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The components of optimal sexuality: A portrait of "great sex."



The purpose of this investigation was to develop a useful conceptual model of optimal sexuality by identifying and describing its elements. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 64 key informants, i.e., 44 individuals who reported having experienced "great sex" and 20 sex therapists. Subsequently, phenomenologically-oriented content analysis was performed on interview transcripts. Eight major components were identified: being present, connection, deep sexual and erotic intimacy, extraordinary communication, interpersonal risk-taking and exploration, authenticity, vulnerability and transcendence. Clinical implications of these findings are considered, including the need for sex therapists to acquire and transmit new methods and skills. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Sexuality, Vol.
18 (1-2)
The components
optimal sexuality:
Peggy J. Kleinplatz^-^,
Dana Ménard^, Marie-Pierre Paquet^, Nicolas Paradis^,
Meghan Campbell'*, Dino Zuccarino^,
Lisa Mehak^
Medicine, University
Ottawa, Ottawa
Psychology, University
Ottawa, Ottawa
Education, University
Ottawa, Ottawa
"Independent practice, Ottawa
this investigation
was to
useful conceptual model
eleitients. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with
64 key informants, i.e., 44 individuals who reported having experienced "great sex" and 20 sex therapists.
Subsequently, phenomenologically-oriented content analysis
interview transcripts.
Eight major components were identified: being present, connection, deep sexual
erotic intimacy,
extraordinary communication, interpersonal risk-taking and exploration, authenticity, vulnerability
transcendence. Clinical implications of
findings are considered, including the need
sex therapists
to acquire and transmit
would like
thank Alvin
Mahrer, Ph.D,
for his
constructive comments
and suggestions on earlier drafts
this article. Portions
this paper were presented previously
at the
annual meeting
the International Academy
Sex Research, Vancouver, BC, August, 2007 and
at the
annual meeting
the Canadian
Research Forum, Montreal, PQ, October, 2008,
How are we to conceive
optimal sexuality? What
are the components of optimal sexuality? What does
it take to
sex more than
merely functional
or even
truly memorable
research have been
on the
end of
the spectrum
sexuality, focusing
dysfunction rather than optimal
present, there
is a
knowledge, empirical data
in-depth public
discourse concerning the nature of healthy sexuality,
let alone very special, wonderful sexual experiences.
quite uncommon
for the
and sexology to study what is "optimal", that
is beyond functional, beyond positive
satisfactory, beyond good (Mahrer, 2008, 2009).
"Optimal" does not imply a prescriptive standard
perfection but certainly a state or condition radically
different from ordinary, positive experience.
"It is a
qualitatively higher plateau" (Mahrer, 2009,
p. 6).
Why is it important to study optimal sexuality? When
absent, speculation
expectations are likely, often with detrimental effects.
Empirically-based research
sex can
countering conventional sexual scripts
and challenging the status quo; this may prevent
sexual problems.
optimal sexuality
help clinicians learn
human sexuality
might help interested clients move past mediocre sex
and towards discovering their erotic potentials
(Kleinplatz, 1992,1996a, 1996b, 2001,2006; Ogden,
2006; Schnarch, 1991, 1997).
Sexologists have minimal data on the farther reaches
of human sexual potential. This seems unfortunate
if not
outright hunger,
"sizzling", "passionate"
"amazing" sex,
among clients who surely seek better sex,
but in the
To be
been considerable
Correspondence concerning this article should
Peggy J. Kleinplatz, Ph.D., 161 Frank Street, Ottawa,
ON K2P 0X4, E-mail:
Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
speculation in the popular presses about magnificent
sex. Magazine headlines, sex manuals, etc., seem to
promise that "amazing" sex is only a few moves away
(Ménard & Kleinplatz, 2008). Hollywood portrayals
of easy, instant, wild gratification make the public
wonder why they struggle to attain the kinds of sexual
thrills (that seem) so readily available on-screen.
Some sex therapists have theorized about optimal
sexual/erotic relations but there has been precious
little empirical investigation.
Unfortunately, this gap in our knowledge is
disadvantageous for dealing with the more prevalent
problems in clinical practice. Many of our clients
are referred for treatment of low desire or more
commonly, sexual desire discrepancy (Metz &
McCarthy, 2007; Schnarch, 1997). Quite often, we
are unable to locate any diagnosable pathology in
either of the individuals (e.g.. Hyposexual Desire
Disorder) or in the couple before us. Sometimes,
clients have bought in to messages from advertising
or the media which stand to profit by creating a sense
of inadequacy in the public. At other times, the lack
of interest may signify the sense that "something
more" is within—rather than "out there"—but just
out of reach. At times, clients are reluctant to settle
for the existing, lacklustre sexual relations between
them, sensing the potential for deeper intimacy and
having wistful recollections of a "honeymoon phase",
a sense of "connection" or "passion" that they cannot
seem to recapture. Such individuals may be best
understood as disillusioned, disappointed and
disgruntled with the state of their existing sex lives
(Metz & McCarthy, 2007) and still hoping for more
sexual delight, joy and gratification.
In attempting to find out what kind(s) of sex would
be worth wanting, I (first author) have been in the
habit for over 20 years of asking my clients to
describe the best or greatest sexual experiences of
their lives. Inevitably, I am surprised by and learn
from their
Their recollections often return to
adolescent fumbling at times prior to ever beginning
genital contact. Such replies call into question not
only what "greatest sexual experiences" might mean
or what would make them so but also what "sex"
itself might be. Thus, the quest for a more rigorous
way of understanding optimal sexual experience
originates in clinical necessity, to help individuals
and couples find more of what they intuit is possible,
in addition to an academic interest in filling a gap in
the literature.
"Great sex" as depicted in popular
Popular culture sources tend to equate sex with
intercourse, reinforce sexual stereotypes, send mixed
messages that leave roorri for unrealistic expectations,
anxiety, shame and guilt; they also marginalize most
people who do not fit into the narrow spectrum of
sexuality portrayed (Andsager & Roe,
& Prusank, 1997; Krassas, Blauwkamp
Ménard & Kleinplatz,
There are thousands of sexual self-help books
(in regular or bastardized "Tantric" fiavours) whose
titles guarantee the purchaser "great sex" or "sexual
ecstasy". In most cases, the emphasis of such books
is on performance, technique, novelty, spontaneity
and incredible orgasms as the route to great sex.
sex and "satisfying" sex
Empirical information on the nature and
characteristics of "good" (but not optimal) sexuality
is available but sparse (e.g., Barbach & Levine, 1980;
Hutton, 1994). The literature on sexual satisfaction,
though far more extensive than the literature on good
or optimal sexuality, is limited by a narrow focus.
