Adrenaline, intense attraction, or the things they know how to do in bed; what is it about a sexual encounter that makes it so great? A group of researchers set out to answer this question and have recently released their findings in an innovative study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality (CJHS) entitled "The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of 'Great Sex". They focused their attention on identifying specific characteristics that comprise ‘great sex’. The investigation was conducted in the hopes of debunking sexual myths, and to offer an broader view based on a spectrum of sexuality. The outcome of such work offers a new way for people to view "human erotic potential and expand our understanding of what sex can be".
The data was accumulated from the answers collected in detailed interviews, which lasted anywhere between forty five minutes to two hours. The focal point of the questions was to learn more about optimal sexuality by learning about respondents' best sexual experiences, then tabulating their responses to come up with the most common factors. The study based their findings on a total of sixty four participants, encompassing a diverse sampling of population. Those interviewed were men and women, diverse in age range, ethnic origin and sexual orientation; some also identified themselves as polyamorous, practitioners of S&M, as well as sexual therapists. Participants' ages ranged from twenty three to eight two years of age.
Sex is subjective. Many of the participants of the study put it this way, "no one can simply define 'great sex' for others". Yet their responses revealed a great deal of commonality, despite differences in lifestyles, ages and sexual orientation. Ultimately, the study illustrated that "there may be many routes to experience great sex, but the actual experience can be very similar across varying individuals".
Ten key components of phenomenal sexual experiences were identified during the course of research. Eight were deemed significant because they came up most often and were greatly emphasized by almost all respondents. The last two were characterized as insufficient in themselves to be necessary aspects of great sex, but were still considered by researchers as worthy of mention in the study.
The state of feeling "totally absorbed in the moment", of being completely in tune with the sensations being experienced during great sex, was stated by interviewees most often and ahead of any other characteristic of an ideal sexual experience.
Another distinguishing aspect was the ability of respondents and their sexual partners to completely let themselves go during sex. They were unimpeded by distractions such as the mental ‘running commentary’ that many people have trouble shutting off.
Many of the respondents believed that a deep connection between two people, irrespective of the length of the relationship (hours to years), was a key component of optimal sexual union. Some described it as feeling synchronistic during intimate contact and a sense of merger, a "loss of personal boundaries, a distinct loss of ... self-awareness in the sense of separateness from the other". Others characterized it as a powerful energy and a sense of connectivity that kindles between two individuals.
Interestingly, with all this talk of merger and fusion, those who responded most passionately regarding this aspect of sex noted that the more grounded they were in themselves (with a strong sense of self), the more capable they were to let go with another. Additionally, they emphasized the need to set clear boundaries, accept themselves for who they are, and feel respected by their partner.
The essence of this category is to imagine the undercurrent of intimacy two people develop long before they actually have sex. The panel asserted a powerful connection between erotic intimacy and a sense of safety/security in a relationship. This affinity can be derived by a "deep mutual respect, caring, genuine acceptance and admiration". As it relates to this category of intimacy, practically every one who participated in this study expressed the importance of a profound sense of trust between lovers.
The emphasis on communication doesn't stress individuals being technically skilled communicators as much as it underscores people's capacity to truly and freely share themselves. Participants articulated the importance of listening well and paying attention to verbal and non-verbal cues. They also reiterated the ability "to recognize (in a sexual capacity), even without being told told, what and when a particular kind of touch elicits a certain response in your partner and another does not." Non-verbal communication was seen as a vital component of transcendent sex. In order to successfully embody this element of sexuality interviewees stressed the responsibility of individuals to be emotionally mature enough to recognize their own needs and desires, in order to be able to convey them to their partners.
One woman summed up these qualities as "sex where you can say anything and be anything". Authenticity in a sexual relationship involves individuals being entirely self-expressive, uninhibited and unself-conscious. With the results of this study continually building upon the importance of 'letting go' in relationships, the participants’ data proved another important corollary; being so completely genuine with another human being has an incredibly powerful effect emotionally and sexually. ‘Baring it all’ was considered by many to be liberating and an important component of amazing sex. It also gave permission to their partners to be free to do the same.
Respondents attributed much of their success in coming to such a state of confidence and genuineness, to letting go of restrictive sexual myths and unrealistic expectations as it relates to eroticism.
The feelings of “bliss, peace, awe, ecstasy and soulfulness” were the signature characteristics of extraordinary sex. Some likened the experience to the transcendent feeling reached during meditation, while it reminded others of timelessness and expansiveness. Being able to trust your sexual partner enough to let yourself experience such intensity was seen as the fundamental basis of these factors.
Participants of this study explained that great sex was a vehicle for them to discover themselves. By taking risks and pushing their own sexual boundaries, respondents felt a sense of adventure and personal growth, which in turn fuels further development and discovery. Many of them also agreed on the following, “What's sex without a little fun and laughter?”
The ability to give oneself over to their partner was a distinguishing factor between regular and amazing sex. Being willing to let go and feel vulnerable were among the characteristics that allowed individuals to achieve this state of interpersonal sexual abandon. There is a way to tell whether you're truly surrendering to sex with your lover; as one interviewee put it, in unexceptional relationships, "There's always some maybe small but detectable barriers, some things held back. In great sex, I think those (for me) disappear".
There were a range of opinions presented as to the role orgasms play in great sex. Both men and women agreed that an orgasm was not necessary for a sexual experience to be considered exceptional. However, they noted that orgasms seemed to come naturally anyway when they were having 'great sex'. Some respondents also underscored the satisfaction they derived from a slow build up to pleasure.
A striking conclusion drawn from the results of these interviews was the role that lust and desire played in amazing sex. They made it onto the 'Top Ten' list not because they were valuable in and of themselves, but rather because of their impact when they're mutually experienced. Whether individuals were drawn to one another through lust or attraction, their compelling chemistry influenced their perception of sex positively.
The study found that there was a lack of valid research regarding the nature of great sex, citing that experts in the field of sexual health actually have "minimal data on the farther reaches of human sexual potential". It also pointed out that other studies have a tendency to not take into account the broader spectrum of sexual function; they either take a more black and white approach, or focus too attention on treating dysfunction.
One of the most significant outcomes of this study was that the actual 'acts' performed during sex were deemed inconsequential when compared to the "mindset and intent of the person or couple engaged in these acts". These findings draw powerful conclusions about sex and healthy functioning, namely that individuals need not look outside of themselves to achieve great sex. Too great a focus on the physical mechanisms of sex will not be as fulfilling overall as the emotional, spiritual and psychological benefits of being present, embodied and vulnerable during sex. Additionally, the study encourages "comfort with self, personal and interpersonal exploration, revelation and acceptance". If an individual can achieve this level of growth, they are more apt to take risks both sexually and psychically, and can discover erotic attributes that they did not even know they possessed!