Overheard conversation: “Bad sex? I can’t even imagine what that would be. Any sex would be good sex for me at this point.” The speaker and her friends were laughing but, listening with a therapist’s ear, I could hear the despair.

Haven’t there been times when you were so hungry that even the heel of slightly stale bread tasted good, or would if there were any around? The same with eating unheated left-overs that weren't that great the first time. None of us would argue that if in desperate want, any reasonable facsimile of what is desired will do…but certainly not for a “that’s all you will ever get” basis. Nonetheless, when it comes to sex I dare say that the majority of humans make do on a steady subsistence of less than optimal amounts and kinds of sex. That’s why we sex therapists are kept so busy and are unlikely to be made obsolete.

I wrote here some time ago on my definition of good sex (August 24, 2010); now let’s look at bad sex. Like most complicated matters, whether sex is satisfying is usually not a black and white matter. There is a very long curve that might go from Yuck! To Wow! for any specific partnered interaction. If the sex is not coercive and is with a partner who is not repellent most would say sex was “okay”, at least better than a poke in the eye.

The complaints of bad sex I hear about in my counseling office are almost always with a long term partner. (If the relationship is not a committed one and the sex is really unfulfilling I imagine the people part company rather than come to see a relationship therapist.) The frequent grievance from women about men is usually that they rush the proceedings, that not enough attention is paid to warming her up physically or psychologically; few niceties of courtship beyond the act of intercourse. Often it is also that not enough time is taken with intercourse itself, although some complain that this portion of the event takes too long! The grievance that I hear most about women from men is that they are uninvolved and/or unenthusiastic. Same sex couples often have similar problems.

It has always seemed to me that if more men responded to their female partner’s complaints of not taking enough time their own objections to their partners’ disinterest would be lessened since then the women might well be more enthusiastic participants. Of course, the reverse is also true: a more eager participation might evoke a more attentive partner.

Since enjoyment of sex is such an individual thing, can we come up with a general definition of what bad sex is? I would venture to say that any sexual relations in which at least one of the partners feels bad after the events would be a start at it. Of course, in my opinion it can’t be very good sex for either person if only one is enjoying it. So the definition of bad sex is an event wherein the sighs, if there are any, are of resignation or defeat rather than of pleasure.

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