Shy Krug, Ph.D., CST
Aim for the stars? Nah, aim for “good enough”.
You don’t have to look far until you see people talking about the “best”. We are told we need the fastest cell phone service, the most reliable car, and the lowest mortgage rates. We are supposed to be the happiest, the most successful, and in the most fulfilling relationships.
We want our kids to win in sports, to be honor roll students, and to have the very best in life. The very idea of mediocrity is looked at with scorn. Responding to the question, “How are you?” with, “I’m doing ‘just ok’”, may be met with uneasiness. Aiming for being “just good enough” is seen as falling short in life. Why aim for “ok” when “great” is right there for you to strive for? Think of how much better your life will be when you get to “great”!
We are socialized from a young age to only accept the “best”. We look at how things “should” be and subsequently look down at, or criticize, anything that falls below that standard. You likely won’t have to work too hard to think about specific events or incidents in which you felt down on yourself, or were put down by someone else, for failing to live up to certain expectations or standards. The implications of this run deep. Insecurity, poor self-esteem, and conditional acceptance become hallmarks of our society.
How does this translate to how we see our sex lives? The enjoyment or pleasure in a sexual experience can vary significantly, depending on countless variables. Age, health, stress, work, kids, poor sleep, (the list is probably endless) can all affect one’s sexual experience. Sometimes sex is a mind-boggling, toe curling, experience of pure ecstacy. Sometimes sex is pleasing and enjoyable. Sometimes sex is physically underfulfilling but is emotionally and interpersonally rewarding. Sometimes sex is boring and bland and just “fine”. Sometimes sex is bad. Just flat-out bad.
But what is it you’re aiming for? If the aim of sex is to have the “mind boggling, toe curling” type of sexual experience, you’re not really giving yourself a whole lot of wiggle room. Anything that falls short of that bar becomes a disappointment. A failure. Why even bother with this “less than ideal” sex? It can put an inordinate amount of pressure on the people involved to have an experience that they may not have the full ability to control. Imagine being told to hit a “hole-in-one” while golfing, but you also have to do so regardless of the weather, your own physical health, or if you’re using a broken golf club. And imagine that your ability to do so has a profound impact on your partner, your self-esteem, or life satisfaction. Sounds pretty unreasonable, huh? It sounds more than unreasonable, it sounds completely unfair!
But on top of that, let’s say you did have the ability to ensure “great” sex every time. What happens then? What happens to your experience of “great” if that’s the experience you have all the time? Imagine having a high-end prime rib steak for every meal. Or going on a shopping spree every single day. Wouldn’t that, at some point, lose some of its allure? The principle of hedonic adaptation comes into the conversation at that point. Hedonic adaptation is when a novel experience, which elicits a strong response, gradually loses its potency due to sustained exposure, resulting in smaller and smaller reactions. Win the lottery once? HUGE response. Win the lottery every day? Doesn’t quite do anything for you anymore.
Enter the “Good Enough Sex” model. This model, developed by Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy, focuses on increasing psychological and emotional flexibility when it comes to sex. It reinforces the role of shifting away from specific desired outcomes and focusing, rather, on the role of the process, pleasure in particular. This model highlights the focus on the mutual experience of desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction. With the focus of sex being shifted to pleasure, intimacy, or connection, instead of function, orgasm, or ejaculation, couples have the opportunity to engage their values in what makes sex meaningful and rewarding for them.
When great sex is the “goal”, there are more barriers placed before a couple. In essence, when the emphasis is on “great” there is more pressure, a greater need for a desired outcome, and less room for simply being mindful with your partner. When couples approach their sex lives with a focus on greater flexibility, playfulness, and intimacy, “great” sex becomes more accessible.
So, shoot for the stars? Nah, aim for “good enough”, you may find a more rewarding sex life there.