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Source: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock

According to movies, porn, and the Internet, first-class sex involves spontaneous arousal, intercourse, and mind-blowing orgasm. This great fantasy, of course, departs from many real-life couples' sexuality. I tell my clients if they have "Hollywood" sex once a month, they're beating 95% of American couples. Now a new model—"Good Enough Sex"—helps us diffuse misconceptions, and improve couples' overall experience. 

It is intimidating to expect that anything other than "perfect" sexual performance—arousal, intercourse, and orgasm for the man, and orgasm, preferably during intercourse, for the woman—means there is something "wrong" with you or your relationship. By that definition, there is something sexually wrong with most men, women, and couples. Viagra and testosterone ads cater to men who fear they have medical problems—with claims that a pro-erection medication and/or testosterone enhancement can bring back the (perhaps) perfect sex of his 20s. Women are still waiting for their perfect pill.

The psychiatric manual DSM-V defines sex dysfunction—low desire, non-orgasmic response, or sexual pain for a woman, and premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculatory inhibition for a man—as an individual performance problem. Healthy couple sexuality, however, is not about perfect sex performance; it is variable and flexible, with a range of roles, meanings, and outcomes. Although each person is responsible for their own sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm, ultimately sexuality is a team sport. Couple sexuality is about sharing pleasure, and not an individual performance. 

The "Good Enough Sex" (GES) model (Metz and McCarthy, 2007) invites couples to share desire, pleasure eroticism, and satisfaction as intimate and erotic allies. GES empasizes positive, realistic sexual expectations, without requiring perfect intercourse. Although the valued scenario is a mutual, synchronous experience, we know that fewer than 50% of all sexual encounters will achieve that goal. While 85% of sexual encounters are in fact positive for participants, most are still asynchronous; that is, better for one partner than the other. (For couples under 40, sex is typically better for the male; for couples over 60, it tends to be better for the female.)

GES recognizes the varied roles, meanings, and outcomes of couple sexuality, rather than endorsing an unrealistic demand for perfect performance. It is normal, within any relationship, for 5-15% of sexual encounters to be mediocre, dissatisfying, or even dysfunctional. Couple sexuality is anti-perfection. The key to healthy couple sexuality is to turn toward your partner, laugh or shrug off a negative experience, and get together again in the next 1-to-3 days when you are open and receptive to a pleasurable sexual experience.

Sex, of course, does not equal intercourse—and intercourse and orgasm do not represent pass-fail tests. GES is about an awareness that sexuality involves sensual, playful, and erotic touching in addition to intercourse. And when sex does not flow to intercourse, healthy couple sexuality involves transitioning to a different sensual or erotic scenario, rather than apologizing or panicking.

Embracing Good Enough Sex empowers and motivates couples for honest, real-life sexuality with multiple roles, meanings, and outcomes.

About the Author

Barry McCarthy, Ph.D.

Barry W. McCarthy, Ph.D., is a tenured professor of psychology at American University and a best-selling author.

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