Is it sex that lasts a long time? Sex that gives you a mind-blowing orgasm? Sex that’s spontaneous, sex that’s kinkier, or steamier than usual? Does it include toys? Does it include dirty talk? Is there foreplay involved? Is it part of a larger, flirty game between you and your partner, or is it just about the physical release?
Sex is different for everyone, so figuring out what “good sex” is won’t be the same from one person to another. What makes sex “good” for you might actually make sex unenjoyable for someone else. That’s why it’s important to consider what you enjoy and what you don’t and learn to communicate that with your partners.
First: what do we mean by “good” and “bad”?
For the purposes of this blog, we’ll be making use of the terms “good” and “bad” not as moral judgments of different types of sex (meaning, we will not be telling you what types of sex are morally good and which are morally bad) but as indications of enjoyment.
“Good” sex, then would be sex that is enjoyable to you, sex that satisfies you (whether through orgasm or not), sex that is fun, pleasurable, erotic, engaging & creative. “Bad” sex would then be sex where you don’t feel engaged, where you don’t feel satisfied or as pleasurable. In this context, we are not including any nonconsensual activity, as that wouldn’t be “bad” sex but sexual assault.
Unlearning the formula:
We aren’t given a lot of cultural messaging around sex that encourages creativity. Still, often, the most enjoyable sex is that where you are allowed to be playful and creative, but most importantly, where you are allowed to take the pressure of following a specific formula off and just enjoy yourself.
Instead of following that cultural script (like the bases metaphor) for what sex is “supposed” to be, take a step back and consider which parts of that formula you actually enjoy. There are a few problems with viewing sex like this:
- It enforces rigidity instead of intuition and creativity: the steps are all laid out for you. Instead of tuning into your own desires and listening to what your body is telling you, following the “bases” makes sex into a checklist; a to-do list where you can’t move on to the next phase without first ticking off the last box, and once you do tick it off you’re expected to move on–no matter who is enjoying what.
- It doesn’t take into account different types of desire: the bases metaphor is very similar to something called the linear model of sex, which essentially says that sexual response exists in four stages: excitement/arousal, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Just like the bases metaphor, it assumes sex starts at minimal arousal, ramps up to climax, and then settles after sexual satisfaction. (The bases metaphor fills in the “details” on how this happens.) It is a model of linear progression; however, many people do not experience their arousal in a linear fashion. Dr. Rosemary Bassoon proposed the Non-Linear model of sex, which acknowledges both responsive & spontaneous desire, that orgasm is not necessary for satisfaction though may contribute to it, that desire can come before or after arousal, and that a person may enter this “model” at any point in the cycle, unlike the linear model, which followed strict steps.
- It removes you as an active participant in your erotic life: treating different types of intimacy as different “bases” before getting a “home run” assumes that everybody has the exact same tastes and enjoys different sexual activities exactly the same as everybody else. But we know this isn’t true! Someone might like making out more than they like oral sex, so why can’t they spend all night making out instead of “moving on” to something they like less? You know what you like (or if you don’t, you’re the one in charge of exploring to find out what you like) and you get to make the “rules” for how sex is best for you.
Defining Your Pleasure
Take a look at that second point again: orgasm is not necessary for satisfaction though may contribute to it. This idea can help guide you as you explore what good sex means to you.
The, often unspoken, assumed purpose of sex is to orgasm. Having an orgasm feels good, and since it can frequently happen during sex or masturbation, we may have accepted the idea that sex is for the purpose of orgasming, without quite investigating the truth of that. So let’s take a moment to think about it!
Is sex only pleasurable for you if you orgasm?
There’s no wrong answer here–if you haven’t found a way to engage with your body that you enjoy, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you!
If you are indifferent to any sort of sexual or physical intimacy that isn’t orgasm, you may be asexual! (That doesn’t mean you can’t have or enjoy sex, by the way.
It just means you don’t experience sexual attraction the way allosexuals–or “non-asexuals”–do.) If you find different types of sex or touching painful or difficult to engage in, there may be a medical issue or a mental health block that a professional can help you work through.
If neither of those experiences applies, take a moment to consider what you enjoy about sex. Is it just orgasming? There is a lot of pleasure to be found in sex that isn’t about having an orgasm. When you learn what else brings you pleasure, those things can become rich components of your sexual experiences, adding more pleasure without putting pressure on you to climax. Take time to ask yourself:
- Where are my strongest erogenous zones?
- How do I enjoy being touched?
- What’s something that always makes me blush, or gives me butterflies?
- Other than touching me, what do I enjoy my partner doing? (Dirty talk, etc.)
- When do my senses feel most engaged? (Are there smells, sights, sounds, etc. that arouse you?)
- Are there erotic activities I enjoy more than penetrative sex? (Phone sex, mutual masturbation, watching your partner masturbate, kissing, describing fantasies to one another, naked cuddling, etc.)
- What other erotic activities bring me pleasure? (Dressing in lingerie, watching/listening to/reading erotica, sexting with a partner, etc.)
These questions aren’t exhaustive, but they are a good start for when you’re thinking about what makes sex pleasurable for you. (Check out these questions if you want to have better sex with your partner.) When you’ve identified what outside of orgasm is pleasurable for you, you can start to define what “good” sex is for you.
Why not include orgasm in the definition?
Having an orgasm is wonderful! We have absolutely nothing against it. But there are many reasons a person might not have one, either when masturbating or when having sex with a partner. Sometimes medications can prevent or delay orgasm; some people may have trouble staying present long enough for their pleasure to ramp up into a climax; others may have a medical condition that impacts their ability to climax, etc.
And, sometimes, our bodies just can’t!
Your body is a complicated ecosystem, and your sexual wellness can be impacted by your sleep quality, nourishment, stress level, environment, mental health, and more.
Occasionally, you may experience an inability to orgasm that has nothing to do with the amount of pleasure you’re experiencing. And that’s okay!
That’s why it’s essential to define what “good” or pleasurable sex is to you beyond just climaxing. Then, ironically, removing the pressure to have an orgasm (because you’re able to enjoy all of the components of sex, not just one) can actually make it easier to have one!
If you’re looking for more ways to identify what “good” sex is for you, working with a sex therapist may help. Sex therapy will allow you to explore the stories and beliefs you hold about your sex life and your sexual self and to expand what sex and sexuality mean to you. Get in touch with us today to get started with an expert sex therapist.