Have you ever stumbled while speaking in public or fumbled a job interview? Odds are, you were putting too much pressure on yourself to perform. While it's important to be fully engaged and to give our best efforts, the times when we are relaxed and accepting of imperfection are generally the times that we do our best. This is as true for sex as it is for anything else.
The Myth of Mythical Sexual Performance
Cable television, erotic romance novels, and internet porn all make their money portraying sex as an earth-moving, loud-screaming, toe-curling experience. In this fantasy-driven media all of the characters have perfect bodies, foreplay is often nonexistent, relationships are optional, and everyone climaxes every time and simultaneously! Even those who don't consume this media often internalize the same expectations simply by living in society. People establish unrealistic standards for their own sexual experiences, placing a lot of pressure on themselves, and their partners, to “perform.” Many are disappointed when the reality doesn't match the fantasy.
I once went a seminar by Dr. Barry McCarthy, one of the field's leading sex and relationship experts. I'll never forget the results of his research. He said that the human body is an imperfect organism. It doesn't always work the way we want it to, especially when we try to force it (for example, think of the last time tried to will yourself to fall asleep). Expecting bed-shaking orgasms, and focusing only on that goal, puts too much pressure on partners and leads to frustration and dissatisfaction more often than not.
Dr. McCarthy's “Good Enough” Sex Model
Dr. McCarthy urged us to embrace a realistic view of sexuality, one that focuses less on performance and more on connection, as well as comfort with communicating desires and needs. He calls it the “Good Enough” model for sex, in which couples focus on creating a sensual and affectionate experience, regardless of the outcome.
Sometimes men can't get (or maintain) an erection and sometimes women's bodies don't lubricate, even when aroused. It's common for at least one partner to not arrive at orgasm. When not chronic, these experiences are normal. They happen to everyone. Rather than experience shame, disappointment, or embarrassment, Dr. McCarthy urges couples to normalize imperfection and enjoy intimacy.
How to Have Amazing Lovemaking With Your Spouse
Of course, it is important to listen to your partner's desires and needs and to act accordingly. It is important to give them pleasure. However, it's crucial to be able to laugh and adapt when things don't go perfectly. It's crucial to enjoy just being close. This will help couples to feel more connected and fulfilled.
Here's the real kicker: according to Dr. McCarthy's research, couples who focus on having “good enough” sex end up having amazing sex moreoften than couples who focus on having amazing sex! Relaxing, feeling comfortable with each other, removing pressure, and feeling accepted and loved (no matter what) creates an environment where the earth-shaking and the toe-curling are more likely to happen! So relax. Express love. Enjoy each other and see what happens.
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Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.