If you think of amazing sex, what pops in your head? Great passion, great intimacy, great kink? Being told you’re beautiful, or being told you’re “a dirty little slut” while hogtied like a Christmas turkey?
If I were to ask 50 people “What is good sex?”, I would get 50 different replies.
One woman’s definition might be romantic sex in the missionary position, while her neighbor thinks anything other than hot wax, ropes, and circus acrobatics is boring.
Personally, when I think of “great sex”, I think of slow sensuality, teasing, edging, toy play, mild kink, and a willingness to experiment. My definition requires a partner that I feel both safe with and wildly attracted to.
You might think of something completely different.
I found an interesting article by a sex researcher who attempted to understand what her participants meant by “great sex”. And boy, is this an under-researched topic!
Sex researchers love to plow the fields of the dysfunctional while functional or optimal sexuality is left fallow. There are some research studies on understanding sexual satisfaction, but too often, that’s been defined as the absence of a dysfunction. Which is a little like defining happiness as the absence of depression.
Peggy Kleinplatz conducted a five-year study on 64 participants from all over the world, twenty-five of whom were over sixty. She found that “great sex” wasn’t necessarily what you might think.
In a culture obsessed with big cocks, porn star moans, and bedpost notches, technique was less important than sensitivity.
Keinplatz is also a therapist, and she says that a lot of people who seek treatment for sexual issues have lost interest in sex because the sex they’re having isn’t worth being interested in.
Lack of desire can be good judgment, it seems. Kleinplatz identified six factors that played a role in “great” sex.
1. Being Present
If you’re thinking about your tax return while you’re getting busy, you’re going to have a problem getting aroused. Kleinplatz reported that great sex was about total immersion in the experience — being completely present in the moment:
Participants spoke of experiencing heightened bodily sensations and awareness while turning their minds off. They were fully embodied,[and] in touch with sensory experience…
There was a sense of timelessness and flow to such experiences, and once truly present it was hard to return back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
In today’s hectic society “being present” can also be a real challenge. Especially, for today’s be-it-all, do-it-all woman. Many women work full-time and then come home to a second shift, By the time they hit the sack, all they want to do is snooze. Good sex requires requires both stress reduction and the ability to tune into your body and your partner.
Kleinplatz’s study dovetails well with Lori Brotto’s mindfulness research at the University of British Columbia. Brotto developed and tested an 8-week mindfulness program to treat women with desire problems.
The results were very positive. Most of the women showed significant improvements in desire and sexual satisfaction. She published her research in a book designed for the lay reader called “Better Sex through Mindfulness”.
Authenticity means that you’re going to have to come out of the closet, sexually speaking, even if you’re not gay.
Because real sex isn’t something you see every day on a street corner (usually), the only thing most of us have to go by is porn or Hollywood. On our movie or computer screens, cocks and boobs are GINORMOUS, clits don’t exit, everybody is 25, and sex is an endless fuckfest.
This leaves a lot of us feeling inadequate. Women angst over their bodies and sometimes feel like they have to do a dog and pony show for their partners (one orgasm or two, Gspot, or Aspot, squirt or not), while men obsess over dick size and how long they’re are lasting.
Authenticity is difficult to attain, but the rewards are well worth it:
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.
3. Intense Emotional Connection
An intense emotional connection is all about feeling in sync with your partner. Her participants described great sex as something that occurred between two people — not something that one person did to the other.
There was a quality of emotional “nakedness” present. Interestingly, this quality didn’t necessarily require being “in love” or in a long-term relationship as a prerequisite. Even, casual or new partners could have an intensely erotic emotional connection.
Mutuality during the encounter seemed critical. Participants spoke of trust, cherishing one another, sharing, accepting, validating, and feeling “as much desired as desiring.”
They described an easy ebb and flow between giving and receiving stimulation and/or pleasure. Also, being centered in oneself and feeling respect from the partner allowed participants to expand the limits of previous comfort zones.
4. Sexual and Erotic Intimacy
One of the most important characteristics of great sex was feeling cared for by a partner. Once again, this didn’t seem to be connected to the length of the relationship.
A sense of safety and trust were absolutely essential to be able to let go with a lover. When I think back on the times that I have had really bad sex, usually I didn’t feel comfortable with my partner.
I think for most women this is especially important. Trust, for many women, is deeply connected with the ability to be both authentic and easily aroused.
Well, I guess this one is a no-brainer. Kleinplatz found that people who were able to talk about sex had better sex!
Gee, in the movies it’s always so easy! No conversation needed. Skill is a given, and nobody ever gets knocked up, bored, or stuck with herpes.
Alas, in the real world, your lover may not know your clitoris from croissant and only eats the latter.
If you want to have great sex, talking about it is a necessary embarrassment. Speaking up about your needs to a caring partner means they’re more likely to get met.
If you don’t feel safe enough to talk about sex with someone, maybe you shouldn’t be in bed with them.
One interesting point that Kleinplatz made is that really great sex involved an ability to “read the partner’s responses” on an emotional and empathetic level. That is, to sense what the other person was feeling at the moment and respond in kind.
Kleinplatz’s participants spoke of great sex as “bliss”, “ecstasy”, “an altered state of consciousness” that took them out of the ordinary and into something akin to a religious experience.
It should be pointed out that this kind of connection is not all flowers and candy. Many of Kleinplatz’s participants were recruited from sexual minority groups including members of the BDSM community.
Transcendence doesn’t exclude sex that is “dirty”, “raunchy”, or “kinky”. But it does mean that truly “great” sex has a multi-dimensional quality that can feel like a taste of the divine.
Sex pleasure in woman is a kind of magic spell; it demands complete abandon; if words or movements oppose the magic of caresses, the spell is broken.
— Simone de Beauvoir
Kleinplatz’s study was unique in many ways. For one, she spoke with older individuals, and two, she spoke with sexual minorities. Both of these groups are often neglected in conventional sex research.
Plus, she focused on understanding a topic that is sorely ignored among mainstream researchers, namely good sex! With all the talk of ED and dysfunction, we ignore people who are getting it right.
Bad news often gets more attention than good. For women, desire issues are both the most prevalent and the most difficult to treat sexual complaint. Something that has often gotten lost in the shuffle with all the talk about “female Viagra” is that some women lose interest in sex because it’s unsatisfying.
But what is satisfying sex? What creates desire? How do you experience it? How do you know it’s missing?
These are questions that are too often not addressed because they won’t pad the pockets of Big Pharma. But they’re crucial to understanding sexual issues. There might be a place for pharmaceutical interventions (e.g., say a woman is on a libido lowering medication or has a health problem that affects desire), but science also needs to look at sexuality from a more holistic perspective. And we need more talk about awesome sex, not just the bad variety.
Popping a pill never gave anybody mind-blowing sex.