What We Mean When We Say "Good" or "Bad" Sex

How do we define something so damn subjective?

Many of us grew up hearing about “mind blowing sex” before we even knew what sex was. For my whole life, women’s magazines at the supermarket have been littered with hot headlines — mostly aimed at women giving their men “the best sex of their lives.”

Talk about an already mysterious subject becoming even more hazy.

These magazines tell us that we can drive a partner crazy with our knowledge and prowess of all the right moves. As if there are some really big secrets to satisfying sex. A new “unheard of” sex tip gets released with every issue.

Sshhh! Don’t tell them we told you. It will be OUR secret!

Sex sells, so we read articles about how to have better sex just like we’re looking for a few good productivity hacks. For those of us who still have sex, anyway. Those of us who aren’t having sex have probably replaced the whole damn thing with Netflix and productivity porn. But I digress.

All in all, our culture does a piss poor job at speaking honestly about sex. When we talk about sex, we often use cutesy jargon and thinly veiled innuendo. We giggle and blush. We struggle to educate our kids about sex too. Sadly, that means we do an even worse job at defining good — or bad — sex.

Among our closest friends we might talk more openly about good sex, and we might talk about bad sex. The uninitiated among us may be horrified to find out that it’s even possible to be bad in bed. What does any of that even mean?

Far too many people think good sex is what they’ve seen in the movies. Or, of course, porn. Which means there’s plenty we need to unlearn right off the bat.

It’s all relative.

There’s nothing wrong with using Google or reading Cosmo mags to learn more about different sexual tips and techniques, or to find out what other men and women have to say about good sex. But don’t kid yourself. Even the “greatest” techniques can fizzle out in a flash because good sex varies heavily from person to person.

That means you can bring your A-game, do absolutely everything “right,” yet still wind up having bad sex. Sorry, Casanova. Like they say, it takes two to tango. If one partner isn’t really feeling it, then the whole team may suffer.

Or maybe not.

One person can still think a sexual encounter was amazing while the other disagrees. It’s awkward but hardly unheard of. This is especially common when a man takes whatever he needs, and then just before drifting off to sleep asks, “Was it good for you?”

It’s further worth noting that there’s a gendered difference in the way men and women define bad sex. When men typically talk about bad sex, they’re talking about a cringe-worthy experience. Maybe they felt it was “boring” or “weird.”

It’s different for women. For us, bad sex more likely means feeling pressured or coerced. Even leaving the encounter in pain or in tears.

The fact of the matter is that everyone defines good and bad sex differently. That’s partly what makes it so silly to assume we can read an article and suddenly know all the secrets to drive your partner wild in the sack. It all depends upon what your partner likes, and what you like too.

So what can we say about good — and bad — sex across the board?

Good sex is…

Consent

You’ll be hard-pressed to find an encounter of good sex without it being consensual. Even in the realm of BDSM, consent and boundaries matter. And no, I don’t mean that both were adults and therefore consent was implied. Clear consent is the foundation for any positive sexual encounter. It’s about as basic as we get.

Enthusiasm

Sure, you can have clear consent without enthusiasm. But let’s face it, one of the biggest, best parts about good sex is being wanted. A partner who is willing to have sex, but not excited is going to hold back, be disengaged, and most likely will not be committed to the task at hand. An enthusiastic partner is sexy. When we’re both enthusiastic, we’re more likely to work out disagreements and ensure that all parties are completely satisfied.

Connection

I think most people would agree that connection contributes to good sex. You can have all the attraction in the world during the activity, yet if it feels like your partner’s mind is elsewhere, it will put a real damper on the whole sexual experience. Both men and women will frequently describe connection during sex itself as a huge turn-on, and I wholeheartedly concur.

Compatibility

This one’s woefully underrated if you ask me. I think purity culture is often to blame — my religious upbringing taught me that there’s no such thing as sexual compatibility. It’s ridiculous, because all of us have different turn-ons, kinks, and fetishes. Different strokes for different folks, right? Some sexual mindsets and physicalities fit together better than others. It’s only natural that compatibility goes a long way toward having good sex.

Communication

If we each want to have good sex, we’ve got to be able to talk about sex. It’s staggering how many people feel like they can’t talk about what just happened with the naked person in their bed. None of us are mind readers — we have a responsibility to ourselves and our partners to communicate our desires in the bedroom. And hopefully ask our partner what they need as well.

But good sex isn’t…

Gymnastics

Some of us believe we can’t be a good sexual partner if we can’t bend and contort our bodies into pretzel-like shapes. The great news is that good sex doesn’t mean you need to perform acrobatic or gymnastic feats. You can find a sexual position that’s both comfortable and satisfying — it simply takes a little trial, error, and patience. Speaking of performance, that’s not even conducive to good sex. Go for expression over performance.

Perfect bodies

When I was in grade school, I read a quote by someone very Hollywood, like Pamela Anderson. She talked about how it was shocking to discover is wasn’t enough to be pretty… she said women were also expected to look good “down there.” In my experience, really good sex doesn’t care how thin or curvy you are. Or whether you wax, shave or go natural. We all have something we dislike about our bodies, but we shouldn’t let our insecurities get in the way of good sex. Good sex happens with penises, vaginas, and labias of every color, shape, and size. Furry or not. The same goes for the rest of the body.

Simultaneous orgasms

The demand for simultaneous orgasms results in plenty of disappointed people. Not to mention fake orgasms. Look, orgasms are awesome, but let’s enjoy them as they come… naturally. No one should feel pressured to speed up, slow down, or pull an orgasm like a rabbit out of their hat!

Mind reading

In any kind of romantic or sexual relationship, it’s tempting to think it’s supposed to be so damn kismet that neither of you speaks a word — yet you have incredible sex. Okay, so… never say never, but please don’t make this your expectation or goal. You’re not a mind reader, and neither is your partner. Don’t put such pressure on each other to know what the other wants if you’re not even willing to talk about it.

Repressed

It’s not like anyone really believes that repression leads to better sex. It’s more how people (especially men) objectify “virginity,” school girls, or any other idea of sexual “innocence.” Some people have this idea that being with a repressed partner will let you tap into all that untapped energy. Meh. Repression doesn’t necessarily go away when you have sex — learning and unlearning after being sexually repressed is what cuts through the repression and leads to better, and eventually good sex.

Good sex is in the eye of the beholder (and the beheld).

Just like we cannot come to a consensus of the best dessert, there is no single definition of good, or even bad sex. The best we can do is talk about the basic principles which tend to apply in each scenario.

And these principles merely scratch the surface. Meaning, this is just a starting place. I would put respect under the category of consent. I’d even say that things like freedom from judgment and the ability to relax are natural byproducts of consent, enthusiasm, connection, compatibility and communication.

Still, this is something we should all be talking about more often. Real sex. Sexual compatibility. What makes sex good, what makes it bad, and how we can keep consent a part of the conversation.

We can’t make sex good — not to mention less weird, taboo, or repressed — until we make it… normal.