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Sexual perfectionism: why you should avoid it

By Sarah Moses Saturday, June 4, 2016 - 01:00
Do you feel your partner expects you to be perfect in bed? Sexual perfectionism is a downer for your sex life, according to recent research.

People who are perfectionists tend to set impossibly high standards and strive for perfection in whatever they do. When this doesn't happen, they're likely to be very hard on themselves. They also usually worry a lot about what others think of them.

Sound familiar? Perfectionism is a common enough trait, and research has shown it can affect many different sides of life, from the obvious – think work and school – to things like personal hygiene.

Sexual perfectionism

But what about sex? Researchers are just beginning to look at the impact of sexual perfectionism. Studies have shown there are four main types:

  • Self-oriented – you set high standards for your own sexual performance
  • Partner-oriented – you set high standards for your partner’s sexual performance
  • Partner-prescribed sexual perfectionism – you feel your partner expects you to be perfect in bed.
  • Socially-prescribed – you feel that society sets high standards for sexual performance.

Desire, arousal, orgasm

So how do these types of sexual perfectionism affect women? That's what a team of UK researchers got to wondering. What they did was track down over 350 women – some were university students, while others were older and were recruited online.

At the start of the study, the women filled in survey questions about their sex lives and the four different kinds of sexual perfectionism. The researchers were interested in sexual self-esteem, whether the participants felt anxious about sex, and if they tended to blame themselves for any sexual problems they had. The surveys also included questions about desire, arousal, reaching orgasm.

Pressure to be perfect

When it comes to the impact of sexual perfectionism on women, one type is definitely worse than the others, the surveys showed. That would be the partner-prescribed kind – women who feel their partners expect perfection in bed are more likely to have problems with their sex lives.

What kind of problems are we talking about? A woman who believes she can’t meet her partner’s standards might feel anxious about sex and have lower sexual self-esteem as a result. This kind of sexual perfectionism can also lead to physical problems like difficulty getting aroused and lubricated.

The results also showed that women who expect their partners to be perfect in bed are generally less satisfied with their sex lives compared to women who have more realistic expectations.

Why does partner-prescribed sexual perfectionism seem to have more of a negative effect than other types? The researchers aren’t yet sure, but they suggest that when a woman believes her partner expects sex to be perfect, she’s more likely to have performance anxiety. If sex makes you feel nervous or stressed, you're likely to have trouble getting turned on or having an orgasm. Less pressure, better sex!

Top tips to avoid sexual perfectionism

  • Make sure your expectations aren't stressing her out. If she isn’t going wild with desire, try to be less demanding, and she might be more into having sex with you.
  • Don't expect him to have the erection or stamina of a porn star. If he comes in five minutes, that doesn’t make him a failure. (Check this out: How long does sex normally last?)
  • Remember there are lots of ways to have orgasms. And one isn’t better than the other. Most women don’t have orgasms from intercourse alone.
  • Don't pressure your partner to do things he or she isn't comfortable with, just because it fits your ideal image of sex.
  • Remember sex in porn or romantic movies is fiction – it’s glossy, and choreographed. In real life, there’s no rehearsal. What looks good on camera isn’t necessarily what feels good for the two of you in real life.
  • Don't always aim for the same ideal sexual experience. You can end up running through the same script every time, and that gets boring. To keep sex exiting, it’s good to try doing things differently – and that means taking the risk that it won’t be perfect.
  • Don’t fake perfection. If you fake orgasms or pretend to enjoy things, it makes it hard to help your partner give you real pleasure. You can end up stuck with far-from-perfect sex.
  • Don’t expect telepathy. You can help each other to make sex better by guiding, showing, talking, laughing, and trying again tomorrow! With sex, practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect – but it’s lovely to practise!

Source: Multidimensional Sexual Perfectionism and Female Sexual function: A Longitudinal Investigation. (2016). Arch Sex Behav. 2016 Mar 28.

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