Quest ionnaires designed to measur e sexual
satisfaction tend to focus on "nor mal" sexual
functioning as defined in Masters and Johnson's
(1966) model of the Hurnan Sexual Response Cycle
(Arrington, Cofrancesco & Wu, 2004). Some
measures (e.g., Golombok-Rust Inventory of Sexual
Rust & Golombok, 1985) define sexual
satisfaction, in part, by the absence of sexual
dysfunctions and/or factors such as non-sensuality
and non-communication. This illustrates the tendency
of researchers in the area to dichotomize sexual
functioning into abnormal and normal without regard
to a potentially broader spectrum.
What is optimal sexuality?
What does optimal sex look like? A few clinicians
offer some descriptions of it. Authors use different
words to describe their conceptions of presumably
similar phenomena: "Sexual ecstasy" (Broder &
Goldman, 2004; Ogden, 1999, 2006), "great sex"
(Castleman, 2004; Heumann & Campbell, 2004),
Journal of
Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
"eroticism" (Kleinplatz, 1992, 1996a, 1996b; Li via,
Schnarch, 1991, 1997) and "spectacular sex"
The uniqueness of each individual's
sexuality is stressed along with the subjective nature
of sexual preferences and desires (Broder &
Kleinplatz, 1996b;
1997; Zilbergeld, 2004).
In 2005, we began to investigate the components of
optimal sexuality. The purpose of the first phase of
this research was to gain initial impressions of what
optimal sexuality looked like from interviews with
key informants.
initial findings after collecting data
from the first 30 interviews revealed 6 components of
optimal sexuality (Kleinplatz & Ménard, 2007).
In this follow-up study, we reveal the subsequent,
more comprehensive findings based on a total of 64
interviews on optimal sexuality to
The goals of
this research are to develop an empirically-based,
conceptual model of optimal sexuality; to learn from
as having
"great sex" what optimal sexuality means in practice;
and to flesh out the model under development by
interviewing clinicians, i.e., sex therapists.
It is hoped that this model will counter the prevailing
sexual myths and offer a more complete view of the
spectrum of sexuality. An empirically-based,
clinically relevant model of optimal sexuality could
open up new vistas for some individuals/clients
seeking to improve the quality of their sexual
interactions, while demystifying "great sex" for
others. This model may inform the way clinicians
view human erotic potentials and expand our
understanding of what sex can be. Having this
knowledge in hand, clinicians may be better able to
develop the tools necessary to accompany their
clients on their paths towards optimal sexuality.
To capture the essential features of the experience
and to determine the meaning of optimal sexuality
as lived by those individuals who have experienced
it, phenomenological research methods were an ideal
choice for this study (Aanstoos, 1986; Moustakas,
Polkinghorne, 1989, 1994). The principal
method of gathering data for phenomenologically-
oriented research c onsists of semi-structured
interviews with key informants who have experience
with and can shed light on the phenomenon in
question. The concern in this research paradigm is
not with generalizability but with learning about a
particular phenomenon (in this instance, optimal
sexuality) from those who have knowledge in this
area. The researcher's preconceived ideas about the
phenomenon under investigation are set aside, i.e.,
("bracketed"), in order to avoid limiting the field of
enquiry (Giorgi, 1985; Holstein & Gubrium, 1994;
Polkinghorne, 1989, 1994). That is, one
acknowledges, elucidates and then sets aside one's
own preconceptions in order to stay as close as
possible to the data
In this instance, the
presence of seven researchers who constantly
challenged one another over possible biases was most
advantageous in keeping each of
honest. The final,
crucial principle of the phenomenological approach
is that it is not hypothesis driven but rather discovery-
oriented research (Mahrer, 2004).
Semi-structured interviews were conducted by the
two first authors (i.e., a clinical psychologist and a
graduate student in psychology) over the telephone
and were recorded with participants' informed
consent. Prompts included, "How would you
distinguish between 'very good' versus 'great' sex?"
and a series of questions about the common features
of the best sexual experiences. Interviews lasted for
45 minutes to two hours in duration. Four members
research team independently read the interview
transcripts several times in order to identify a
preliminary list of themes of the components of great
sex emerging from participants'
research team then attempted to cluster together
conceptually-related themes to learn the components
of great
meetings were
discuss these
themes; these meetings were followed by a return to
the data by each member of
A preliminary list of components was agreed upon
by the four members of the research team at which
point a fifth member of the team, blind to the process
of component development, read the interview
transcripts and independently developed a list of the
components of great sex. The preliminary list of the
Journal of
Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
components of great sex developed by the first four
members of the research team was revised based on
input from this fifth team member.
The revised list of the components of great sex was
provided to two additional members of the research
team, blind to all previous steps, who were asked to
classify new participant statements based on the
revised list. Further meetings were held with the
additional two team members to refine the list of
components, checking if each could be distinguished
from the next, followed by a return to the data.
Five members of the research team coded a selection
of participant statements using the list of components.
This initial coding yielded a value for percentage
agreement of
complete agreement among
all five raters for 65% of the statements. Further
meetings were held to refine the components and
clarify their definitions. This iterative process was
characterized by a return to the data between each
step of development, bracketing of assumptions and
continuous refinements to the list of themes. The
same five members of the research team coded a
second set of participants' statements and found that
the data yielded 8 distinct and discerni ble
components. The second value of percentage
agreement was determined to be .84.
Interviews were conducted with individuals both
mainstream and typically marginalized in sex
research, including men and women over the age of
60 who reported having been in relationships of 25
years or longer and sexual minority group members.
