My girlfriend loves sex in the shower. She started dropping hints about this on our second date and by the one-month mark in our relationship—after we’d had sex on my roof, in the woods, in a bar, virtually everywhere but the bathroom—she finally voiced the hunch she’d been harboring.
“You don’t like shower sex, do you?”
“It’s not that I don’t like it,” I told her defensively. “It’s just that when I’ve tried it, it’s never been like how I imagine it should be.”
Depicted in film and TV—my touchstone for how shower sex “should” be—the act is a steamy, seamless, and satisfying one. In my own experience however, it’s uncomfortable, awkward, anticlimactic in both the literal and figurative sense and because of all that, liable to provoke boner-wilting performance anxiety. Luckily my previous partners had, like me, largely viewed shower sex like sex on the beach or sex in an airplane bathroom: a sex trope that’s far more trouble than it’s worth.
My current squeeze looked crestfallen when I hinted that shower sex wasn’t my bag and so I decided to dig deep and figure out how I could get over the various obstacles to my enjoyment of it.
When I really sat with it, I realized that a big part of my reticence to get wet'n'wild in the shower has to do with the extent to which I think of the tiny bathroom of my tiny Chinatown quasi-one-bedroom apartment as a sexy place. It’s not. There’s nothing remotely sexy about the bright lights, tiled walls, lotions, potions, and medications strewn all over the surfaces, and an Ikea shower curtain that’s been quietly harboring a metastasizing lifeform.
After accepting this reality, I began re-imagining my bathroom as a sexy place. I purged the stuff I no longer needed, re-organized my cabinets, made space so that my countertop and sink area was tidy, uncluttered, and free of unsightly, dried toothpaste barnacles. I then bought a new fresh shower curtain and liner along with a few candles so that, when her request comes up again, we wouldn't be doing it in a space that’s as unforgivingly lit as a one dollar pizza joint at 3 am.
As we ordinarily have sex with music in the background, I also picked up a little bluetooth shower speaker that sticks to the wall with a suction cup. And just like that, I’d turned my bathroom from the place in which I poop, floss, and squeeze pimples to something more conducive to sexy time. This left me free to concentrate on some of the ergonomic challenges that have turned my shower stall into place where seemingly indomitable erections go to die.
Part of what has made shower sex uncomfortable for me and my partners in the past is, paradoxically, how dry it can feel. “Water can actually wash away natural lubrication and make shower sex downright uncomfortable,” explains New York City-based sexuality educator Amy Levine. While any type of lube will be a boon for making shower sex less squeaky, companies like Trojan have gone to the trouble of formulating lubes that are both designed to work in water and are compatible with latex and polyisoprene (another type of material people who may be allergic to latex turn to) condoms. The extra viscosity of shower specific lube does have one potential downside according to one otherwise enthused Amazon reviewer who writes: “M__ake sure you put it directly on the area you want it to go on. Don't let it drip onto the floor, otherwise you'll be slippin’ and slidin’ like 8-year-olds at a birthday party.”
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When I reached out to internationally-renowned sex coach Kenneth Play about overcoming the challenges to enjoying shower sex, he excitedly told me about a suite of hacks he’d devised with better shower sex in mind before inviting my girlfriend and I to come on over and see what he’d been beavering away on.
As we gamely entered Play’s tidy bathroom, it was immediately clear that he’d had come up against all the same impediments to the enjoyment of shower sex as I had. Not only were viscous lube and attractive lighting in evidence, he’d also placed a stackable 24” metal bar stool in the corner of the stall. He explained that it enabled the the receiving partner to sit down in the shower and have comfortable face-to-face sex with a standing penetrative partner.
“Most people can only have standing sex for so long,” he explained, adding that it’s particularly tricky and physically taxing when the height differential between partners is too great or, in some cases, too similar.
Above the stool he’d installed some suction cup grab bars which, while primarily marketed to the elderly and infirm, are handy for shower sex enthusiasts who want to get a grip and reduce their chances of a post-coital trip to the emergency room. They are not designed to bear someone’s full body weight of course, but are very useful in a space that has little with which to steady oneself.
Unlike the shower head in my home, Play’s is detachable which, according to a 2015 VICE article, is like having the thing that gets you clean doing double duty as the best vibrator ever. Some, however, prefer hydro-fapping with a gadget specifically designed to elicit sexual pleasure. “If you prefer to use a cordless wand in the shower, you can just roll one condom over the the head and one condom over the bottom to make it waterproof,” Play tells me.
My girlfriend was adamant about rushing home and putting all we’d learned into practice immediately. Bed Bath & Beyond was closed, though, meaning that we were going to give shower sex a try without the metal stool and grab bars.
Even with all of the credentialed advice and candlelit ambience, I still found shower sex tricky—success largely still resting upon our ability to pull off a range of notoriously difficult standing positions in a cramped and slippery space. The one bit of gear that did prove to be a help was a foot rest that sticks to the wall with a suction cup. It’s ostensibly designed to make shaving one’s legs easier, though enterprising minds at sex outfitter Sportsheets market their version as providing “the optimal angle for intercourse.” As it turns out, I already have a bit of equipment that provides the optimal angle for all kinds of sex. It’s called a bed—and yes, I realize I sound like I’m not living life to the max, but the truth is, I’m very happy with it. Nevertheless, we persisted.
My girlfriend and I initially tried standing rear entry, her foot on the foot rest and her hands on the wall as if being frisked. But with an 8” height difference between us, even that proved be something of a knee-trembler. Her weighing in at 100-pounds wet meant that we were able to try a face-to-face position in which I stood and she wrapped her legs around my waist. All seemed to be well until a slight shift in our center of gravity nearly proved calamitous. The prospect of a staved-in skull once again took my head out of the game.
But as the cost/benefit ratio of sex in the shower got out of whack, we quickly discovered the rest of the bathroom has plenty to offer. There’s a countertop to sit on or bend over. At her place there’s a bathtub—the side of which can be sat on, enabling me to work from a kneeling position—though a folded bath mat under the knees is highly recommended if you don’t want to walk funny for a few days afterwards. Trust me: It’s not the shower sex she requested, but it's shower-adjacent sex—which is a far more workable compromise.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.