What do we want from sex? Most people say pleasure & closeness. So why don't we focus on that?
Amazing orgies every Saturday night? Giant hour-long orgasms?
They may make for fun fantasies, but that’s not what most people want from sex.
After thirty-one years as a sex therapist, I know that most people want sex to be easier. Less frustrating. They want to feel less self-conscious and less isolated.
And when I ask my patients, “What would you like most from sex?” Almost everyone’s answer comes down to this: they want some combination of pleasure and closeness. If people were rational creatures, that’s what they’d focus on during sex. But I can tell you that that’s not what most people focus on during sex. Think about it—do you?
So what do you—what do people—focus on during sex instead?
• How they look
• How they smell
• How they sound
• Preventing unwanted activity (e.g., having your shoulder bitten)
• Ignoring (or preventing) pain
• Hurrying to climax
• Trying not to climax too quickly
• Maintaining your erection or lubrication
• Suppressing emotions
• Trying to function “the right way”
• Silently, indirectly urging a partner to do a certain activity (e.g., having your clitoris stroked)
How can anyone really enjoy sex with all that going on?
And then people complain that sex is complicated. Well, sex is pretty malleable: you keep it simple, it’s simple. You make it complicated, it’s complicated.
Sex gets really complicated when people focus on their performance and their “function.”
It’s great to enjoy your body’s sensations during sex—how things smell and taste, how your skin feels as it rubs against your partner’s, how your penis or vulva feels when stimulated. To feel those good feelings, you need to be psychologically present during sex. If you’re observing too much, if you’re worried about doing things right, if you’re concerned about losing your arousal or not satisfying your partner—those distractions will make it hard to experience the sex in your body.
And if you’re concerned about what your partner’s thinking, comparing yourself to your partner’s previous lovers (or to porn stars or celebrities), feeling embarrassed to ask or say what you’d like to ask or say—that sort of negative self-involvement and isolation will make it hard to feel close to your partner.
So if what you want from sex is more pleasure or closeness…that’s exactly what you need to focus on. You’ll have to tear yourself away from inhibition, negative self-talk, monitoring your performance, and thinking about “function” and “dysfunction.”
The challenge is to relax during sex. I know, that sounds contradictory to the sense of excitement and tension we all hope we’ll feel. But that’s the challenge—to allow excitement and tension to build in us while we feel relaxed about what’s happening (or not happening).
After all, how much can you enjoy being told you look or feel great, how much can you enjoy oral sex or an orgasm, when you’re focused on not wetting the bed or not losing your erection?
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To enhance this “pleasure and closeness” that most of us desire, we need a different approach to sex. For starters, we need to understand that sexual function is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Lubricating or getting erect isn’t worth much if we’re anxious, self-critical, or don’t feel safe. So focusing on genital hydraulics isn’t going to get us what we want.
We also need to understand that orgasm is not the point of sex. Say a sexual encounter lasts, oh, 25 minutes from first glance to last cuddle; and say an orgasm lasts between five and ten seconds (you have multiple orgasms, Miss? OK, add another ten seconds). How can fifteen seconds determine whether the preceding 24¾ minutes were satisfying or a waste of time?
What would you say to someone who told you, “The meal at that restaurant was OK, but I was so focused on getting dessert that I didn’t really let myself get too involved in the wine, salad, bread, main course, service, music, or décor”? Don’t waste your time during sex primarily working toward a climax. Of course, if you feel bored during sex, I can understand you looking beyond the boring part to the exciting finish. But that’s the point—if you want to improve your sexual relationship, you need to focus beyond performance and orgasm. You need to connect, actually talking about what’s going on. And I understand that can be scary.
One more thing with which people distract themselves during sex: the desire to be sexually normal, and the concern that maybe you’re not. I’ll cover that in our next installment.
Dr. Marty Klein is a marriage counselor and sex therapist with 30 years experience. His latest book is SEXUAL INTELLIGENCE: What We Really Want From Sex, and How to Get It. For more Sexual Intelligence, see and sign up for Dr. Klein’s blog/newsletter, at www.MartyKlein.com.