Although older married people are generally not
considered first as a font of information about optimal
sexuality, it stands to reason that individuals and
couples who have managed to make this experience
last a lifetime or who have developed the capacity
over the years to experience optimal sexuality have
much to teach the rest of us (Kleinplatz, Ménard et
2009). Similarly, although members of sexual
minority groups are often seen as "other", the
literature produced by community members suggests
that stepping outside conventional sexual scripts may
be part of the path towards optimal sexuality (Califia,
Participants were recruited with
announcements using the relatively neutral adjective
of "great" sex to avoid introducing a bias to a
particular kind of optimal sexuality (e.g., "satisfying,"
Older individuals were recruited through
announcements posted in community groups for older
men and women. Although most were currently
having "great sex" some, notably widows and
widowers, reported on past experiences. Members
of sexual minority groups (e.g., gay men, bisexual
women, polyamorous individuals, self-identified
"SM practitione rs") were rec ruited through
announcements posted on listservs of self-identified
participants in sexual minority communities. Sex
therapists, individuals who presumably have spent
time contemplating the spectrum of sexuality and
might share their insights, were recruited through an
announcement posted ori a listserv for sex therapists
All of
sex therapists offered their
professional insights; a few also spoke about their
personal experiences. Additional participants from
the three groups were recruited using a "snowball"
technique. Given the- sensitive nature of this
investigation, identifying information was removed
prior to transcription or r-eview of transcripts. Thus,
research team membersexcept for the
interviewers—were kept blind as to all identifying
and demographic information.
The first 64 volunteers were accepted for
participation. None were screened out. There were
25 older individuals (14 men, 11 women), 20 sex
therapists (11 men, 9 women) and 19 self-identified
members of sexual minority groups (9 men, 10
women). One sexual minority group member was
transgendered (female to male) and was counted as
a male participant. Another sexual minority
participant identified as "genderqueer" and was
counted as a female participant.
Of the 25 individuals recruited on the basis of their
age and experience in long-term relationships, the
average age was 66.6 years with a range from 60 to
82 years. Of the 19 self-identified members of sexual
minority groups, the average age was 47,8 years with
a range from 23 to 59 years.
Journal of
Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
Eight major components, that is, elements
emphasized and highlighted by most participants,
were identified from analysis of the semi-structured
interviews. Two additional components were
considered "minor" because these ideas were touched
on by only a minority of participants and were not
emphasized even by those who mentioned them. All
components will be described accompanied by
illustrative quotations gleaned from the transcripts
of interviews with participants.
Major components of great sex
Being present, focused and embodied
Being fully and completely present during sexual
experiences was the component of great sex
articulated first, foremost and most frequently by
participants. As one participant stated: .
The difference is when I can really just let
go and completely focus and be in the
moment and not have that, you know,
running commentary going through my head
about anything else.
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. Participants spoke of being utterly
embodied and fully aware of the sensations being
experienced from moment to moment. One described
the feeling as, "a complete immersion, I think in the
present, in the experience at the time." It was
necessary for participants to, "really [be] fully
conscious" and to slow down in order to experience
each moment as fully as possible. One participant
described losing herself completely in the experience:
"You're not a person in a situation. You are it. You
are the situation."
One woman identified the ability to let go, be free
from distractions and be present as one of the
distinguishing characteristics of her favorite sexual
partners: "the ones that are kind of like me in terms
able to be lost in the moment... and revel in
it." Once enabled to reach a place of intense
concentration, the idea of being distracted was
practically impossible. 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
right now that just excludes everything else."
These descriptions are reminiscent of Gallwey's
(1997,1998) writings on the "inner game" of golf or
tennis or Csikszentmihaly's
( 1990)
of the state of "flow", works that some of the
participants had read and recommended.
Connection, aiignment,
being iñ
A strong connection with one's sexual partner,
whether that relationship lasted
few hours or dozens
of years, was a key component of great sex. This
intense alignment was distinct from the other aspects
of intimate and pr esumabl y long (er)-term
relationships (discussed below). Indeed, many
participants believed that the depth of the connection
between partners was one of the most critical
elements of
experience regardless of duration of
the relationship. One woman characterized great sex
as involving, "at least one moment, the snap of the
fingers, the length of a heartbeat, a breath where 1
can't tell where I stop and they start."
Participants frequently used language borrowed from
physics to describe the "energy", "electricity,
"alignment" or "conductivity" experienced between
and among partners:
It's the energy between people that wraps
itself around them like a blanket to the point
where you notice the creation of the body
between them more than you notice either
one of the individuals involved.
One woman stressed the relative importance of the
connection over
actual physical sex acts involved:
One can have great sex with, for example,
very little penetration or very little physical
contact...with an intense amount of energy.
Other participants defined the connection as being
"in synch" with their
The connection during
great sex was characterized, one participant said, by
Journal of
Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
an "enormous level of synchronicity." A female
participant described this feeling as, "two people
the right head space at
right time together,
being able to share that."
Participants described the feeling of connection as a
merger with another person: "Inside my body I'm
the other person's body and we're just kind of all
one together at that moment." One man described
the sensation as a, "loss of personal boundaries,
distinct loss of,..self-awareness in the sense of
separateness from the other." Another individual
described this feeling as:
A melding, blurring of identity boundaries
so that one feels like you were literally
feeling with the other and the distinction
between what the other person feels and what
you feel seems almost irrelevant.
An elderly participant described the connection he
had with his lover as so intense that he literally felt
and experienced what she did both in and outside
the bedroom.
This emphasis on "two becoming one" is ubiquitous
in poetry and song (e.g., Timmins, 1993) but less
exalted in the mental health literature wherein there
are concerns about fusion. Intriguingly, individuals
capable of such merger noted that being centred in
oneself and feeling respect from the partner allowed
them to expand their limits. Participants offered that
"good" and "clear boundaries", "self-knowledge" and
"self-acceptance" were essential to entering into an
all-encompassing, erotic union. The prerequisite for
letting go with others entailed being grounded and
having a good, solid grip on oneself
described by
1997] and Shaw [2001
Deep sexual and erotic intimacy
For many participants, the experience of great sex
was inextricable from the deep sexual and erotic
intimacy of
relationship in which it occurred. As
one participant explained, "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."
The relationship had to include deep mutual respect,
caring, genuine acceptance and admiration. One of
the key characteristics of
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
The majority
of participants defined virtually every facet of love
without using that term. Participants valued and
respected the partners with whom they had had great
sex at very deep and high levels.
Almost every participant identified a deep and
penetrating sense of trust as characteristic of the
intimacy that was part of great sex for them. Many
participants viewed this trust as a necessary
prerequisite for the experience of great sex. "Trust is
I mean, there has to be trust in the sexual
relationship that
whom you trust will
take care of you just as you are taking care of him."
Other participants described
of security
within the relationship, a "safety in the essence."
