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Fredric Neuman M.D.

Being "Good in Bed"

Trying makes all the difference

There are those who grow up feeling that they are not as good at anything as they should be. The reasons for having such low self-esteem are familiar to everyone. They add up to having had the experience, repeatedly, of being told one way or another by important people, parents especially, that they were in fact no good, not as smart as their older brother, or not as attractive as their cousins. “You better develop better table manners because no one is going to want to marry you on the basis of your looks alone,” one middle-aged woman remembered her father telling her. That feeling of inadequacy is likely to pop up anywhere, in relationships with others, or at work, or within the family. A man may feel a little stupid or not as well-educated as someone else. The same person is likely to think he is too fat or too short, or as someone put it to me recently, “not well-endowed." A woman may feel unattractive, even ugly. People get down on themselves for being poor students, poor friends, poor conversationalists, and so on. Among these fears, especially among men, is the fear of being “not good in bed.”

Given the fact that every human endeavor can be said to be performed to some extent either better or worse by different people, it is not unreasonable to think that some are “good in bed,” that is, sexually adroit, and others are not. Still, because sexual behavior is more or less “natural,” being skillful is not as difficult as, let’s say, learning to play the piano. Becoming a good pianist requires study and practice. Few people play the piano really well; and most people cannot play the piano at all. On the other hand, most people have sex, although the time spent actually engaged in sex is a tiny fraction of the time spent thinking about it.

Differences in sexual performance from one man or woman to the next are not so great they would be noticeable to a casual observer. In considering other animals, we judge their sexual behavior as simply successful (ie. leading to procreation,) or unsuccessful. Other subtleties are lost. Someone from Mars taking note of the human species might take a similar point of view about us.

Most higher animals have sex. Otherwise, their species would die out. Even plants have sex, although more in a hit and miss manner, sometimes at a distance of a few miles and only when aided by a third party, such as a bee or some other flying insect. We may presume that all these living creatures find sex enjoyable. Otherwise, they would not do it. But an expert studying such sexual behavior would not notice whether it is more enjoyable for some individuals than for others.

Judging one’s own sexual performance.

Asking a friend if the talk you just gave was interesting, or asking that friend if your new outfit looks good, or asking flat out if you are likable, is not likely to elicit an honest response. No friend is going to want to hurt your feelings. Similarly, if you ask a sexual partner after sexual congress if he/she found the experience really enjoyable, you cannot rely on that response. In fact, judging how good you are sexually solely by your partner’s response (which is, after all, what being good in bed means) can be misleading.

There are both men and women who are consistently impeded, psychologically, or for some other reason, from fully enjoying sex. Some men, for example, cannot reach a climax, others cannot get or maintain an erection and others are simply not interested in sex in the first place. The ultimate being bad in bed is not getting into bed at all. A not insignificant minority of women cannot reach a sexual climax ever, and most of the others cannot invariably climax. There are other sexual impairments, too familiar to describe here. Some of these imperfections are so common, they could reasonably be considered variations of normal.

These sexual difficulties cannot be overcome by a sexual partner, no matter how sophisticated, no matter how well that partner performs. A sexual partner can behave perfectly, exactly, ideally well in a sexual context (assuming such an impossibility is possible) and still not render someone who is limited sexually able to enjoy sex fully. Because of these ambiguities, it is easy for that partner, who may already be inclined to feel inadequate in general, to conclude that he, or she, is “bad in bed.” In general, men and women tend to expect too much from themselves. For example, some men are worried that they have premature ejaculation because they imagine other men are capable of delaying orgasm much longer than, in fact, then can. The average time a man spends between penetration and ejaculation is about a minute—not a half-hour.

Men who feel inadequate are likely to think their genitals are too small. Women may think their genitals are “unattractive.” In fact, any physical differences from one person to another are not usually so extreme that they fall outside of a normal range. It is the conventional wisdom that physical differences do not matter to sexual performance. Except for extreme cases, this is true.

Putting all this to the side, what goes into being “good in bed?” The following is what I have learned from my considerable second-hand experience. (These are the kinds of things psychotherapy patients talk about.)

What does being “good in bed” come down too?

Enthusiasm
A desire to please his or her partner.

I could go on at length giving examples of unhappy sexual encounters that grew out of ignoring these principles. But I won’t. These aspects of personality, and their importance, speak for themselves. I should say in passing, that having a lot of sexual experience, is often mentioned as key to being a good lover; it is not—except insofar as it leads one to understand that what works—what is pleasant and exciting to one individual—may very well be unpleasant to someone else. That is what experience teaches. In order to be sure of pleasing a particular sexual partner, it is necessary to be attuned to that person.

Enthusiasm occurs naturally to some people. Others have to make an effort. Also, the desire to please will vary, naturally, depending on the desirability of a particular partner. So, someone may be “good in bed” with one partner and not the next. What counts is how much effort someone is willing to exert. The same principles --enthusiasm and a desire to please another person--are fundamental to many different kinds of encounters. Such as: a first date, a job interview, sales, teaching, marriage in general.

Most people are not willing to put in the effort to be enthusiastic all the time. For example, most workers, even those desirous of making a good impression, will not be able to sustain a high level of enthusiasm year after year, even if they know that doing so would improve their chances of promotion. It is not natural to be in a continual state of excitement. Most people who are married, for instance, no longer think of their spouse as being “good in bed.” With long familiarity, most couples are no longer aiming for “good in bed.” They are aiming for “good enough in bed." (c) Fredric Neuman. Author of "Come One, Come All."

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About the Author

Fredric Neuman, M.D., is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital.