A researcher named Peggy Kleinplatz and her team conducted a qualitative study on what makes for “great sex”. In her article, “The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of “great sex”” she outlines her findings. The qualitative interviews were coded into categories with general themes. What she found was that the two components of “great sex” that we are told through most often through popular media, movies, and people everywhere were actually lowest on the list compared to 8 other components.
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!
Previously, we considered the role that synchronicity and merger play in great sex. In this blog post we will look at Kleinplatz’ third major component: Deep sexual intimacy.
Kleinplatz et al. identify deep sexual intimacy according to one participant, who said:
“It’s part of the way you act with each other long before you’re actually engaged in any kind of, you know, technical sex.”
Deep sexual intimacy appears to not be dependent on intercourse or sexual acts, but more along the lines of the comfort that you have with your partner/lover even when sex isn’t explicitly involved.
Kleinplatz et al. continue,
One of the key characteristics of this type of intimacy was a deep sense of caring for one’s partner. One participant believed that her need for caring as a part of great sex had increased during her life: “I don’t know that I’m capable of having great sex anymore without really caring about a partner.” One woman explained that during great sex, she felt, “loved and wanted, accepted and cherished” by her partner. Participants valued and respected the partners with whom they had had great sex at very deep and high levels.
It appears that deep sexual intimacy must first be established through feeling loved, cherished and wanted.
Sounds pretty spot on, right? So, how do you get that?! And if you do have it, how do you translate your feelings of being cherished into erotic excitement?
In our deepest of hearts, we long to be understood and accepted by the people we love. We are constantly making steps in a dance of our own creating with our partner/lover. Sometimes a step is verbally expressing ourselves by stating how we feel or defending our positions. Sometimes a step is an action expressing our commitment, reliability, and also deeper feelings of love.
For the purposes of focus, let’s explore verbal communication, as it tends to be what I see in my office as the most challenging.
Question: When you and your partner came together as a union (like maybe got married or proclaimed that you wanted to be with that person on a deeper emotional and more committed level) did you talk about monogamy?
In Dr. Tammy Nelson’s book, “The New Monogamy: Redefining your Relationship After Infidelity“, a new way of talking openly and honestly in relationships is proposed. Her outline of how to talk about sex and sexuality recognizes that we are independent sexual beings, different from our lover, and that it’s okay to talk about what we are into. As a matter of fact, talking about what we are into can be a catalyst to eroticism, healing interpersonal or traumatic wounds, and deep sexual intimacy.
Another part of the dance that we do with our partner is an attachment dance. This dance keeps us connected to our partner even if that means we fight, argue, or shut out our partner.
Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, argues in her book, “Love Sense” that:
A secure bond is characterized by emotional openness and responsiveness in the bedroom as well as out. That leads to better communication and engaged, focused attention, which in turn leads to greater arousal, pleasure, and satisfaction.
Sexual experiences that are interpersonal (meaning with others and not just yourself) are inherently going to involve misattunements and differences in attachment styles and communication. These misattunements can be detrimental to deep sexual intimacy, and can get in the way of feeling cared for, wanted, and cherished.
To illustrate, consider this case study: Fred and Pat, an attractive couple in their late 30’s, had hit a wall. They hadn’t had sex in over two years. Fred, unbeknown to Pat, was engaging more heavily in online pornography. Pat, attractive and confident, was a lead at her work and well respected with her colleagues. She easily brushed aside the lack of sex as she immersed herself in her job, her friends, and her children. Fred, on the other hand, immersed himself pornography and fantasies of thrilling sex life.
They both were actively avoiding the problems and heart ache in their marriage.
In my work with them I had to first understand what kind of adult attachment dance they were in. In our work, we discovered that when Fred perceived conflict with Pat he would freeze up and go away. Since a huge part of their conflict had to do with sex, Fred had started avoiding talking to Pat about sex completely. Pat felt unvalued, not seen, and not cherished by Fred as she perceived him to be cold, uncaring and self centered. Neither was talking to the other about the pain of feeling alone and scared.
And both were completely shut off from their erotic natures.
Sometimes it is necessary to dive deeply into emotional vulnerabilities in order to begin creating a deeper intimacy.
Once Fred and Pat started to identify their dance of avoidance and anxiety towards each other and their problems, they actually began to confront those problems together! They began to collaborate and communicate!
Working collaboratively created a deeper sense of safety and trust- teamwork and acceptance. They began to be more receptive and accepting of each others differences and their interpersonal wounds began to heal.
Over time, they began to develop a communication founded on collaboration and empathy. And they looked at the vows they had made to each other so long ago and modified them to fit the new marriage they were creating.
The deep sexual intimacy was close to follow for their marriage. Fred began to feel safer telling Pat what he was turned on by and what he found erotic about pornography. Now that Pat felt more secure in her relationship, she began to explore her own sexuality as well as set boundaries of what she was and was not okay with regarding pornography.
Pat began to learn about her own turn-on’s and started unlocking her erotic nature.
Deep sexual intimacy starts with putting fears and reactivities to rest so that you are no longer controlled by the red alerts of the limbic system.
It also means integrating deep sexual intimacy even when no intercourse is taking place. Sitting down (say that the kitchen table) and talking, sharing and valuing your partner for the beautifully diverse and sometimes unpredictable person they truly are.
You might be surprised at how talking openly about what your relationship means to you- can open pathways to talking about your shared erotic life–and to great sex!
Next: We’ll look at ‘Heightened Empathy’, your next step in 8 days to great sex.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.