Extraordinary communication,
heightened empathy
Extraordinary commuhication and heightened
empathy were crucial for the experience of great sex.
The types of exchanges that constituted
communication for
individuals went far beyond
conventional definitions of this term found in the
psychological literature. Rather than stressing the
importance of using
language, paraphrasing their
pa rtner s' statements, giving and r ece iving
constructive feedback, etc., participants emphasized
complete and total sharing of themselves, both
verbally and non-verbally, with their partners before,
during and after sexual encounters.
Participants believed that being "able to listen, to
organize information, to recognize, what,
when, even if you're not told, that one kind of touch
elicits a certain response in your partner and another
does not" was crucial. They emphasized the
importance of sensitivity, "real listening" and "paying
Many participants who were
members of sexual minority groups believed that the
negotiation skills gleaned from education within the
SM community were especially helpful in
experiencing great sex.
Journal of
Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
The ability to communicate non-verbally was seen
as critical; touch itself was treasured as a special,
direct and erotic form of communication. Sex
therapists often deal with clients who are reluctant
express their
verbally and choose nonverbal
communication as the safer, default option. In
contrast, among these participants, both were prized,
as was the prerequisi te of taking enough
responsibility for one's own self-knowledge to
identify what desires and sensitivities to convey.
These individuals emphasized the ability to read the
partner's responses via one's own body, specifically
via touch. Heightened empathy was believed to be a
crucial skill so as to "feel into their space" and "play
off of the other." The focus was on living in a shared,
common experience, enhanced by moment-by-
moment awareness of how the partner
Some defined talking per se as sex or stated that
"speaking erotically" and "taking risks verbally"
could move the encounter, "into forbidden territory
but with a sense of safety."
Authenticity, being genuine,
uninhibited, transparency
The act
ofbeing completely and genuinely oneself was
an important element of great sex. Participants valued
the freedom to be relentlessly honest with themselves
and totally transparent with their sexual partners. An
older woman defined her experience of great sex as,
"Sex where you can say anything and be anything."
Participants described feeling completely uninhibited
and unselfconscious during great sex and giving
themselves permission to experience pleasure and
enjoy as completely as possible. One participant
defined great sex as:
Being able to be selfish, impulsive, free of
unguarded, unplanned, in the moment,
emotionally availabl e, emotio nally
For one participant, letting go and being uninhibited
made great sex possible for not only herself but for
her partners as well:
think that's one of the beauties of, of having
sex with me is because I always let go so
much that
think it, it kind of gave permission
to people to be more uninhibited
right in and I think that's why I've probably
dalotof great sex.
The possibility of revealing themselves on all levels
to a sexual partner in a situation of complete trust
and acceptance was exquisite for participants. For
some participants, the mere act of disclosing parts of
themselves during sexual encounters was seen as
erotic, "freeing and very liberating." One man
identified getting, "to reveal parts of yourself in a
very different way" as an important component of
the great sex he was currently enjoying. Another
participant described:
...Getting to that point where
am completely
stripped bare emotionally, physically, you
know, spiritually. If they can reach in, and
grab whatever
want, and take it out, look
at it, play with it, you know, whatever and I
love it.
Participants revelled in the freedom and liberation
to be completely emotionally naked with another
person. The emotional power ofbeing genuine, being
seen and known authentically was described
repeatedly as a gift. One woman described the joy
she experienced from being able to reveal herself
completely to her husband and having him accept
her completely: "It
just so shocking to me that I
could actually express these things and, he was right
there loving it and doing it with me."
Several participants mentioned spontaneously that
in order to become authentic and genuine, they first
had to acknowledge the inadequacy of existing sexual
scripts and rules. Once they had rejected previously
constricting beliefs, they felt able to be more true to
Transcendence, bliss, peace,
transformation, healing
For many in divi duals, the expe riences of
transcendence and personal transformation were the
hallmarks of an extraordinary sexual experience.
Participants described moments of
peace, awe,
ecstasy and soulfulness. Some believed that during
great sex, it was possible to experience a "high" akin
Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
to that achieved during meditation. One man defined
great sex
"an experience of floating in the universe
of light and stars and music and sublime peace."
Participants often reported a sense of timelessness
during great sex or a sense of the infinite. One
participant believed that having great sex was like,
"being transported somewhere else...tim e just
disappears." Another male participant characterized the
experience of having great sex as, "being infinite,
peaceful, very safe and very expansive." He described
having a, "white lightning experience.... that was
probably only
couple of
.but it felt eternal."
Many participants used religious language to describe
their greatest sexual experiences. One participant
stated, "At this moment, we were in the presence of
God" and described a feeling of being "enveloped in
this beautiful white light." Another remarked, "It was
revelatory - an epiphany."
Many participants emphasized the transformative,
growth-enhancing and healing qualities of great sex.
"I don't think those experiences by their very nature
can be anything less than transformative" said one
participant. Another suggested that great sex "can
change you, can make you more than you are." A
male participant described how the transformation
in great sex is effected: "The trust, the intimacy, the
freedom to be yourself with [your partners] that you
have in the bedroom or the dungeon carries into the
rest of your life."
These individuals seem to be describing a
combination of heightened altered mental, emotional,
physical, relational and spiritual states occurring in
unison (cf., Ogden, 1999, 2006). Their descriptions
are reminiscent of what Maslow referred to as peak
experiences. Indeed, he wrote, "There are many paths
to heaven, and sex is one of them"
p. 169).
Exploration, interpersonal risk-taking,
Participants described great sex as an adventure, an
opportunity to discover things about themselves and
their partners and a chance to pursue ever greater
depths during their sexual encounters. Interpersonal
risk-taking and exploration emerged as important
components of great sex, which were undertaken in
the context of play and fun. As one woman put it, "I
definitely like people who
.be silly and can play,
you know, like kids ...e xplo re it." Or as one
participant explained, "I'm an explorer, I'm an
experimenter. I'm willing to say let's try this and see
what happens."
Many participants likened great sex to an ongoing
"discovery process", exploration or journey where
it was necessary
continually push and expand one's
personal sexual boundaries. One woman believed that
great sex required an "adventuring spirit." She later
explained that she pursued depth in her sexual
encounters: "Where can we take each other, where
can we go?" Another participant described the
possibility of not only, "discovering stuff about your
partner but discovering things about
emphasized the need for this discovery process to
continue and expand throughout a person's life.
