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In pursuit of "good" sex
How objective are your measures?
by Janet L. Jacobsen

What should sex do for you?

Certainly there's research support for positive effects on the body, including improved respiratory, immune, circulatory and cardiovascular systems. But what about psychological effects?
What makes sex "good"?

When I ran across a University of Houston psychology department study on the pursuit of "good" sex, I was interested in how they would measure the "psychological goodness" of a sexual experience.
Like most such studies, this one involved college students, 164 of them (33 males), ages 17 to 49 (average age 22). The participants kept diaries of their sexual experiences over three weeks (they averaged 5.6 such experiences, mostly with "boyfriends/girlfriends"). After the fact, they also rated how they felt both during the experience and after the experience, on a 9-point scale (1 being "not at all" and 9 "very much").

Sex is a personal experience not only in that we individually go through the process and have our "feelings" related to it, but that we see our sexual activity in the context of our own lives. For singles this can be heavily influenced by our self-esteem, loneliness, contentment with life, contentment with single life. Sex doesn't exist in a vacuum but in the full context of how we see ourselves and our life at that moment.

So it can be difficult to be objective about what happens. Sometimes the desire to feel desirable is foremost for us (often true for the newly single), so much so that the actual outcome isn't a key concern.
How "good" was your experience?

Consequently the items these researchers used to measure the psychological quality of a sexual experience can give us a more objective "check-list," so to speak.

Not that you should take a pencil to the rating scale while the sheets are still warm. But if in retrospect your sexual experiences seem to be not quite what they should be, or you wonder how "normal" your reactions are (a typical concern), the following lists can give some guidance to how you evaluate your actions.

Thoughts and feelings during sex:

Intimate (how close you felt to the other person during the interaction)

Desirable (how desirable you felt, or how much your partner wanted you during the interaction)

In control (the degree to which you felt in control)

Respected (how respected and valued by your partner you felt during the interaction)

Loved (the degree to which you felt your partner had romantic feelings toward you during the interaction)

Pressured (how pressured you felt by your partner during the interaction)

Competent/able (how good you thought you were in terms of skill and ability during the interaction)

Choiceful (how able you were to do the things you wanted to do during the interaction)

Capable (the degree to which you felt you had the ability to do the things you wanted to do during the interaction)

Genuine (how true to yourself you thought you were during the interaction)
Feelings and thoughts after the experience:

Satisfaction (how satisfied you were with the interaction after it was over)

Regretful (the degree of feeling you have done something you wish you had not done)

Guilty (the degree of feeling you have done something that goes against what you believe in)

Relaxed (how comfortable or relaxed you felt after the interaction)

Content (the degree to which you got out of the interaction what you wanted)

Good (how the interaction measured up to what you expected)

Pleasant (how pleasurable or enjoyable the interaction was)

Positive (how the entire interaction made you feel)

Valuable (how worthwhile you think the interaction was)
[Each item was measured on a 9-point scale --1 being "not at all" and 9 "very much."]
Being objective

While it sounds a little cold-hearted, if you find it really difficult to get a handle on your feelings about sexual experiences, it might be useful to keep your own diary for a while. It might take only a few "evaluations" to discover that you have some consistent issues that you need to deal with.

For instance, if you often feel pressured or not genuine, you may want to seriously reevaluate your sexual partner(s) or how you choose your partner(s).

Do regret or guilt play too much of a role? Does the experience consistently not meet your expectations? If you see patterns in your behavior that trouble you, it would be good to have a discussion with a close friend or counselor, to help you evaluate your actions and your expectations.
Research results

In the study, the highest average rating in the feelings during sex was for "respected" (mean score 7.91). Love, which averaged 7.58, had the greatest range/variability across the participants. The lowest rating was for "pressured" (1.97). The lowest variability was for "capable."

In the feelings after sex, the lowest ratings were for "regretful" (average 1.89) and for "guilty" (1.82). The highest ratings were for "pleasant" (7.62) and "positive" (7.61). The measure that showed the widest variability across participants was "relaxed." The lowest variability was for regretful and for guilty.

As noted, the participants in the study were primary young college students; the responses of older adults might (or might not) be different. So I've included the study results for general information, not as any indication of "right" or "wrong" evaluations.
It's personal

The lists provide a baseline, if you will, for giving some thought to your perception -- and experience -- of sex. Maybe there's something missing from the list that matters a lot to you. Feel free to add it.

Because the real value of giving thought to lists like these is in learning more about ourselves.

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