The pressure is on!
The easy availability of porn, the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon and the portrayal of unrealistic sex on TV and movies are all upping the ante on what we all should expect in the bedroom. Both men and women are looking for the more passionate -- even "optimal sex" -- they are seeing everywhere. And men are starting to feel the pressure to step-up their game in the bedroom.
Does that mean a man has to become a billionaire or learn BDSM techniques to have "great sex"? We can't avoid it, we are being bombarded by the message that we should be having this highly-vaunted "great sex."
Advertisers of sexual products are particularly motivated to push the promise of easily-attained amazing sex. Porn advertisers are known for shamelessly propagating sexual stereotypes and the myth that great sex comes from a long-lasting, big and functioning penis. One ad on a popular porn site featured this message:
"Better than Viagra ... get the thick, powerful erections you deserve. Finally achieving your full size... will not only impress the ladies, but also guarantee that they start treating you like a man. Give you the respect and love you deserve."
The punchline? They want you to buy their brand of testosterone.
Advertisers on TV are not much better, reinforcing messages that suggest "you can have a great sex life if you understand the causes of erectile dysfunction."
Even informational articles do little to counteract the messages of quick fixes that focus on sexual function. A Google search will bring up article after article advocating (offering up) short lists and tips that are supposed to enliven sex lives with position guides (from Cosmo) or techniques to last longer (WebMD).
While this advice can be well-meaning, most of it comes from a model that is now being challenged. Historically, sex research and advice has come out of a desire to help sexual dysfunction -- finding a sexual problem (often physical) and fixing it. The idea was to get our genitals to function properly -- such as with stronger, longer-lasting erections -- and then nature would take over and we could naturally achieve great sex.
But, what is "great sex," and is it a natural state?
The very expectation that we should have "great sex," may be the problem according to sex-researchers Metz and McCarthy (2007). Sex portrayed in the media is FAR from what the average mortal experiences on a regular basis. Television or movie sex, for example, is rarely messy or in need of lubricants. Orgasm is perfectly timed (often in impossibly uncomfortable positions) and almost every sexual episode is jacked up with high levels of passion.
In reality, sex waxes and wanes in quality, excitement and function. In response to these unrealistic expectations, Metz and McCarthy developed the Good-Enough Sex model, which emphasizes how "...abandoning the need for perfect performance inoculates you against sexual dysfunction by overcoming performance pressures, fears of failure and rejection."
So, what is a credible solution for great sex?
In contrast to the dysfunction model, surprisingly little sex research has attempted to find out "what works" sexually -- the elements that make up great sex. Borrowing from the positive-psychology model, sex researchers and therapists, Peggy Kleinplatz et al have begun this journey, learning from people who report having "great sex" in longer term relationships. Including the opinions of 25 sex therapists, Kleinplatz identified eight elements that make up optimal sex -- all quite different from the media-driven focus on sexual function.
One of the most important messages she found was "that sexual function is not sufficient to attain optimal sexuality." In other words, just because we have a big, long-lasting erection, "good sex" is not guaranteed.
So then why are we all trying so damn hard and dumping large sums of money into discovering how to get good sexual function, when it really isn't all that important for great sex?
Kleinplatz found that "the good news is that 'normal' sexual functioning is not necessary to experience optimal sexuality." In other words, you don't need a big, long-lasting erection to have great sex.
Now THAT is great news! But it is a statement that is almost incomprehensible to most men and women who have been given the opposite messages all their lives.
So, what are the eight elements that make up optimal sexuality?
1. Being present and embodied
2. Feeling a connection with a lover
3. Feeling an erotic intimacy
4. Communication skills and comfort
5. Being genuine and uninhibited
6. Taking interpersonal risks, having fun (laughter)
7. Surrendering to the experience, by being vulnerable and open
8. Transcending, healing, transformation
Too lofty? Find more detail on the 8 Elements of Great Sex, and how to use them in your sex life.
The pressure of getting a long-lasting erection or having a big enough penis can become such a focus to a man (and his partner) that it dominates his experience, not allowing him (or his lover) to be present, connected, and all of the other things necessary for an amazing sexual experience.
The pressure needs to come off body function and move onto these more internal and interpersonal elements -- allowing great sex to develop and thrive.
Let's focus on the things that might actually get us to our goal of good sex!
Kleinplatz, P. J., Ménard, A. D., Paquet, M. P., Paradis, N., Campbell, M., Zuccarino, D., & Mehak, L. (2009). The components of optimal sexuality: A portrait of" great sex.". Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.
Metz,M.E.,& McCarthy, B.W. (2007). The "GoodEnough Sex" model for couple sxual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapsy, 22, 351-362.
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