A sense of humour and laughter were vital for many
and a necessary context for exploration and
interpersonal risk-taking. One woman said, "I can
always tell that people are having great sex if they
are laughing." A male participant reported that he
always laughed at least a little bit during great sex,
"either at the beginning, at the end or in the middle."
A female participant explained why she believed a
sense of humour was essential for great sex:
When people actually get right down to it, it
looks funny as
Xye're in these contorted,
awkward positions grunting like animals,
folding ourselves up into a sexual origami
that hardly resembles anything as elegant as
a crane [laughing]..,. It's absolutely one of
the most hilarious things that human beings
are capable of. j
The importance of fun äs part of the experience of
great sex was so basic that on several occasions,
participants mentioned this component as an
afterthought: "Did I mention that great sex is fun too?
[laughs] If you're not having fun, it's not great."
Several participants described great sex as "an
opportunity for creativity." This light-hearted attitude
and ability to have fun and to "play like children"
was crucial.
Journal of
Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
Participants believed that "giving
oneself be vulnerable and surrendering to a partner
were exquisite aspects of great sex. Whereas being
authentic, genuine, and transparent were more intra-
psychically focused, vulnerability and surrender
involved letting go to another person and were more
interpersonally oriented. The focus here was on,
"being able to put your entire being in somebody
else's hands."
An older male participant believed that this degree
of vulnerability helped to distinguish between good
and great sex:
In normal good sex or good relationships, I
think there's always some maybe small but
detectable barriers, some things held back.
In great sex, I think those for me disappear
and so that one is quite transparent to the
other person and therefore quite vulnerable
but it feels, it goes with an intensely erotic
good feeling rather
than a
scary feeling.
Several participants independently compared the act
of being vulnerable during great sex and surrendering
completely to one's partner with jumping off
Sex is a leap of faith... It's saying I'm going
tojump off this cliff where I'm going
know, be naked and be vulnerable and give
myself to somebody else and take them in
and I hope I feel good after I do that.
Or as another summarized, "It's sex where you can
say anything and be anything and discover anything
and feel loved and wanted, accepted and cherished
and where you're jumping off cliffs and know it and
feel safe all at the same time."
Some described surrendering control over their own
bodies, revelling in the sensation and being enabled
to "go with the fiow" or beyond that, "being willing
to go where your partner is leading you." Still others
identified this as a particularly desirable attribute in
their partners: "The primary characteristic [of
partners with whom I have great sex] is their
willingness to surrender."
Minor components
Two components were characterized as "minor"
because they were touched on by only a minority of
participants and were not emphasized to the same
degree as the major components. Although a few
participants believed these were necessary aspects
of great sex, even these individuals stated that these
minor elements were not sufficient in and of
physical sensation
and orgasm
The first minor component identified was that of
intense pleasure, physical sensation and orgasm. An
older man described the, "utter feeling of total
satisfaction" that characterized great sex for him
while others mentioned the "slow gradual build in
intensity." Participants espoused a wide variety of
views on the role of orgasm in great sex. The majority
(both male and female) believed that orgasm was
neither necessary nor sufficient for great sex but was
commonly experienced. As one woman explained,
"It's not a necessary feature of great sex it's just so
commonly a part of great sex that maybe...I don't
do well to separate them."
desire, chemistry, attraction
The other minor component was the role of lust,
desire, chemistry and attraction in great sex. Some
identified the desire and attraction they felt for their
partners and the strong mutual lust or chemistry
within the relationship as common elements across
their greatest experiences. A female participant said,
"In each of those encounters [there is] a component
of, 'Oh my God! If
go another minute without my
hands on you, I shall simply cease to be.'"
Authors in the area of optimal sexuality have
emphasized the uniqueness of each individual's
sexuality and the subjective nature of sexual
preferences and desires (Barbach & Levine, 1980;
Broder & Goldman, 2004; Castl eman , 2004;
Kleinplatz, 1996b; Zilbergeld, 2004). The responses
of participants in this investigation supported these
authors' beliefs. We were struck by the many
participants who attempted to articulate their
experiences of "great sex" and prefaced their
remarks, almost apologetically, with the comment
10 The
Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
that no one individual can simply define "great sex"
for others and that they spoke only for themselves
and out of their own, particular experiences. Many
felt compelled to add, "but that's just me" to their
answers. Great sex was compared to
snowflakes as an example of
phenomenon that was
personal and unique to each individual.
What was striking especially in light of these
comments was that the major components of optimal
sexuality seemed to be almost universal among
participants of different backgrounds, sexual
proclivities and relationship histories. These
participants differed enormously from each other in
terms of sexual orientation, age, relationship status,
level of physical ability and sexual functioning but
their conceptualizations of great sex were far more
they were different. This
that there may be many routes to experience great
sex but the actual experience can be very similar
across individuals. Even more surprising was that
participants tended to use very similar language and
imagery despite their different personal, educational
and vocational backgrounds. Although there were no
discernible differences between the older participants
and the members of the sexual minority groups, the
exceptions were the sex therapists, who, on the whole
tended to be drawn towards the negative rather than
the positive, notwithstanding the focus of the
interview questions. A full discussion of the
similarities between the first two groups versus the
sex therapists is beyond the scope of this paper (see
Ménard, Campbell et al., 2008.)
The findings paint a radically different picture of
optimal sexuality than what is portrayed in the mass
media. Popular culture sources promote achieving
great sex through "secret" techniques, novelty and
variety, suggesting that one is to look outside of
oneself to find great sex. In contrast with these
sources and mechanistic models of sex therapy, the
participants in this study found techniques and sex
mostly irrelevant. "Great sex" had very little
to do
with proper physiological functioning
erections, vaginal lubrication, intercourse, orgasm).
The actual sexual behaviours and acts performed are
far less important than the mind set and intent of the
person or couple engaged in these acts. By focusing
on the individual's subjective experience, the
definition of sex broadened to include times when
no physical contact was involved. This differs
markedly from conventional notions of sex and
sexuality. It
time to
revise these
depictions of "great
sex" and shift from a primari ly behavi oural
understanding of optimal—and other—sexuality to
highlight the intrapsychie and interpersonal elements
more strongly. |
Implications for
The good news is that "normal" sexual functioning
is not necessary to experience optimal sexuality. The
participants in this study often experienced optimal
sexuality despite their own or their partners'
diminishing getiital responsiveness and overall
physical ability) with age, illness and disability. Not
only had these changes not decreased sexual
fulfilment, they had made the distinctiv e
characteristics of great! sex more salient. As one
stated, "It isn't about's about one long,
intense plateau." \
The bad news is that sexual function is not sufficient
to attain optimal
sex therapists, we often
help clients to overcome isexual dysfunction yet note
that their enjoyment of
sexual relations and more
strikingly, their sexual frequency remain
may be tempted to explain what
may then appear to be idesire disorders or at least
desire discrepancies as symptomatic of deeper,
perhaps relational or systemic sexual problems. Here
is another possibility: Maybe nothing is wrong.
