By Krista Nabar, PsyD, LP, HSPP
If you are in a relationship and struggle to be on the same page with your partner regarding the sexual aspects of your relationship, allow me to introduce you to the man who is going to help you develop a mutually satisfying and pleasurable sexual relationship, regardless of whether or not you're dating with ED.
His name is Barry McCarthy, and he has written and collaborated on some of my favorite books on improving sexual functioning and healthy sex and desire in long-term relationships. I just attended a training with him recently, and I am jazzed about some of the concepts he discussed. We often get lost in a world of unrealistic expectations and unhealthy messages about sex and sexuality that derail us and take the enjoyment and pleasure out of sex.
I like McCarthy’s work because he talks about REAL sex in REAL relationships. When we hold unrealistically high expectations of what sex is supposed to look like, we are often disappointed by what it actually turns out to be in our daily lives. Think of the movie or television show with the hottest most titillating sex scene you have ever seen, and compare that to what sex in your relationship looks like. If they are similar, then you are extremely lucky and definitely in the minority. Sex is often amazing in the first six months to two years of a relationship, a period known as the limerence or “honeymoon” phase. But inevitably, as people get to know their partners in a much deeper and more intimate way, the novelty, spontaneity, excitement, and passion of sex tends to fade. When people are not mentally prepared for this, they may assume there is something wrong with their partner, themselves, or the relationship. The fact is that only about 15% of the total of our sexual encounters with our long-term partner will we consider to be great sex. 15% will be sexual encounters that are truly not good or perhaps dysfunctional, and the remaining 70% will be good/fine/mediocre. (This is the anti-perfectionistic “85%” rule: expect and accept that 15% of your sexual encounters will not be great or even good. That is normal and acceptable).
Mediocre sex? Sign me up! But really, the regular frequency “maintenance” sex that does not blow your mind but allows you to connect with your partner in an intimate way is what actually opens up the opportunity to have those few and special amazing sexual encounters. McCarthy developed the Good Enough Sex (GES) Model to outline factors that are necessary for healthy and pleasurable sexual encounters in real relationships. It is important to view GES not as resigning yourself to a lifetime of mediocre sex, but rather to understand how sex works in long-term relationships and work to establish a couple sexual style that will allow you to maintain a healthy sexual connection throughout your years together. (For more information on couple sexual styles see Developing Your Couple Sexual Style (2009) by McCarthy and his wife, Emily.)
There are a number of important dimensions of McCarthy’s Good Enough Sex (GES) Model that are helpful to understand (My commentary is in italics):
Resource: McCarthy, B. & Metz, M. (2008). Men’s Sexual Health
Dr. Krista Nabar is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, and Executive Director of Carolina Sexual Wellness Center located in Cary and Durham, North Carolina. Learn more about the practice and Dr. Nabar's work here.
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