I talk with many couples who complain about wanting the “spark” back in their sex lives. All too often, the greatest deterrent to that spark is unrealistic expectations.

Many individuals get stuck on the idea of having “perfect” sex: spontaneous, intense, passionate, prolonged intercourse, G-spot orgasm, simultaneous orgasm, etc. This rigid focus on “perfect” sex usually leaves couples feeling intimidated and disappointed in their sexual experiences.

” Trying to attain perfect sex is actually the problem, not the solution. “

So what does healthy sexuality actually look like, and how can couples learn how to have great sex?

According to psychologist and sex researcher Barry McCarthy, couples should instead focus on having “good enough sex.” Do this by paying attention to each of the four aspects of sexual encounter: Desire, Pleasure, Eroticism, and Satisfaction.

By focusing on each element rather than a romanticized picture of “perfect” sex (whatever that is!), couples bring their expectations back to earth and approach sex in a way that results in true contentment.

Review each of the following definitions with your partner. Then discuss the conversation starters together to create a realistic picture of what great sex looks like in your relationship.

1. Desire

Feeling desire means you experience a positive anticipation of having sex. You view sexuality as a deserved part of life and intimate relationships.

Questions for discussion:

  • How do you feel when you think of having sex with your partner?
  • Do you each look forward to sex?
    • If you do, what about the experience do you anticipate?
    • If not, what about the experience prevents you from looking forward to it?
  • How do you like sex to be initiated?
  • What are some personal turn-ons (special celebrations or anniversaries, warm showers or baths, X-rated videos, music, candles, being playful or spontaneous, etc.) that allow you to get excited about being intimate with your partner?

2. Pleasure

You experience pleasure when you feel comfortable receiving and responding to sensual and sexual touch.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How do you generally feel when your partner is touching you? When you are touching your partner?
  • What kinds of sensual touch do you enjoy (body massage, cuddling on the couch, playful touch, holding and caressing, etc.)?
  • What could you do to intermix both sensual and erotic (manual, oral, or vibrator stimulation) touch?
  • What kind of touch do you prefer after intercourse or a sexual encounter?

3. Eroticism

Eroticism is the experience of arousal that naturally culminates in orgasm.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What has the word “eroticism” meant for you in the past?
  • How does that compare to this definition?
  • Describe the flow in your sexual encounters from sensual touch to erotic touch to orgasm or intercourse.
  • Is it important to you that both partners experience an orgasm during each erotic sexual experience?
  • How do you feel about the encounter ending with erotic touch and orgasm without transitioning to intercourse?

4. Satisfaction

You experience an increased sense of satisfaction when you bond emotionally and physically after a sexual encounter. This could include cuddling, chatting, and generally feeling warm and excited about the person next to you.

You also experience greater satisfaction when you feel positive about yourself as a sexual being.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What is your overall feeling about sex in your relationship?
  • Do each of you feel good about your bodies and comfortable with your sexuality?
  • Can you each recognize and accept while most sexual experiences are positive, some will be just ok or even dissatisfying?
  • After a sexual experience, how do you typically feel towards each other?
  • What are your current after-sex rituals or habits? Are there other ideas you’d like to try in order to feel more emotionally connected after a sexual experience?

McCarthy, B. (2015). Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy. Eau Claire, WI: PESI.