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

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