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|Written by Roxy Munro|
|Thursday, 10 September 2009 00:00|
I believe I have found my perfect lover. My primary partner (in sex and in life) is, without doubt, the best bedmate I have ever had. It's quite a good feeling knowing that the person I fell in love with and get along best with is also someone that I have great sex with. I breathed a huge sigh of relief in the beginning of our relationship because all of our early sexual encounters were, thankfully, very good.
Let's face it: whether you're starting a relationship or a new hook-up, you want the sex to be good. In my observation, if someone is getting it on with someone new, there's usually just an assumption that it'll be good. Going freely into most sexual encounters, we, as humans, know innately that pleasure is in store.
I'd argue that most people are sexual optimists . . . that is, until they are disappointed with bad sex.
When bad sex happens in a one-time-only situation, it can remain a story to laugh over among friends. But what happens when you were hoping to continue the tryst? How do you regain that optimism that the sex will be good when you try again?
Defining "good sex"
There is no set definition for good sex. People will define good sex differently because it is personal and will reflect individual preferences.
Nonetheless, various researchers, sex educators, and sex commentators have offered up their ideas on how one defines good sex. Recently, University of Ottawa psychologist and sex therapist Peggy Kleinplatz and her team of researchers published a study exploring the components of good sex entitled, "The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of 'Great Sex.'" In this study, which interviewed a range of people along the sexuality continuum,* the researchers found that the top component of great sex is "being present," which was cited most often by the study's participants. According to Kleinplatz, "Optimal sexual experience may involve those moments of deep connection in which both lovers are psychologically and sexually accessible, engaged and responsive to whatever lies deep within."Other important components include connection, deep sexual and erotic intimacy; extraordinary communication; and interpersonal risk taking and exploration. Interestingly, "intense physical sensation and orgasm" and "lust, desire, chemistry, attraction" were listed as "minor" components because only a small number of study participants spoke of them.
Kleinplatz and her team of researchers hope the results of this study will debunk media myths, which portray good sex "as a mix of young, buff bodies, spontaneity and masterful sexual technique."
The ideal components of good sex listed in Kleinplatz's study may or may not resonate with individual definitions of good sex. Once again, everyone's different. The value of Kleinplatz's study is that it potentially challenges social constructs around good sex embedded in our popular culture, i.e. hot bodies that can contort into any of Cosmopolitan's "position of the day."
Good sex starts with you
So, when your expectations for good sex upon starting a new sexual relationship aren't met and you're not quite ready to give up, the best place to start for improvement is with yourself. I believe there are three key characteristics of a good lover that can optimize your sex life. The first two are associated with your attitude towards sex - being open and willing to learn; and being able to laugh. The third characteristic is having a healthy body image. Each of these characteristics can be adopted if you don't already possess them.
1. Open and willing to learnAs Kleinplatz and her team of researchers discovered, good sex isn't dependent on mastering technique. Sure, technique is part of sexual activities and depending on one's personal definition of good sex, it can be an important factor. The great thing about technique is that it's something that can be learned. So, if you're not feeling very confident in this area, you have reason to be optimistic. There is no shortage of ways to learn sexual positions and techniques, including books, magazines, instructional videos and even mainstream pornography.
What underlies one's motivation to learn or improve technique is an open attitude and willingness to learn. These factors also influence how you'll communicate before, during and after sex, and what your willingness will be towards sexual exploration. Accordingly, in The Great Lover Playbook, popular sex educator Lou Paget maintains that "an open and curious attitude" is an essential trait of great lovers.
Changing our attitudes isn't always easy but it's definitely doable. If you feel you could be more open about sex, then some serious self-reflection might be in order. This will allow you to confront what's possibly preventing you from being more open so that you can act accordingly.
2. Ability to laughAlong with having an open attitude towards sex, being able to laugh and not take oneself so seriously is important. After all, sex sometimes brings with it awkward moments that would kill the mood unless you're able to acknowledge them with some humour.
Noises are a good example. I'm not talking about the expected panting and moaning, which, in my opinion, are the sexier of sex noises. Rather, I'm talking about those less-than-sexy sounds - the Big Gulp slurpee sounds; the sea mammal skin slapping sounds; the tummy rumbles during after-dinner sex; or the sound of air so elegantly and uncontrollably escaping our bodies below the waist (not that that ever happens to me).
Test this theory out for yourself. Next time you're having sex and a relatively embarrassing sound comes out, laugh it off and continue on. If you do, I bet the mood will hardly fizzle.
3. Healthy body image
How we view ourselves can also influence the quality of sex that we have. In a 2008 Chatelaine Sex Survey, exactly half of the women surveyed said that their body image interferes with sex. It was found that, in general, the better women felt about themselves, the more they enjoyed sex. More enjoyable sex equals better sex.
Body image isn't just a woman's issue. Men can also have body image issues that can interfere with sex. Stefan Bechtal, Laurence Roy Stains and the editors of Men's Health Books have an entire section devoted to body image in their book Sex: A Man's Guide (which, by the way, should more aptly be titled Sex: A Heterosexual Sexist Man's Guide). As they say, "Fact is, many men are unhappy with the shape they're in. Literally."They cite research from a psychologist's study that finds 1 in 3 male participants were completely dissatisfied with their body's appearance.
Research on body image issues among transgendered people is not as widely available. Even so, studies on health care issues for the transgendered populations maintain "transgendered individuals may experience shame and anxiety over their bodies."
Body image is a serious concern for a lot of people. Not only can body image issues negatively interfere with sex, but they can have a negative impact on overall well-being. Overcoming insecurities may be a difficult task but it's one that can result in lifelong benefits. In terms of sex, specifically, learning to accept and respect your body will increase your own comfort and boost your confidence.
There are numerous ways to work on improving your body image from books to websites to support groups, and so on. My favourite trick for increasing my comfort with my body is spending more time by myself in the nude. I like to walk around naked, sweep naked, and stand in front of the mirror naked on a regular basis. Apparently, I'm onto something. The blog, Forever Anxious, describes a professionally prescribed mindfulness technique designed to help people become "willingly present" with themselves. The activity involves looking at yourself naked in the mirror for 2-5 minutes in order to get more comfortable with your body. So, go ahead, get naked! After all, the more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable you'll be with a lover. This in turn, can significantly enhance the sex you have.
Sex can always get better
If you do find yourself in the position where you had sex that fell short of your expectations, the key to staying optimistic is knowing that it can get better. Working on becoming a better lover yourself is a necessary step for improving the sex you have with anybody.
Working with your partner is also important. To do this, communication is key. You want to be able to talk with them about what they're open to, what they like, and what they need to feel comfortable, for example. If you're comfortable with your body, if you have an open attitude and desire to learn, as well as an ability to laugh along the way, you may be well prepared to help your partner become a better lover, too. After that, better sex is bound to come.
* This study focuses on sex in two-person relationships. I recognize this article takes on that approach, too. It's what I relate to best, but that's not to say that the two-person sex model is the only one out there. I'm hoping the article's messaging can be extrapolated to maximize inclusiveness. I welcome and encourage comments and constructive criticism, especially on how I can write more inclusively.
Bechtel, S. Stains, L.R. and Men's Health Books (1996). Sex: A Man's Guide. New York, NY: Rodale, Inc.
"Intro to Transgendered Health Issues." Available on the Gender and Health website. Last updated: July 29, 2008. Accessed: August 8, 2009.
"The secret to great sex? It's not technique: study." (July 6, 2009). Available on CTV.ca.
"Sex Survey." Chatelaine, February 2008.