A fresh look at great sex

If you want to know what a great sex life is like, you should ask the real experts – people who believe they are having really great sex.

That’s the revolutionary but commonsense assumption behind research conducted by Peggy Kleinplatz, PhD, and her colleagues at Ottawa University. They interviewed 64 people over a five-year period, mostly from the US, all of whom said they had great sex lives.

Their findings paint a radically different picture of optimal sexuality from what is commonly portrayed in the media.

Truly great sex had little to do with the sorts of things popular men’s and women’s magazines typically focus on – things like multiple orgasms and “lasting all night.”

Popular culture promotes “achieving great sex through ‘secret’ techniques, novelty and variety, suggesting that one is to look outside of oneself to find great sex. In contrast with these sources and mechanistic models … the participants in this study found techniques and sex ‘acts’ mostly irrelevant,” says Kleinplatz.

This is not to say that we don’t want to explore or add variety to our sex lives. Many of us do. It simply means that when all is said and done, those aren’t the keys to what we consider truly “great sex.”

What this research shows is something those of us who work with clients from day-to-day have long known: ultimately a great sex life has less to do with ideal physiological functioning such as rock-hard erections, ultra-slick spontaneous vaginal lubrication, or even successful intercourse and orgasm, than how people connect emotionally and, in a broad sense, spiritually.

The portrait Kleinplatz and colleagues paint of great sex includes eight major characteristics:

  • 1. being present, focused, embodied
  • 2. connection, alignment, merger, being in sync
  • 3. deep sexual and erotic intimacy
  • 4. extraordinary communication and heightened empathy
  • 5. authenticity, being genuine, uninhibited and transparent
  • 6. transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation and healing
  • 7. exploration, interpersonal risk-taking, and fun; and
  • 8. vulnerability and surrender.

They identified two additional components of great sex but characterized them as “minor” because only a minority of participants touched on them and they were not emphasized to the same degree: 1) intense physical sensation and orgasm, and 2) lust, desire, chemistry and attraction.

Although a few believed these two were necessary components, they stated that they were not sufficient in and of themselves to constitute great sex.

The study focused on optimal sex in general, not single, isolated “peak” sexual experiences.

“The actual sexual behaviors and acts performed are far less important than the mind-set and intent of the person or couple engaged in these acts,” Kleinplatz observes.

By focusing on the individual’s subjective experience, the definition of sex may be broadened to include times even when no physical contact is involved.

Those interviewed included members of different racial and ethnic groups, people of different ages and relationship statuses representing a various sexual orientations and levels of physical ability and sexual functioning.

What is perhaps most striking about this qualitative research is that the otherwise dissimilar participants’ conceptualizations of great sex were consistently very much alike.

Kleinplatz writes, “The major components of optimal sexuality seemed to be almost universal among participants of different backgrounds, sexual proclivities and relationship histories.”

What that tells is this: there are undoubtedly various routes to great sex, but when we have it and get around to describing what it is, the essential experience tends to be quite similar among us all.

More about the 8 Components of ‘Great Sex’

  1. Being present, focused and embodied This was the first and most frequently mentioned factor contributing to great sex. As one woman described, “It’s being fully alive in one’s skin, engaged with the partner — emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually — in the moment.”
  2. Connection, alignment, merger, being in sync Depth of the connection between partners was one of the most critical elements of the experience regardless of duration of the relationship.
  3. Deep sexual and erotic intimacy This is the foundation of a relationship in which optimal sexuality becomes a possibility. It involves deep mutual respect, caring, genuine acceptance and admiration, but this is easier said than done. As Kleinplatz notes, “you can’t trust just anyone.”
  4. Extraordinary communication, heightened empathy Kleinplatz describes the study’s participants as having ‘black belts’ in communication.These weren’t people who learned all about the other sex’s genitalia and then just applied the technique,” she says. “These were people who were so engaged in and with their partners’ bodies that they could read their partners’ responses, not only touching them, but feeling them.”
  5. Authenticity, being genuine, being uninhibited, transparent “This is pretty much the opposite of self-consciousness,” says Kleinplatz. “It’s allowing oneself to be emotionally naked while being seen by a partner.”
  6. Transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation, healing Participants in the study often reported a sense of timelessness or the infinite during great sex. “Their experience often really was exalted, and they would use language borrowed from religion to describe it,” says Kleinplatz.
  7. Exploration, interpersonal risk-taking, fun Participants described great sex as an adventure, an opportunity to discover things about themselves and their partners and a chance to pursue ever greater depths. “Interpersonal risk-taking and exploration emerged as important components of great sex… undertaken in the context of play and fun,” says Kleinplatz.
  8. Vulnerability and surrender  “Giving oneself,” letting oneself be vulnerable and surrendering to a partner were exquisite aspects of great sex, participants in the study said. Kleinplatz describes great sex as a leap of faith. “It’s saying ‘I’m going to jump off this cliff, be naked and be vulnerable and give myself to somebody else and take them in’ and I hope I feel good after I do that.”

