There might be 50 shades of grey, but there are only four components to great sex. Sadly, most people overlook one or two of them—leading them to higher rates of dissatisfaction and disappointment with their sex and love lives.
I actually didn’t see Fifty Shades of Grey. I didn’t read the book, either. I understand it has something to do with sex. It seems a lot of movies, TV shows, and songs are talking about sex in ways they haven’t before, while commercials push little blue pills to enhance male sex capabilities. And when it’s not explicit, it’s implicit, as advertisers sell products and services with sex appeal. It all sets up quite an expectation for many couples, but where there are expectations, and grander myths sustaining them, there are also often disappointments. It is a vicious feedback loop.
To find out what’s working, let’s take a moment to uncover what’s not, by dispelling a few myths:
True or false: Today’s young adults are more sexually liberated and enjoy better sex lives because they can freely engage and experiment in hook-ups and "friends-with-benefits" scenarios.
False. One study found that 82.6 percent of young people who engaged in sex with a non-committed partner experienced negative emotional consequences. A similar Canadian study showed that 78 percent of college-aged women and 72 percent of college-aged men experienced regret after engaging in any form of sexual contact with a non-committed partner.
True or false: Having sex with anyone can release tension and make you feel better about yourself.
False. This is false if it’s with an uncommitted partner. While having sex can produce a flood of feel-good hormones as a result of climax, the short-term gains can be eclipsed by longer-term pains if the sex is with an uncommitted partner and/or a partner that does not feel safe or trustworthy. In fact, one study found that sex with an uncommitted partner led to decreased self-esteem.
True or false: The best sex happens for younger people when they are in the prime of their lives.
False. Noted sex and couples expert, David Snarch, has actually found through his research that committed couples in their 50s and 60s have the best sex and experience what he calls “wall socket sex.”
True or False: Good sex is great, and bad sex is still pretty good.
A little of both. A healthy sex life has been shown to improve heath, alleviate depression, decrease PMS and menopause symptoms in women, and increase one’s overall lifespan. However, unhealthy sex—sex in uncommitted relationships, sex with untrustworthy partners, forced sex, sex that can only be achieved under the influence, sex in emotionally or physically abusive relationships— has been connected to higher rates of depression, hormonal imbalances in women (women actually calibrate their menstrual cycle to their partner, so stressed sex can impact female health and hormonal cycles), increased cardiovascular problems, and has a higher correlation with substance abuse.
So what are the answers for achieving a healthy sex life that can result in “wall socket sex” that gives both short and long-term rewards?
First, know that a healthy and rich sex life is an outcome of more than just attraction. Many people make decisions about mates and sex based on this one aspect, yet it’s just one table leg of four that are necessary to achieve and sustain the greatest sex. The other three table legs are just as critical.
All four pieces together make up the sweet spot of extraordinary sex that will have both short and long term payoffs:
1. Attraction. Call it lust, chemistry, or attraction. There is something visually and physiologically appealing about that person. This can happen immediately or over time as other relational elements take hold.
2. Butterflies. A crush that develops is more than just physiological. Now the imagination and romance are activated. This is the love drug aspect of a partnership where endorphins keep people on a high. In this first phase of “falling in love” people often lose weight as they are dreamy-eyed about their newfound beloved and can’t stop thinking about them. It might be called infatuation in the beginning of a relationship, but it can still be identified in longer-term relationships when one still catches their heart swooning as they think about and/or observe their mate.
3. Trust. Trust is the foundation of a solid attachment. Some attachments can be based on unhealthy relations like an addiction cycle where trust is shaky. These partnerships are more likely to have more break-up and reunite patterns in an attempt to navigate any distrust. Trust forms the basis of genuine friendship and feelings of safety.
4. Maturity. A healthy partnership cannot exist when one is immature. This may be why Snarch found older couples as being able to enjoy the best sex. They stopped worrying what they looked like. They weren’t afraid of rejection anymore because they had matured enough to develop a healthy sense of self—along with the bigger spiritual aspects and meaning of life. Bottom line for everyone is that there is a direct correlation between emotional maturity and the greatest sex. The more you truly love yourself, the more you are able to receive healthy love—and happy sex. Conversely, the more you seek love and sex from another person to fill the unmet needs inside or to calm your nerves, the more you will feel empty, discontented, and the more at risk you’ll be for resorting to substance abuse and edgier forms of sex in order to find the thrill. The cheap thrill turns into an empty promise and leads to further depleting of one’s self-esteem.