Should you give up? Try harder? Take a bath in liquid Viagra? It all depends if you can stomach knowing you’re second-best.

Six months after escaping a toxic and tempestuous three-year relationship, 28-year-old Clara’s life had finally started to settle down. She’d left her emotionally abusive ex, secured a prestigious job and moved into a brand new apartment in a leafy suburb of London. She had also, completely unexpectedly, fallen in love.

He was tall, with twinkling golden eyes and broad shoulders. He was well-dressed, spiritually-attuned and financially stable. Sure, his hands were “a little small,” but that didn’t distract from their paranormal connection: He made her belly-laugh, and the pair could spend hours getting lost in conversation.

Everything was perfect. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

“The sex, at first, was totally catastrophic,” Clara, a pseudonym, tells me over a WhatsApp video call, her eyes glazing over. “I was lost for words the first time we did it, in the worst possible way.”

As soon as they hit the bedroom, the dream was destroyed. He prodded her body clumsily, jerked around erratically while inside her and made strange “chimp-like” expressions as he came to climax. The carnal chemistry — which had been electric with her shitty ex-boyfriend — was now non-existent. “I just felt like raising my hands up to the sky and screaming, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?!?!’” she says. “Everything else with us had been so amazing. I really, truly, didn’t know how to handle it.”

So, what do you do when your partner isn’t the best sex you’ve ever had?

Apparently it’s a question many of us are asking: Type it into Google, and you’ll be hit with over three billion results. A lot of these come from open forum sites like Quora or Reddit, with people — of all genders — loudly asking for advice about their lackluster love lives.

There are plenty of articles on the topic, too, which all offer consolatory platitudes about how best to handle terminal sexual chemistry. The common belief, particularly in women’s media, seems to be that you don’t actually have good long-term relationships with the best sex of your life. After all, as per the New York Post, “guys who rock your room don’t make great grooms.” Likewise, in the movie Trainwreck, the best-sex-of-your-life-guy is the “creepy” guy. (For what it’s worth, this topic doesn’t seem to be presented much in men’s media, despite the pretty even gender split on Reddit.)

In many scenarios, the blame tends to fall on an ex — a mythical past figure who probably gave you the most intense orgasms of your life, but who was entirely unsuitable in almost every other way. According to author and relationship expert Susan Winter, it’s only natural to start thinking of them as a benchmark. “We’re always going to have that one ‘perfect tango partner,’” she explains. However, they were unlikely to actually be perfect: “Interestingly, that former lover was most likely hot and cold, self-serving and avoidant. It comes with the turf. A flame that burns that hot doesn’t last.”

This was certainly the case for Clara, who left her previous partner after three years of gaslighting, screaming fights and “mind-blowing” sex. “I was just obsessed with him because I never really knew where I stood,” she says. “His emotional distance in the relationship is kind of what made the sex so good; it was like the only time he was ever really present with me. And it felt amazing.”

Maria, 31, from L.A., also struggles with ex nostalgia. “My ex-girlfriend was experienced, understood my body language and was open to different stuff sexually,” she writes over Reddit DM. “She wasn’t shy or uptight, and we were comfortable with each other.”

But earlier this year, Maria began seeing someone new, and although they get on well, the connection just isn’t the same. The problem, she says, lies mostly in her new girlfriend’s insecurity — she’s worried that Maria, a bisexual, will leave her for a man — which is making her more self-aware in bed. “The first time we had sex felt like a really bad cup of coffee,” she says. “Like, you have certain expectations, but it disappoints you.”

It’s not just the unsatisfied partner that suffers, either. There are plenty of dejected discussions on Reddit of people who have been told they’re disappointing in bed or “not the best their partner has ever had.” Sometimes, this news is broken bluntly and without fear (one redditor mentions feeling humiliated after his girlfriend complained about his size, before declaring that the sex in her “previous relationship had been way better”).

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Dominique Sisley

Dominique Sisley is a London-based journalist who writes a lot about sex, relationships, and how strange humans are. She requires regular watering and withers in direct sun.