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Sex

The Trouble With Efficient Sex

Longing for the slower, indulgent contact of their early days.

Key points

  • "Efficient sex," also known as a "quickie," is common in long-term relationships.
  • "Efficient sex" is fast, direct, and based on what a person knows will work to give their partner pleasure and reach orgasm.
  • Most people long for the non-efficient sex that is common at the beginning of a relationship and associated with higher satisfaction and desire.

"He asked me, 'What should we do this Saturday?' While I would have liked to have said, 'Let’s enjoy each other’s bodies,' I didn’t," said Jen, 38.

Jen believed that the sex she would inevitably have with her husband of nine years would be the same as it usually was—rushed. They would “get off” and, well, get on with life. “I know he wants more sex, but I just can’t ramp up that quickly,” she said.

“Why do you think he wouldn’t want to have sex for longer periods?” I asked.

She didn’t hesitate, blurting out a list of evidence: He bolts up and puts on clothes directly after sex (after he comes); he says things like, “We have better things to do than dilly-dally in bed," and he changes the subject when she suggests they plan a sexual evening. “It was different at the beginning of our relationship,” she added wistfully.

This type of self-talk explains why so many couples fall into a routine of “efficient” sex. And yet, while many people hold the view that their partner doesn’t want to put the time or effort into an extended sexual experience, there is strong evidence for the opposite view.

Many men and women come into my office wanting to extend their sexual experiences, but complain that their partner seems to want an orgasm quickly or get sex “over with.” And the research backs this up, finding both heterosexual men and women want sex (both intercourse and “foreplay”) to last longer (Millers & Byers, 2004).

If both men and women say they want to have sex to last longer, then why do most couples eventually move into fast and “efficient sex”?

During the beginning stages of the relationship, we spend time focused on one another, enjoying the sensations of this new person, learning about their body, and being excited by their first touches. We don’t know exactly what the other person likes, so there is lots of experimentation. We spend hours mapping our lover’s body and learning what makes them tremble with pleasure. It can take a lot of time and exploration to learn your new lover’s preferences.

Are there benefits to efficient sex?

Efficient sex is fast and direct. It suggests—and you can pat yourself on the back here—that we have become experts on getting each other off. We have figured out what works to give our partner pleasure and reach orgasm. But once we have learned our lover’s patterns, we can then fall into a routine of getting straight to those same motions. After all, we have kids’ bedtimes to attend to, lunches to prepare, and pressing deadlines at work. Why waste time on further discovery if we already know what we both like? Pulling it off once per week through efficient sex can seem like the only sex possible in our busy lives.

The drawbacks of efficient sex

Researchers have found that there are good reasons to invest in non-efficient sex. When analyzing the elements of “optimal sex,” they found an extended duration of sex (more than 30 minutes), and that more varied acts are associated with greater sexual satisfaction (Fredrickson et al., 2017).

The drawbacks of efficient sex are:

  1. Lower arousal. “Efficient” usually implies speedy. If we jump straight to the things that "work," without lingering in the build-up to arousal, our bodies may not be ready for sex. Lots of things happen in the body and mind to prepare us for a good sexual experience. If we don’t take the time, the sex just might not work as well.
  2. Loss of desire. Some people who have engaged for years in efficient sex can lose their desire altogether. But when you probe them further, they report that they are not losing the desire for sex itself, but the desire for the “efficient” type of sex routine they have fallen into.
  3. Less sensual enjoyment. With less time to linger, we have a hard time feeling or enjoying our full sensations.
  4. "Meh" orgasm strength. “Efficient” sex can lead us to miss out on stronger, more intense orgasms. Prolonged stimulation can lead to extended, more intense orgasms or multiple orgasms in women (Sayin, 2012).
  5. Where is the excitement? “Efficient” also implies a focus on the same acts that led to arousal in the past. This leaves out new or different sensations, thoughts, and fantasies. Newness is one of the main elements of eroticism which can amplify excitement and light up our erotic brains.

There is nothing wrong with a good quickie. But after the initial stages of the relationship, most people long for the non-efficient kind of sex they had at the beginning of the relationship. Couples in long-term relationships who are having “optimal sex” can sometimes be found setting aside whole weekends to spend in bed.

Just gaining an awareness of the benefits of non-efficient sex and the pitfalls of efficient sex can be the answer. I suggested Jen talk with her husband about how sex had changed for them over the years and if and how they would each like their rhythms to change.

They agreed that they had stopped exploring new ways of touching one another and added one to two dates per month of “non-efficient sex” into their busy schedules. However, they had to work out a few logistics to do so, such as finding ways to get privacy for prolonged periods (with two children in the house). They invested in some soundproofing and a “do not disturb” sign, and scheduled the kids to have more sleepovers with friends. They created guidelines to help them stay in the moment. Phones were banned from the room.

Jen reported that instead of being disappointed by efficient sex, she and her husband both looked forward to planning slow, luxurious, hot sexual evenings. And quickies also became more enjoyable because they weren't so routine anymore.

Our world is speeding up, and it feels like we have less and less time to indulge in our senses. Sex is one delicious place we can slow down and be present.

Facebook image: Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

References

Frederick, D. A., Lever, J., Gillespie, B. J., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). What keeps passion alive? Sexual satisfaction is associated with sexual communication, mood setting, sexual variety, oral sex, orgasm, and sex frequency in a national US study. Journal of Sex Research, 54(2), 186-201.

Kleinplatz, P. J., Ménard, A. D., Paquet, M. P., Paradis, N., Campbell, M., Zuccarino, D., & Mehak, L. (2009). The components of optimal sexuality: A portrait of “great sex”. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 18(1-2), 1-13.

Miller, S. A., & Byers, E. S. (2004). Actual and desired duration of foreplay and intercourse: Discordance and misperceptions within heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 301-309.

Sayin, H. Ü. (2017). Tantra, ESR and the limits of female potentials. SexuS Journal, 2(3), 55-74.

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