Maybe nothing ever
wrong but nothing was quite
Perhaps clients know intuitively that they
were seeking something more fulfilling, exciting and
meaningful than predictable and reliable genital
responses could have provided all along. If clients
truly wish to experience "sex worth wanting",
therapists need to aim much higher than merely
returning their clients to adequate physiological
functioning (Kleinplatz,
2006; Schnarch, 1991;
Shaw, 2001). In other
perhaps much of what is
currently diagnosed as sexual desire disorders can be
best understood as a healthy response to dismal and
disappointing sex (Kleinplatz, 1992, 2010, in press).
In order to help those seeking optimal sexuality, or
even sex worth getting excited about, clinicians will
need to acquire new skill sets and learn how to
Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
develop new capacities in our
may know
how to help clients attain low levels of freedom from
distraction (e.g., thought-stopping) but have only
limited knowledge of how to become so thoroughly
present, focused, embodied and intimately engaged
that nothing can interfere with ecstasy. Sex and
couples therapists are quite knowledgeable at
teaching skills of communication and "fighting fair"
validating, active listening, giving and receiving
constructive criticism) but would do well to study
the extraordinary expertise of these participants in
high level communication of nuanced erotic desires.
The empathie attunement of these individuals, their
proficiency in reading their own and one another's
most primitive, sensory wishes and responses - and
their meanings - far exceeds the ordinary levels of
empathy discussed in the psychotherapy literature
(Mahrer, Boulet & Fairweather, 1994). For that
matter, we will need to learn how to help couples
create relationships safe enough to be worthy of the
vulnerability inherent in revea lin g oneself
The fear
presenting these
that they could
be (mis)used to set the bar ever higher for sexual
performance in the ignoble tradition of the distorted
spotlight shone on previous sex research (e.g., on
multiple orgasms, the G-spot [Tavris, 1992]). This
study should not be used to establish new standards
to be achieved. On the contrary, if there is a message
from this study, it is that those who experience
optimal sexuality have learned to ignore conventional
performance expectations in order to listen to and
take responsibility for their own hearts' desires. It
would be counterproductive to focus on meeting
externally imposed demands because great sex
requires being in the experience and just letting the
experience unfold. Thus, these findings can educate
about what can be - and not should be - attained for
certain people under certain circumstances and
thereby broaden our understanding of the spectrum
If anything, these findings suggest that
clinicians who are inclined to help clients experience
more fulfilling sexual relations will need to support
patients in growing beyond conventional sex scripts
(e.g., forget "natural and spontaneous").
Future research should include looking at the factors
that facilitate great sex, how therapists can help
patients who are so inclined to experience optimal
sexuality and the effects of great sex on the
individual, the partner and the couple. These lines of
inquiry are already being undertaken as part of this
ongoing research project.
This study has gone above and beyond previous
research in the area of sexual functioning to explore
the nature and components of optimal sexuality.
Results indicate that the major components of optimal
sexuality are being present, focused, embodied;
connection, alignment, merger and being in synch;
deep sexual and erotic intimacy; extraordinary
comm unication and heig hten ed empathy;
interpersonal risk-taking, exploration and fun;
authenticity, being g enuine , u ninhibited and
transparency; vulnerability and surrender; and
transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation and
healing. Intense physical sensation, orgasm, lust and
chemistry have their place too but it is minor in
comparison to the role of the eight major components.
The results of this investigation should give both
clinicians and the general public cause for optimism.
These findings could encourage comfort with
personal and interpersonal exploration, revelation and
acceptance. 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.
context of safety and trust, lovers may risk further
self and other exploration of hidden erotic potentials.
Being comfortable in one's own skin is the foundation
for being authentically present and involved in the
moment; it is also a prerequisite for revealing oneself
and taking a leap of faith with a lover. In turn, sharing
at such a deep level and having it accepted leads to
greater self-knowledge and self-acceptance, thus
creating a dialectic of personal growth. Perhaps this
picture can promote optimal sexual development and
put a dent in predominant myths, thereby helping to
prevent sexual problems.
Clinicians may be very effective at ameliorating
sexual dysfunctions but have much to learn about
promoting optimal sexuality. Fortunately, those who
can best teach us are extremely vivid and articulate
12 The
Journal of Human
Vol. 18 (1-2) 2009
in describing the phenomenon if we are only inclined
to ask the right questions.
Clinicians may need to focus on studying and
developing the capacity for optimal sexuality found
in this study if we want to accompany interested
clients on their paths towards great sex. Clinicians
can help clients to explore themselves more deeply
and to create the safety in their relationship(s) which
is required to take the risks involved in deep
revelation with one's
We can continue our
attempts at alleviating dysfunction and pathology or
we can aim for much grander outcomes indeed.
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... Sexual satisfaction functions as important to individual well-being and relationship satisfaction, making it a research topic relevant for sex clinicians and relationship therapists. Despite research examining what factors affect sexual dysfunctions in individuals and relationships, there remains a lack of research about sexual experiences that bypass what is functional or simply satisfactory into great and extraordinary (Kleinplatz et al., 2009). Popular media and porn often depict unachievable standards and sexual experiences (Wampold, 2014). ...
... Despite the difference in orgasm frequency between men and women, both men and women usually desire orgasm during sex and consider it important in sexual encounters. Women listed expressed orgasm as part of happy and joyous sex (Fahs & Plante, 2017), and both men and women reported orgasms as part of "great sex" (Kleinplatz et al., 2009;Walker, 2017Walker, , 2020b. Research shows relationship factors and individual factors correlate with achieving orgasm. ...
