What is Great Sex (Part 2)
In Part 1 of this article, I reviewed a study of individuals who characterized their sex lives as “great.”  In that study, researchers interviewed SM practitioners, people over age 65 in long-term relationships, and professional sex therapists. They then extrapolated from their descriptions six components of optimal sex. Part 1 of this article examined the first three: Presence, Authenticity and Intense emotional connection. Here I discuss the remaining three: Sexual and Erotic intimacy, Communication and Transcendence. As in Part 1, the following italicized descriptions are excerpts from the study (numbered headings are mine).
- Sexual and Erotic Intimacy
Participants spoke about the importance of a deep sense of caring for one another, regardless of the duration of the relationship; getting to know the other person really well, that is, bodily, emotionally, and in terms of erotic desires; access to the other’s inner world; emotional and sexual generosity; giving themselves and each other permission “to indulge as well as to be indulgent.” Being best friends was key for some. Regardless of what else sexual partners bring to an encounter, it was intimacy that made an exponential difference. Sexual intimacy was predicated on an emotional bond and was seen as instrumental in bonding, “as restoring a sense of primacy . . . it makes me feel I matter.”
The nature of the sexual acts partners engaged in was seen as virtually irrelevant. . . . . [with] one notable exception. . . Many participants spontaneously mentioned kissing as a barometer of intimacy. . . . “It’s the closeness of the lips, the eyes . . . it creates arousal and connection.” “When couples stop kissing, they stop having great sex.”
Many described an intoxicating mix of pleasure and danger. To give themselves over to the power of the encounter, participants needed the safety to be vulnerable, to share their bodies and feelings, and to take risks. . . . [A]ll intimacy involves a “leap of faith.”
For most participants, great sex required excellent communication, and it was seen as crucial to the success of a sexual encounter. . . . Participants spoke in terms of the abilities to listen, respond, being able to give and to receive feedback, to be nonjudgmental . . . Verbal and nonverbal communication were prized, [as was] the helpfulness of “show and tell.”
Above and beyond more general communication skills, great sex . . . requires that lovers develop the “empathy so you could feel into the other’s space” and cultivate the “enormous ability to play off of the other.” Some referred to talking itself as a sex act, . . .”taking risks verbally or intense vocal expression,” and “speaking erotically and talking dirty” as moving the encounter “into forbidden territory but with a sense of safety because it’s play.” This level of communication creates the conditions wherein partners can “kind of push limits and try new things.”
Great sex appears to involve a combination of heightened altered mental, emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual states in unison, akin to what Maslow (l971) described as a peak experience . . . . This quality involve[s]:
“a willingness to enter into altered states of, consciousness,”
“a break from the mundane,”
“achieving a high,”
“a portal to an alternate reality,” or
being in a state some recognized as parallel with heightened meditation,
* * * *
. . . being awash in “awe,” “ecstasy,” “bliss,” “peace,” and the “sublime.” For some, the juxtaposition of religious and sexual imagery seemed inevitable. It was as if they had no other words with which to describe the experience [except as] “infinite,” transcendent, eternal, “like worship.” . . . As Maslow (1971) wrote, “There are many paths to heaven, and sex is one of them” (p. 169).
What this means for you. . .
In light of these findings, if you would like to increase the intimacy, communication and sense of transcendence in your relationship, consider the following:
- Make out more. Kissing was identified as perhaps the best barometer of intimacy. When was the last time you spontaneously kissed your partner, slowly and deeply, bodies pressed together, fully clothed? It is, perhaps, the ultimate form of foreplay.
- Do something scary. If your sex life needs a shot in the ass, try doing something scary together: see a scary movie, go on a roller coaster, take an adventurous vacation. The excitement we feel from being scared or exhilarated triggers the same chemicals that stimulate sexual arousal. Hence, the kind of steamy hot sex you thought was limited to first encounters can be reignited by doing something terrifying or thrilling.
- Consider your level of closeness. If you are bored in your relationship, you may have selected a partner who is incapable of true intimacy in order to protect yourself from being vulnerable. As one participant in this study noted, “The fear of closeness prevents some from being really open in the relationship and thus dictates the safe but [ultimately dismal] choice of marriage partners.” However, for some, particularly very physical people, sex can be a safe place to expand these boundaries. As the authors note, “for those who dare, sexual intimacy provides the strictures in which one could discover what one is capable of being and becoming, that is, it opens ‘an avenue wherein to test limits.’”
- Create safety. Vulnerability is scary because it invokes the fear of painful rejection. If you’d like to enhance the intimacy in your relationship, creating a safe emotional environment is paramount. You naturally encourage your partner to take emotional risks by accepting without judgment the things he or she reveals. You need not agree. When it comes to sensitive topics, simply approaching your partner with interest and curiosity will help build the trust that underscores increased intimacy.
 Kleinplatz, P. J. & Menard, A. D. (2007). Building blocks toward optimal sexuality: Constructing a conceptual model. The Family Journal, 15(72), 72-78. doi:10.1177/1066480706294126