What is great sex? (Part 1)
I have a question for you . . . . .
Can you recall the best sex you ever had? What made it great? Chances are it wasn’t the technique you read in Cosmo or GQ. It was likely something less tangible – perhaps indescribable. The definition of great sex has been largely ignored by the scientific community. However, one study stands out as a conscientious attempt to explore this important topic. In it, researchers interviewed 3 divergent groups of people, all of whom characterized their sex lives as “great”:
(a) SM practitioners (people who practice consensual sexual bondage, domination, sadism and masochism),
(b) Individuals over age 65 in long-term relationships, and
(c) Sex therapists.
Despite obvious differences in their sexual practices, the authors were able to distill their experiences of great sex into 6 fundamental features: presence, authenticity, emotional connection, intimacy, communication, and transcendence. Below is an excerpt from the study containing the authors’ description of the first 3 characteristics (in italics; numbered headings are mine), followed by some suggested ways to incorporate them into your own sex life. Part 2 of this article will cover the remaining 3 features.
1. Being Present.
The most predominant and fully articulated characteristic of great sex among our participants was of being “fully present” and “totally absorbed in the moment.” They described utter immersion and intensely focused attention. It is as though everything is happening in slow motion and to allow it to continue, one must simply trust in the experience.
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Participants spoke of heightened bodily sensations and awareness while turning their minds off. They were fully embodied, in touch with sensory experience . . . and “attune themselves to each moment.” They spoke about letting go so that they could surrender to bodily experience itself: “My body is moving but I’m not moving it.” It is as though they choose to be swept away, giving themselves over to “an overload of sensations.” It involved, “Reaching the point where arousal overcomes thinking,” and “I stop the running commentary in my head … I don’t have to think about where to place my hand -it just goes there.” Another laughed, “The first clue that it’s great sex is that you’re not wondering if it is or not. In fact, you’re not thinking at all! You recognize it after the fact.”
Participants pointed out almost universally that, whereas other kinds of sexual interaction may be physically satisfying and emotionally fulfilling, this quality of being entirely alive in their bodies with no mental interference was the hallmark of great sex. They spoke of the fluidity of great tension building in their bodies interspersed with the willingness to release. One described it as, “an ongoing orgasmic state, even without orgasm.”
Being present was inextricably linked for most participants with a second component of being themselves, feeling free to be themselves with their partners, and being relentlessly honest with themselves. Honesty and openness to one’s own desires were critical elements in several ways: Firstly, they serve as prerequisites for having great sex; that is, one cannot typically communicate one’s desires without some knowledge of them.
Secondly, the feeling of being uninhibited and un-self-conscious was freeing and energizing. “The trick is to stop getting in your own way.” Thus, participants spoke of feeling uninhibited, of having chosen to turn off their own filters, and being free of self-censoring. Giving authentic expression to one’s erotic desires opened up unforeseen possibilities in the encounter with oneself and the partner(s). As one participant said, “It gave me my voice.”
Thirdly, the act of being emotionally naked with a partner or partners was in itself exquisite. The emotional power of being genuine, being seen and known authentically was described repeatedly as a gift. “I am at my most powerful when I am at my most vulnerable – that is when I feel my greatest strength. I am completely stripped bare and if they can reach in and grab it and play with it, I love it!”
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Many participants mentioned self-knowledge as a pursuit, a journey, and a goal in their lives and regarded extraordinary sexual experiences as a vehicle for personal growth and adventure. For them, sexual encounters provide a unique and treasured opportunity for growth, for welcoming of unknowns, with the partner acting as a catalyst to effect self- discovery. As Townsend (1971) wrote, “I’m looking for that free ride to me, I’m looking for you.”
3. Intense Emotional Connection
The third theme emerging from the data was heightened intimacy during the sexual encounter. Whether in long-term or other relationships, all great sex involved a powerful sense of intimate engagement. Curiously, although some participants emphasized the need for intimacy outside the bedroom if intimacy was to occur during sex, others pointed out that great sex often occurs outside conventional, long-term relationships, for example, with friends, play partners, or in new, romantic relationships. Others stated that “hot, passionate” sexual interludes are qualitatively different from “great sex” that is predicated on long-term intimacy in every facet of a relationship.
Regardless of participants’ divergence in perspectives on what relationship factors outside the bedroom were required to promote great sex, all stated that intense emotional contact, for the duration of the encounter was an integral aspect of great sex. . . In fact, most indicated that it was precisely the degree of connection, energy, “alignment” or “conductivity” between or among the partners that determined how great the sex could be. The focus was on being deeply empathic, “in sync,” and living in a shared, common experience, enhanced by moment-by- moment awareness of how the partner is responding.
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They described an easy ebb and flow between giving and receiving stimulation and/or pleasure. In addition, being centered in oneself and feeling respect from the partner allowed participants to expand the limits of previous comfort zones. Perhaps paradoxically, participants offered that “good” and “clear boundaries,” “self-knowledge,” and “self- acceptance” were essential to entering into a “moment of connection where I can’t tell where I stop and the other starts.” Letting go with others meant first being grounded and having a good, solid grip on oneself (as described by Schnarch, 1991, 1997; and Shaw, 2001).
What this means for you. . .
Based on this study, if you are looking to improve your sex life, you might try incorporating the following:
- Don’t think, just feel. When you are sexually engaged with your partner, turn off your brain and surrender to your physicality. Notice every point where your bodies are touching and place your attention there. Resist any inclination to judge the experience. If you find yourself thinking, take a deep breath, close your eyes and exhale your thoughts.
- Take responsibility for your own sexuality. Some of us expect, or wish for, our partners to read our minds. We want them to know what makes us feel good or turns us on, sometimes before we even know ourselves. Fear, particularly of our own desires, limits sexual pleasure. If sexuality makes you uncomfortable in some way, it may be helpful to make a mental list of things you enjoy, are curious about, or find arousing. Recognizing your own preferences, desires and boundaries is a first step towards expressing, and eventually experiencing, heightened sexual experiences.
- Talk during sex. There is an authenticity to talking during sex. It reinforces your togetherness, your synchronicity. I don’t think it matters what you talk about, as long as it is not a stressful topic. Just the process of connecting both physically and mentally intensifies whatever bond you have. In addition, it can help you relax physically, making it easier to enjoy yourself (especially if you are female). A brief chat about how good your partner smells (for example) can be a welcome distraction from “orgasm-preoccupation,” which can be frustrating, and often seems to backfire.
Look for Part 2 of the elements of great sex in the near future. In the meantime, if you have questions or seek more information, please visit my website: Drlenaagree.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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