Eight Days to Great Sex 1- How Being Present Can Benefit Your Sex Life

This blog is the first in a series that I am creating to educate on the 8 major components of “great sex”. These components are taken from researcher Peggy Kleinplatz and her team, who conducted a qualitative study on what makes for “great sex”. In their article, “The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of “great sex”” they outline their findings. The qualitative interviews were coded into categories with general themes.

What they found was that the two themes about “great sex” that we are told about most frequently via popular media, movies, and people everywhere were actually lowest on the list compared to 8 other themes.

Those two “minor” components are: 1) Intense physical sensation and orgasm, and 2) Lust, desire, chemistry, and attraction. Her research argues that we are missing a huge part of human sexuality by only focusing on these two minor areas. This might be why, despite behavioral and medical/prescription interventions, you still are not having great sex!

While it was a lot of fun to write this series and I hope you enjoy the content, please keep in mind that blogs are not therapeutic advice, interventions, or treatment. This blog is intended as informational and educational. It is subjective to my opinion and personal experience.

Another thing to keep in mind is what “great sex” means to you. Peggy Kleinplatz interviewed people asking for their interpretations of “great sex” and then coded the data. But there is no single definition of “great sex”, nor should there be.

Not only is there not one grand definition, but sex changes across lifespan, ability, health, and relationship status. Barry McCarthy, a pioneer of men’s sexual health and relationship health across the lifespan states in his book, Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy, “Contrary to media myths, movies, and male braggadocio, sex is seldom 100-percent successful, especially as men age. The most important fact for our sex-saturated society to accept is that 5 to 15 percent of all sexual experiences among well-functioning couples are dissatisfying or dysfunctional”.

As we move through this blog series, I encourage you to think about what “great sex” is for you. The components I explore here should be used as a guide for your own contemplation and development. And remember, a sex therapist is a knowledgeable resource to assist you on your journey towards sexual health. Sex therapists who are certified through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists have met the rigorous requirements of 300 hours of direct sex/sexuality work under the guidance of a clinically certified supervisor, along with over 90 hours of academic course work in topics including Human Sexuality Education, Ethics, Socio-Cultural Factors, Diversity, Anatomy, Health, History and more.

And now, on with Eight Days to Great Sex Part 1- How Being Present can Benefit your Sex Life!

One major component of great sex identified Kleinplatz et al. amongst the major 8 that her research identified is “Being Present“.

Kleinplatz et al. describe “being present” as, “the sense of being utterly alive with intensely focused attention and being “totally absorbed in the
moment” seems to be a crucial feature of optimal sexuality

Being present is also a buzzword in the genre of emotional health described as “Mindfulness”. The essence here is being in the moment instead of somewhere else. There are countless books, video, phone apps, and good old fashioned advice on how to be mindful. Being present and having great sex means being in your body and able to feel the electricity and flutters happening on the inside as a result from the touch and engagement with your partner/lover on the outside.

Kleinplatz et al. further write:

One participant described losing herself completely in the experience: “You’re not a person in a situation. You are it. You are the situation.” As one woman explained, “The room can be on fire and I probably wouldn’t even notice.” An older male participant stated: “There’s an intense focus on what’s happening right here, right now that just excludes everything else.

This is not as easy at it seems. Being present isn’t always intuitive. As a matter of fact, many factors might be involved in being distracted or not in the moment. For example, if you are sensitive to your environment and the house is a mess – you might not be in the moment. If you are under stress or feel an overall stress response – you might not be in the moment. If you are in pain, or don’t feel good in your body – you might not be in the moment. If you are not turned on enough, or your lover isn’t speaking to your erotic blue print, – you might not be in the moment. If you are worried about kids coming in or just plan exhausted – you might not be in the moment.

I hope you’re getting the idea that the list is endless!

To further illustrate the difficulty of this component, I’ll refer to a case study from my own practice.

Jane sits across from me in my office on my blue gray couch with her arms folded. Her body is relaxed into the couch and she sits with her head down.

“We are still having trouble,” she starts. “Whenever we are intimate it feels like I can’t be in my body. I really care for my partner, but when she touches me, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t exactly feel bad. Sometimes it just feels like nothing. It’s so frustrating to be in my head. I think I am broken.”

It was clear to me that Jane is experiencing significant distress in her love making. She felt broken and hopeless at changing her disconnected response. This, in turn, was creating a negative feedback loop of withdrawal and avoidance whenever the trigger (sex) came up.

Jane’s disconnect could be due to a myriad of factors as outlined above. In her case, we discovered that she was not broken, but was experiencing a disconnect when her partner was unknowingly triggering past traumas through the very act of touch.

Touch can be a powerful catalyst to accessing deep wounds created by previous traumas. Bessel van der Kolk, a pioneer of body informed trauma states:

Bessel van der Kolk

Touch and sex with a partner can also feel uncomfortable due to inner narratives about sexuality that can be constricting rather than expanding.

Being present through touch and sex can make someone feel extremely uncomfortable in their body due to body image issues, scars, illness, and self loathing.

In order for Jane, and anyone, to be present with a partner, she must first be present with herself. Jane will need to learn how to stay with how her body is feeling so that she can communicate and share with her partner what comes up for her, what triggers negative sensations, emotions and self talk, and also what feels good to her.

When our skin is touched in the right way by a safe and loving companion, our mind focuses on that sensation and we can actually heal the negative triggers that come up for us.

Remember, our skin in our biggest erogenous zone!

Jane and I did a lot of work together to help her with her surfacing traumas. As she began to heal herself and reclaim the power in her sexuality–including her right to consent in sex–we were able to laterally integrate her healing with her partner.

In Jane’s situation, we needed to work through her trauma response first before we could work on being present with her partner.

It’s important that your own mindfulness and ability to be present is focused on. Integrating touch with a safe person in a consensual atmosphere can help with being present and having great sex.

A fun exercise that you can do at home with your partner/lover to practice being present is to gather some common household items like Kleenex tissue, a scrub brush, feather, tennis ball, or even a dish towel.

Take turns with one person being the receiver and the other the giver. The receiver tells the giver where they would like to be touched (part of body) and the giver uses a Kleenex tissue (for example) to lightly touch the receiver on their designated part of the body. Try a couple different things with different levels of pressure. Try a couple of ideas, then switch.

Remember that the receiver can always say stop, or move the giver to a different part of the body. And the giver can also stop at any time.

Allow yourselves to giggle at the funny feelings that come up. Also allow for deeper hurts and possible tears to come up as well. Share in that with each other. This is an exercise aimed at being present that is intended to increase communication and safety.

Important Note: Physical and Emotional Intimacy require consensual agreement for all parties involved. Do not assume that just because you are married or really like someone that they want to have any sexual act or activity with you.

Consent means that a person can say “yes” because they can equally say “no”.

Most of all – have fun! We’ll be talking about fun as a component for great sex later on in the series.

Next: We’ll look at ‘Synchronicity and Merger’, your next step in 8 days to great sex.

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A sex therapist has training and knowledge to assist people in conceptualizing, understanding and putting words to the most intimate and often misunderstood parts of their whole self.  Sex therapy isn’t about how to improve your technique (although that is great too!). 

Sex therapy is about your whole relationship integrated with your whole self and deeper intimacy with all you are.

For more information or to work with Angela, give a call at (408) 442-1551 or email: angelaj@anewtherapy.org.