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’How do I know if I’m good in bed?’

How do you know when you’ve sexually satisfied someone? I mean really properly? I can’t be sure with my husband. I think sometimes he masturbates and he said he thinks about sex sometimes when he isn’t with me. When I checked his pants I’m sure there was old sperm in them. I read somewhere I could see it in his eyes if he was happy after sex - but I looked and I couldn’t tell.

How do you know someone is sexually satisfied?

There are some reasonably reliable ways to know someone is sexually satisfied. They may tell you how much they are enjoying sex while you are doing it or afterwards.

When you’re having sex they may experience orgasm, which is usually the thing people take as the indicator sex has ‘finished’ and been ‘good’. Although that’s not always a reliable guide, since it’s perfectly possible to enjoy sex without orgasm and you can have an orgasm without the sex being all that good.

You can also have an orgasm that feels nice but isn’t all that dramatic leaving people to (incorrectly) assume sex wasn’t pleasurable.

While you may notice some physical changes during sex – for example genital wetness, skin flushing/darkening, breathing getting quicker and so on, this doesn’t happen for everyone. Setting store that there are definite tell tale signs someone has been satisfied can be misleading.

The things you mentioned, about changes in his eyes for example, may be noted in popular culture but aren’t particularly useful (or hold up to much scientific scrutiny).

Why you are worried

Your worries are understandable. Most of us want to please and make someone happy whether we’re having a casual hook up or long-term relationship. It’s arousing to know you’ve done something that directly turned another person on.

But there is also huge cultural pressure to be ‘good in bed’, accompanied by a taboo around asking about how things are going. This is partly driven by a fear that if you aren’t good in bed your relationship could be at risk.

All of which brings us to what you mean by ‘satisfied’.

We usually link ‘sexual satisfaction’ with ‘have I given them an orgasm’? But it may mean something other than that. When people worry about if they have satisfied a partner they may be worried about other things such as:

• Am I desirable enough?
• Am I attractive enough?
• Am I doing it right?
• Will my partner look elsewhere/cheat?
• Do I seem foolish to my partner?

It may help you to think about why this is making you so anxious? What has led you to feel this way? And what are you afraid might happen?

Reflecting on this may make it clear to you if your worries are based around needing more sex information, which you could get via resources like Bish, Scarleteen or About Sexuality.

Or it may suggest to you there are wider relationship issues to address around trust, jealousy, communication or dealing with arguments and general respect. If that is the case then counseling may benefit you.

Alternatively it may be you might want to focus on your own confidence or communication skills. Which you might address via courses, workshops or reading books on confidence and assertiveness.

We aren’t just sexual when a partner’s nearby

You husband may well masturbate. A lot of people do, whether they are in a relationship or not. It does not mean they are unhappy with you, or ‘cheating’ (because they’re doing it themselves rather than with you), or that you aren’t satisfying them.

Same goes for thinking about sex. He may well think about sex when he isn’t with you. You are thinking about sex in writing this email. Again thinking about sex isn’t a sign you are doing something wrong – or that he is.

Both of you have a right to your own sexual thoughts, feelings and desires. You may wish to share some of these together or explore them on your own.

Being able to open up about how you feel is important. But so is respecting each other’s privacy and not jumping to conclusions on the basis of underpant surveillance.

Moving beyond ‘sex’ and ‘orgasm’

Satisfaction is not just about having an orgasm. Or just about having sex. In a relationship it might extend to the friendship you also share, joint interests and individual hobbies, socialising together and apart, how you give/get affection, respect and trust.

If you broaden your initial worry from ‘am I pleasing someone sexually?’ to ‘are we enjoying this?’ it becomes less threatening.

Rather than framing this as a problem or a shortcoming on your part, you could introduce this as a means of thinking about what already works in the relationship and how to enjoy it more.

Together you may want to explore the following:

• What are the things we like about this relationship?
• Are there things we already enjoy that we’d like to do more of?
• Are there things we haven’t tried that we might like to explore?
• Are there things we might prefer not to do so much of?

You may want to think about sexual pleasures separately from other relationship issues or consider everything together. It may be easier to do via a series of conversations or via email, letter, cards or drawings. Or to share films, poetry or music to get the conversation started.

You could write each other wish lists of things you’d like to do, or discuss ways of telling each other how you feel about the things you like – that way you are not left guessing if either of you are happy.

You will know what is working out for you and the options you have for change.

Petra Boynton, a social psychologist and sex researcher working in International Health Care and studying sex and relationships.

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