Why is it that we are shown so many unrealistic sex scenes in movies these days? Couples look into each other’s eyes, become aroused without foreplay and within three minutes have simultaneous mind-blowing orgasms –­ this is a fantasy that in real life is totally impossible. Disturbingly, I also can’t remember ever seeing a movie in which a condom was worn.

So when we see great sex on the screen, do we expect that in our personal lives? Many of my couples complain that their sex lives are no longer very good, that they lack passion. These couples believe their friends and work colleagues have more and much better sex than they have. Not being satisfied within your sex life can often lead to emotional suffering, insecurity and disconnection from your partner.

Over 10 years ago Dr. Barry McCarthy and Dr. Michael Metz created the Good Enough Sex Model for Couple Sexual Satisfaction. The authors believe it’s the unspoken and unrealistic pressures couples place on their sexual performance that can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

The model is broken down into 12 essential principles and helps people to focus less on performance while increasing awareness of pleasure, happiness and emotional intimacy. Their essential principles still apply in this new year.

Essential Principles to Defeat Unsatisfying Sex

  1. Sex is valued as a positive and invaluable part of an individual’s and couple’s self-esteem, pleasure, intimacy and confidence.
  2. Relationship and sexual satisfaction are the ultimate focus and are essentially intertwined. The sexual element is important to enhance or hinder the strength of a relationship.
  3. If partners have more realistic expectations about sex and receive more psycho-sexual knowledge/education, they will have better sexual satisfaction.
  4. A healthy lifestyle encourages good physical health, which is important for having a healthy and happy sexual life.
  5. Relaxation is the foundation for sexual pleasure, the ability to be mindful and calm one’s anxiety is very helpful to properly function on a sexual level.
  6. Sensual touch and emotional pleasure should be valued as well as sexual performance.
  7. It is important to focus on positive sexual experiences while accepting that less positive experiences are quite normal. Performance pressure, fears of failure and worries about rejection should be removed.
  8. There are five basic purposes for sex that are integrated into the couple’s sexual relationship: pleasure, tension release, self-esteem, intimacy, and/or procreation.
  9. Partners should integrate three basic arousal styles: “Partner Interaction” (pleasure stemming from a partner’s arousal/pleasure), “Self-entrancement” (pleasure found in one’s own body), and “Role Enactment” (assuming roles in the bedroom).
  10. Differences and similarities in gender should both be respectfully valued and mutually accepted.
  11. Sex is integrated into real life and real life is integrated into sex.
  12. Sexuality is personalized, occasionally playful, special and spiritual.

So what do I tell couples who come to see me hoping I can help improve their sex lives?

Sometimes they believe they have lost their libido, but it often turns out that the sex they are having lacks passion. People in a long-term relationship can’t expect to feel as horny or want sex as much as they did when they met. It’s easy to lose interest in being intimate with a partner when sex has become predictable and boring, which can then create a sense of disconnection and frustration.

Unsatisfying sex is quite common in long-term relationships, especially when we take our partners for granted. It’s important to understand that no one is a mind reader. If you want your sexual needs met, you must first know what your needs and desires are, and then you must let your partner know.

There is also this myth that sex should be spontaneous. Well, it isn’t. Sex doesn’t just mysteriously happen (as is often the case in movies). If you want to have good sex, you have to create the time and space to get in the mood and look forward to it. Setting time aside for sex and making a date with your partner may sound odd, but it’s really a good idea. You have time to prepare and set the mood, and you can devote your attention to each other.

Another unrealistic pressure is that only vaginal penetration qualifies as ‘real sex’. The alternative to intercourse is ‘outercourse’ an umbrella term for all forms of non-penetrative sex, often used as part of foreplay. But since only about 20 percent of women can orgasm with just intercourse, outercourse can be a very attractive option.

So embracing “good-enough” sex can empower and motivate couples to be more aware that sexual performance is not the be-all and end-all.

Just keep in mind; these 12 essential principles when you are between the sheets with your partner.

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This post originally appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald and was published on July 20, 2016. This article is republished here with permission and updated on January 29, 2021.