... This study sought to investigate experiences of extraordinary sexual encounters and adds to the scant literature on the sociology of pleasure and what makes sex satisfying. Unlike previous literature examining the components of great or exceptional sex, we address the interactions of the components participants listed and how they shaped participants' experiences (Kleinplatz & Ménard, 2007;Kleinplatz et al., 2009Kleinplatz et al., , 2022. Our data reveals orgasm, an emotional aspect, and chemistry/connection feature prominently in participants' experiences of extraordinary sex. ...
Full-text available
Sexual satisfaction is important to individual well-being and relationship satisfaction, making it a research topic relevant for sex clinicians and relationship therapists. The current study adds to sexuality literature by asking participants questions about the factors involved in “great sex.” We conducted 78 interviews via email or phone with participants ranging in age from 18 to 69. The sample included a diverse range of sexual orientations and identities, and various relationship statuses. Three primary themes emerged regarding great sex: orgasm, an emotional component, and chemistry/connection. Though some participants equated an emotional aspect as love; most participants made clear the difference between love and emotional elements in sex. Many participants shared their belief that a man only invests in his female partner’s orgasm when he also invests in her emotionally. Thus, some women explained that the emotional component helped them be present enough to orgasm. Others explained the emotional component as trust and affection. Participants also elaborated to define chemistry, which they regarded as out of one’s control and impossible to manufacture. A smaller number of participants stated unequivocally the lack of necessity of an emotional aspect to great sex; they stated instead that physical connection trumped an emotional component.
... At the beginning of the 21st century, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2002) included pleasure as a component in their definition of sexual health. This definition further championed the sex-positive perspective in sex research, practice, and advocacy (Fine, 1988;Philpott et al., 2006;Arakawa et al., 2013;Kleinplatz et al., 2009), assisted by efforts from the Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing (GAB) and the World Association of Sexual Health (WAS). In this article, we aim to tackle a crucial puzzle piece in this sex-positive endeavor. ...
... However, we suggest that state sexual pleasure encompasses any experience of state liking during sexual activity, i.e., not only the anticipatory and consummatory liking connected to or triggered by anticipation of the potentially primary rewarding stimulus situation of orgasm. As Goldey et al. (2016) andFileborn et al. (2017) pointed out, orgasm represents only one of multiple experienced rewards during sex (see also the discussion in Sexual Pleasure versus Pleasure during Sex below and critiques by Tiefer, 2004, and Fahs & Plante, 2017, Opperman et al., 2014, and Kleinplatz et al., 2009. We therefore suggest that, since liking is experienced when anticipating, attaining, and consuming rewards, any reward anticipation, attainment, or consumption during sex should be able to trigger pleasure during sex (cf. ...
... It is likely that the state pleasure facets do not act as summative components that can be added up to express ever more satisfying or Sexual Pleasure Matters -20 healthy forms of sexual experience. Future research needs to establish when, to what extent, and in what constellation the rewards result in "good-enough" (Metz, & McCarthy, 2007) or "optimal" sex (Kleinplatz et al., 2009). For instance, some people might use sex more or less to retrieve bonding-related rewards, and some might do so only in certain situations or relationships. ...
Sexual pleasure is central to current understandings of sexual function, health, and wellbeing. In this article, we suggest that we lack a sufficiently specific, yet encompassing, definition of sexual pleasure and that we therefore lack comprehensive assessments of sexual pleasure. We introduce a definition of sexual pleasure and position it centrally in an adapted framework of the sexual response. In the framework, we include a taxonomy of rewards which can be retrieved from sex and thereby aim to capture the multifaceted nature of sexual pleasure. We arrive at the definition, framework, and taxonomy by integrating theories of sexual motivation and response with the literature on sexual pleasure and basic rewards. We position this literature within theories of affect and personality which allows us to differentiate between the experience of and the tendency to experience sexual pleasure (i.e., state versus trait sexual pleasure). We shortly discuss how this conceptualization of sexual pleasure could be reflected in self-report assessments to quantitatively assess sexual pleasure. The framework may aid to focus on the role of the diverse facets of sexual pleasure in sexual function, health, and wellbeing and contribute to giving sexual pleasure the center position it deserves in sex research and therapy. [The four manuscript versions have been (re)submitted on July 15 2021, March 19 2022, August 19 2022, and January 3 2023 respectively. The fourth version is currently under review.]
... The idea that women, on the other hand, do not need orgasms for sexual satisfaction is very common. Several qualitative studies found that in women's definitions of sexual pleasure, having an orgasm played a minor role as compared to other themes like emotional intimacy or partner satisfaction [6][7][8]. ...
... A holistic approach in deconstructing sexual scripts and gendered power dynamics must also adapt an intersectional perspective on sexual pleasure [81][82][83]. In this way, light might be shed on implicit privilege it is to access orgasm and sexual pleasure and we may open up pathways to the pursuit of pleasure equality among different social locations (e.g., gender, race, sexual identity, abilities, etc.) [8,84,85]. ...
Full-text available
Purpose of review: Women's orgasms have been subject to controversial discussions among scholars throughout history. Even today, narratives of women's orgasm being complicated or less important (cp. to men's) for their sexual functioning and satisfaction are prevailing and reflected in gendered sexual scripts. This review aims to compile evidence for the relationship between orgasm and sexual well-being in women. We consider orgasm's role in women's sexual pleasure, sexual satisfaction, and desire in the context of both casual and committed sexual encounters. Recent findings: Substantial evidence supports a significant link between orgasm and sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and desire in women. Orgasm has been identified as an important factor in predicting relational satisfaction as well as positive outcomes of casual sex. For instance, orgasming during casual sex completely accounts for the persistent gender differences researchers have observed in emotional and evaluative responses to casual encounters. Summary: As we cover in this review, there is no shortage of research demonstrating the myriad of favorable physical, psychological, and interpersonal associations with women's orgasms across relational and sexual contexts. Because orgasm has continually surfaced as such a critical component of women's positive sexual experiences, we argue the female orgasm should be taken seriously as a meaningful site of research on women's well-being, and orgasm equality should be taken seriously in the pursuit of gender equality.
... Sex is both physical and emotional and therefore needs to be examined in a way that captures the multifaceted nature of the experience, particularly for women (Kleinplatz et al., 2009;McClelland, 2010). To accomplish this, we examine sexual harmony, orgasm, sexual frequency, and the two components of sexual mindfulness: awareness and non-judgment as indicators of overall sexual well-being. ...
