Detail image for February 2023 Let's Talk About Sex story.

Sexual chemistry matters in relationships but is good sex worth staying with a toxic partner? Coralie McEachron explores why it’s better to move on.

Written by Coralie McEachron | Illustration by Branden Barker

We’ve all been there – you’re at a bar with friends and a text from a familiar name is received sending off a course of adrenaline through your body. The good? Anticipating a night of orgasmic pleasure. The bad? Leaving the scene with your self-worth compromised after having sex with someone you know isn’t right for you.  

How do we find ourselves in this situation of interacting with a toxic ex or coercive connection in the first place? Why do we mask our need for love with the excuse of good sex? Why is it so hard to resist? And what do we do to extricate ourselves from people who, as amazing as they are in the bedroom, are bad for us in so many other ways?

For some women, great sex can be a commodity. If you’ve had a partner who feels like the gold standard in the sack, it may seem like you’ll never be with someone else who can surpass that intensity. Some refer to this as Okafor’s Law which is an unsubstantiated theory that once someone has made your toes curl (especially against a backdrop of lackluster sex with other partners), that they will always have a hold on you.  

While finding a satisfying partner can be a daunting task for many women, Okafor doesn’t ring true across the board. If you are having a tough time letting go of that one particular partner, it may be true for you.  

However, what could also be happening is you are pulling towards a situation that feels familiar. If you’ve had experience with parents, friends, or previous partners who were critical, used put-downs, or were judgmental towards you as a child; you may find yourself attracted to partners who treat you in the same way as an adult. Without realizing it, you could subconsciously be trying to seek out that same dynamic in an effort to get what you always wanted as a child.  

Particularly in cases of physical or emotional abuse, but even just the conditioning women experience, there may be stories that we carry about ourselves and what we deserve. Low self-esteem, a scarcity complex around there being enough ‘good fish’ in the sea (er, in the sack), and believing that we have to suffer for love, good sex, or for someone’s attention can keep us stuck in a situation that brings more emotional pain than pleasure.   

Being able to make sense of our situation, to name and ascribe meaning to what we are going through, is an important step to understand where we are at in order to move closer to what we want. Despite this, insight alone may not resolve a toxic relational pattern. One of the most important things, whether you are going through this yourself or it’s someone you know shortchanging their self-worth to be with someone for amazing sex; is to refrain from guilt or shame. Those in this situation already have enough ambivalence, confusion, and perhaps even anger or disbelief in themselves.  

Instead, I like to ask what are you really choosing here? You may be saying yes to an abundance of orgasms, but what else? Being used, someone pushing your limits, feeling unappreciated, are examples of things that need to be considered if they are part of the equation outside of the tryst in the bedroom.  

I encourage my clients to remember that their pleasure, sensuality, and sexuality are not at the hands of another person. Your body is yours. Pleasure is yours. Finding what your body needs and helps it feel safe, secure as well as exhilarated, uninhibited, and tingling with pleasure is an amazing feeling. It also means that you are not at the mercy of one person to ‘unlock’ anything. Rather, you have agency to choose partners and/or even teach partners how you want to be treated, in and outside the bedroom.  

If you feel stuck or powerless in a connection that makes you feel sexually alive, but kills your spirit or brings you down in so many other ways, it makes sense that you would be trying to figure out what it takes to move on or let go.  

Does this mean saying yes to someone else, a la ‘getting over someone through getting under someone else?’ It depends. Explore what is right for you by checking if it’s something you feel emotionally ready for, and be solid in your reasons for doing it. Are you trying to get back at or make a toxic ex jealous? Are you hoping for fun and excitement and want to give someone new a chance?  

Also, consider how else you can meet the needs that your former partner filled for you. Feeling alive, sexy, liberated, beautiful, interesting, etc. doesn’t solely revolve around romps in the sack. See if you can say yes to people, opportunities, places, and environments that help you re-discover those facets and aspects of yourself so you carry them as part of your identity versus it’s a gift that one person (no matter how awful their personality) holds and gives you. 

Your mental and sexual health, and vibrance as a human being are not mutually exclusive. You don’t just have to choose one. Give yourself permission to imagine and explore possibilities that feel good in the moment. There’s pleasure and joy available to you that you can feel positive about. Whether you choose to ‘get under’ someone else, find other ways to let go of a toxic former partner, or find something/someone you feel good saying yes to; no matter what (or who) it is — you are worth it.