“The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of ‘Great Sex’”, was published in 2009 in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

On being alone, and (not) finding someone

Every so often someone will come to me and say I just want to find someone, someone who is right for me.  Or they’ll ask me quite directly So where is Mr./Ms. Right?

This is a particularly vexing problem and a very common one. Like most things commonplace, we don’t usually ask ourselves how it got to be this way. It just is. We may have our own theories based on our own life choices and individual circumstances.  But the truth is that the epidemic of being alone is a very contemporary phenomenon.

I’ve heard every rationalization out there. They’re usually focused on the first person singular. I spent so many years focused on school and career…. It’s just so hard for me to meet people…. Everyone else my age seems to have scooped up the good ones…. I never meet people who want me for ME. They’re just after my…. I’m not going to settle for someone who isn’t…. If I could only get myself to do such-and-such, the right person would be attracted to me. The list goes on and on.

While there may be some truth in these assertions, it’s fair to say that we live in a society and a time where insulating ourselves from vulnerability is not only possible for us as individuals but a given. Isolation is more common than not. Many of us, especially in North America and particularly in the US, have grown up encouraged to make our own way. It’s embedded in the mythology of the American pioneering spirit. I use the term ‘mythology’ precisely because appealing as it may be it defies the historic truth.

The vast majority of pioneers in America and elsewhere have been collaborators, not solitary individuals. Few have ever chosen a new path and fewer still have gone it alone.

As a culture, we have institutionalized the Self Alone. The quintessential American value of independence is as foolish and self-destructive as jumping off a cliff to catch the wind and soar: it sounds wonderful and it’s tempting but ultimately leads to a deadly, solitary splat.

We are by nature fundamentally interdependent, not independent. Self(ish)ness under the guise of freedom may have some short-term benefits – feel the excitement, the exhilaration, the invigorating breeze – but ultimately they prove insufficient. When the truth sets in, it’s nothing nice.

Every culture has its myths. Most prove helpful, some are destructive. Fortunately, cultures change and adapt. If a society is to survive, let alone thrive, its myths change and adapt or simply fade or are relegated to the status of quaint artifacts.  Our society, our “world,” imagines itself a certain way. It is in part an illusion where the Self “freely” makes (or believes it makes) choices – until a powerful reality sets in. I am alone. Damn, I’m alone. I don’t want to be alone. I want to be with someone who gets me, and appreciates me, and cares about me, and… loves me.  I want someone who will stay with me, for more than just tonight  / this year / until the kids are out of the house / until I run out of surgical options to maintain the illusion of eternal youth.

This is not an indictment of anyone; it’s simply the acknowledgment of fact. We mostly just go about our lives without thinking much about it. We buy into what those around us believe and do. That means many of us feel and are very alone. Our freedom of solitude becomes a prison of loneliness with rationalizations about how we got in with no way out.

Few of us spend our lives questioning the given. When we do, we tend to question in a way that is comfortable for us so that we can feel we are at least somewhat in control of our lives. Even those who pride themselves on being open-minded are usually only open-minded to possibilities that intuitively, naturally attract them.  We have limits to what we’ll question, where we’ll go, what we’ll even begin to consider for our lives.

There is ancient wisdom in the biblical assertion attributed to God: It is not good for a person to be alone. But in a Self Alone world how is Ms./Mr. Right to be found?  And is it a matter of finding—or is this a false assumption we readily make?

How is one to become and stay and be happy un-alone?

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