because kissing is thought to raise levels of oxytocin (the so-called “cuddle hormone”) while lowering cortisol (a stress hormone). Their third and most pertinent hypothesis was that kissing is the human way of increasing arousal and therefore increasing the chances of getting it on. The study found strong support for each of these hypotheses but also found that while more than half of men would happily have intercourse without any kissing taking place, less than 15 percent of women would be cool with that.

While you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t appreciate a quickie every now and then, science shows that women are more likely to have an orgasm if the build-up had been unhurried and of an adequate length. While one woman’s adequate can be another woman’s interminable, studies have shown that many women need more time to orgasm than the average duration of P in V or what’s less childishly called “intravaginal ejaculation latency.” A 2005 study clocked that average in at around 5.4 minutes. Luckily, however, sexual activity doesn’t just mean intercourse. Great lovers know that kissing, manual stimulation, and oral sex is a vital part of the sex act and that front loading a session with lots of foreplay increases the likelihood of their partners having one or more orgasms.

Lastly, some housekeeping: In porn, fingers, toys, and penises are shown dipping into one hole and then into another, then back again. Consummate lovers know that putting anything in a butthole and then into a vagina will greatly increase the likelihood of an infection like bacterial vaginosis which, as the name suggests, isn’t going to be fun for anyone. Anytime you put something in an anus, wash it before even thinking of putting back in a vagina. Another tactic employed by great lovers is to use nitrile gloves for anal play to lessen the likelihood of cross-contamination.

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