Insight Therapy

Psychologically informed reflections on how we interact.

Great Sex: The Recipe

Technique... toys... What are the true ingredients of great sex?

Here is one of those seemingly simple questions that become, on second thought, strangely difficult and elusive: What makes the difference between ordinary sex, and great sex?

This is not a trivial question. Given the choice, surely everyone would choose great sex over merely functional sex. However, sound data in this area appear to be lacking. What, for example, makes sublime sex sublime? What elements combine to constitute that delicate, delicious dish?

One source of guidance regarding this question is found in popular magazines which are practically dripping, throbbing with advice, instructions, and tips designed to lift us to up the high planes of awe-inspiring sex.

Some years back, Canadian sex researcher Peggy Kleinplatz analyzed a pile of such popular magazine advice columns and articles and found that most of it fell into one of two distinct categories: ‘technical improvement’ or ‘variety and novelty.' In other words, according to popular magazines, those who desire great sex should: 1. Improve their technique (with accessories and sex toys of all kinds) 2. Vary sex positions and sites (and, occasionally, partners).

This sounds good and makes intuitive sense. Still, curious minds may harbor doubt, and wonder: Where's the evidence? What is the empirical basis for these assertions? As we know, not everything that looks good is good. And not everything that sounds plausible is factually correct. With all due respect for popular magazines, it may still make sense to examine whether the path they offer to great sex is in fact the right path.

To this end, Dr. Kleinplatz and her research team decided several years ago to investigate the issue scientifically. The researchers recruited a sexually experienced and diverse group of participants of varied gender, age, national, ethnic, and sexual preference affiliations, including 20 certified sex therapists, and interviewed each about their definitions of—and experiences with—great sex. The researchers then pored over the material in search of commonly mentioned words and shared emerging themes in the various narratives. Data from this study revealed several interesting findings.

First, those elements described in popular magazines as important for great sex (technique and novelty) did not turn up in the data at all. Majestic, thrilling and life-changing sex does not require titillating toys, limber limbs, or tricky tongues; it does not depend on the number of orgasms per minute, positions per hour, locations per day, or partners per week. Over all, the researchers found that the magazine advice, in general, sounded good but was not good.

Another interesting finding was that the actual components of sublime sex—those elements that were frequently mentioned in the reports of participants—were quite similar across gender, education, age, and sexual orientation. It turns out that great sex is great sex is great sex, no matter if you’re young or old, gay or straight, black or white, male or female. Great sex is a shared, universal human experience.

Kleinplatz’s findings distilled eight specific components of great sex, as follows (drum roll, please):

1. Being present, focused and embodied.

Great sex entails complete and total immersion in the present moment. Great sex requires the partners to be in it all the way. They cannot become spectators of their own performance, judges or critics. They cannot be groggy, distracted, or absent-minded. Full presence in the moment is the most important component of sublime sex according to these data. In great sex, the past is gone, the future is absent, the outside world ceases. Transcendent sex "forgets everything about others" as the song goes. There are only two realities involved: 'now,' and 'us.'

2. Connection, alignment, merger, being in sync.

Extraordinary sex requires a strong relational foundation. Transcendent sex requires a deep and strong connection between the partners—a sense of synchronicity; an effortless 'click' and plenty of ‘chemistry’. It involves a confluence, the sense of two merging into each other of the kind frequently described in poetry and song: two hearts become one.

3. Deep sexual and erotic intimacy.

In great sex, sexual attraction is combined with a sense of security and emotional closeness between partners. This involves a complete acceptance of self and the other. The partners extend each other deep human dignity, in sex and beyond.

4. Extraordinary communication, heightened empathy.

In great sex there is real mutual attentiveness, mutual support, absolute openness, and the ability to express desires without fear and with sensitivity and alertness to the partner’s reactions.

5. Authenticity, being genuine and uninhibited; transparency.

Extraordinary sex is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is a finely tuned ensemble. It involves an authentic expression of yourself without reservations and without keeping score. You feel free to do anything, show everything, see everything, feel everything, and say everything, without embarrassment, without guilt, and without considerations of what will or what will not be later. Transcendent sex is spontaneous, courageous, creative, generous, liberated, and liberating.

6. Transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation, healing.

Sublime sex is experienced as harmony, joy, and happiness; as ecstasy. Transcendent sex is a revelatory experience not only on the mental and physical levels but also existentially. Windows open to new realms of experience and energy. Great sex changes how we experience and understand the world, ourselves, and others. It is experienced as a revelation, often joined with mystical elements. Supreme sex is mending, restorative, curative; it heals and releases. Many participants described the experience in religious terms, as a sense of the presence of the sublime, the divine.

7. Exploration, interpersonal risk-taking, fun.

Great sex is experienced as a surprising journey, a fun ride, an enjoyable and challenging adventure. The partners open fully to the experience, let free their natural curiosity, follow the instincts of discovery and revelation, and are willing to explore unknown regions, taste the new and different, and discover things about themselves. They play, laugh and enjoy. Great sex is not afraid of games, laughter, messiness and silliness. On the contrary, it allows and contains them.

8. Vulnerability and surrender.

Extraordinary sex requires us to shed our everyday defenses and come to the encounter naked. We let go of anxieties, calculations, and ego and surrender to the encounter, the flow and the feelings in the rolling present. This is surrender in the sense of giving—giving unconditionally; giving out of love. This is Surrender also in a sense of release, as a person who decides to jump off a cliff into the water throws himself into the air and releases himself to the mercy of the law of gravity. Surrender in this context also denotes deep devotion to another, from a position of trust and faith in the other and in the moment.

In sum, the evidence suggests that wonderful sex is a human event, not a technological trick. Wonderful sex is for everyone, and everyone can partake. Wonderful sex is an act of faith—not in God, but in human beings. Wonderful sex does not reside in magazines and catalogs, but in the live encounter between people. Wonderful sex comes from the depths, like fresh spring water. Wonderful sex is not afraid of light, it is itself light. Wonderful sex is a human connection, not an internet connection. Wonderful sex is not a job, no need to send a resume. Wonderful sex is not a masquerade. Come as you are.

Noam Shpancer, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Otterbein College and a practicing clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio.

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