... Finally, forgiveness as an element of relational compassion may be particularly needed in sexual relationships as sex represents an intimate expression of complex emotion and vulnerable areas of our identity (Kleinplatz et al., 2009). Indeed, it could be that when couples are not "on the same page" about sexual frequency, sexual behaviors, or the sexual dissatisfaction of one or both partners, it is the compassionate ability to forgive that sustains a healthy sexual relationship over time. ...
Full-text available
Introduction Compassion may be a particularly important component of a sexual relationship as it facilitates needed self-awareness, understanding, and connection to frame deeply intimate expressions of sexual emotion and vulnerability. Given the lack of research on how broad concepts of compassionate elements may be linked to sexual well-being, we examine how mindfulness (an ability to maintain awareness in the present moment), compassionate relational attitudes (i.e., accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement), and compassionate relational behaviors (i.e., forgiveness and gratitude), are linked to sexual well-being (sexual harmony, orgasm consistency, and sexual frequency), and sexual mindfulness (a state of being mindful during sex) for oneself and one’s partner. Methods We constructed an actor partner structural equation model with newly married couples ( n = 2,111) and regressed sexual outcomes at time 1 and time 2 on each partner’s compassionate attitudes, behaviors and mindfulness reported at time 1. Results Results showed that cross-sectionally, nearly all elements of one’s compassion related to one’s own sexual well-being for both partners. Strongest paths included positive significant relations for women between mindfulness and non-judgment and from compassionate relational attitudes and behaviors to sexual harmony. Men’s compassionate behaviors were positively related to their own sexual awareness. Perhaps more importantly, women’s and men’s compassionate behaviors had significant effects on their partner’s sexual well-being longitudinally. Discussion Implications include an emphasis on compassion as a key mechanism that can increase sexual satisfaction and strengthen relationships, particularly in the critical time of early marriage where patterns of interconnectedness are being established.
... Consequently, the possibility that this clinical adage about sexuality has merit has led to at least some research into figuring out what is "good enough sex" that could be practiced by couples to enjoy the benefits of the sexual relationship without the potential disadvantages of dysfunctional sex (McCarthy & Wald, 2013;Metz & McCarthy, 2007). This adage has also helped stimulate research on discovering a higher bar than good enough sex by being used as a reference for the importance of research on "optimal" or "great" sex (Kleinplatz et al., 2009). Finally, as might be expected, the clinical adage has led to research on determining the different elements of "dysfunctional" sex ranging from sexual dysfunction and hypersexual behavior to low sexual desire and/or frequency (Bodenmann et al., 2006;McCarthy & Fucito, 2005;Reid & Woolley, 2006). ...
... En esta línea, diversos autores apuntan que socialmente se tiende a equiparar relaciones sexuales con coito, y como consecuencia, el resto de las prácticas sexuales son obviadas o aceptadas como forma accesoria; provocando expectativas irreales, que a menudo tienen como consecuencia sentimientos de vergüenza, culpa y miedo (Andsager y Roe, 2003;Duran y Prusank, 1997;Kleinplatz et al., 2009;Krassas et al., 2001Krassas et al., , 2003Lucas, 2009;Ménard y Kleinplatz, 2008) Básicamente sigue prevaleciendo una sexualidad coitocéntrica, genitalizada y heteronormativa (Sanchis, 2009) y aquello que dificulta el coito es problematizado (Guasch, 1993). ...
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El vaginismo es una dificultad sexual femenina que se caracteriza por la imposibilidad de practicar el coito o la penetración vaginal. Basado en la escasez de estudios sobre vaginismo desde una perspectiva sociocultural, el objetivo de esta investigación fue explorar las experiencias subjetivas de mujeres heterosexuales con vaginismo, mediante una aproximación sociológica, a través de una metodología cualitativa. El estudio se realizó a partir de entrevistas en profundidad como técnica de recopilación de datos. Los resultados obtenidos a través de un análisis temático encontraron que los discursos, encauzados en sus vidas afectivas y sexuales, están marcados por la percepción de sentirse disfuncionales e influidos por un modelo normativo de la sexualidad, caracterizado por ser coitocéntrico y genitalizado. Finalmente, el artículo concluye con la necesidad de un abordaje profesional dirigido a despatologizar el vaginismo y a deconstruir los discursos normativos de la sexualidad, permitiendo que el coito deje de considerarse esencial y priorizando prácticas alternativas de placer.
How can we get the most out of our close relationships? Research in the area of personal relationships continues to grow, but most prior work has emphasized how to overcome negative aspects. This volume demonstrates that a good relationship is more than simply the absence of a bad relationship, and that establishing and maintaining optimal relationships entails enacting a set of processes that are distinct from merely avoiding negative or harmful behaviors. Drawing on recent relationship science to explore issues such as intimacy, attachment, passion, sacrifice, and compassionate goals, the essays in this volume emphasize the positive features that allow relationships to flourish. In doing so, they integrate several theoretical perspectives, concepts, and mechanisms that produce optimal relationships. The volume also includes a section on intensive and abbreviated interventions that have been empirically validated to be effective in promoting the positive features of close relationships.
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The need for models of optimal sexuality in sex therapy and the lack of theoretical and especially empirical foundations are discussed. Specifically, what lessons can be gleaned from those who seek and attain extraordinary sexual relations? As a preliminary part of a study of optimal sexuality, individuals who report having had “great sex” were interviewed. The six major themes emerging from the initial 50 hours are described. These are conceptualized as building blocks toward the farther reaches of human erotic potential and consist of being present, authenticity, intense emotional connection, sexual and erotic intimacy, communication, and transcendence. Clinical implications of these findings are discussed. The need for sex therapists to acquire and transmit new methods and skills is considered.
Eroticism involves the intent to arouse another. The erotic experience is to be found with a partner who values enhancing sexual pleasure for its own sake rather than as a means to a goal (e.g., tension release, orgasm, intercourse). The erotic encounter involves the shared exploration of sexual wishes, dreams, and fantasies. It is argued that eroticism is a central component in the maintenance of sexual desire. The value of eroticism for the individual and the couple are discussed in terms of deepening of self-knowledge, self-affirmation, mutual trust, and intimacy. Implications are addressed for clinicians, particularly those whose clients are experiencing inhibited sexual desire.
Popular magazines serve as an important source of relational information for millions of individuals in this culture. Dependency Theory (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976), which specifies a tripartite media-audience-society model, serves as the framework for the present study which explores similarities and differences in relational issues and the manner in which they are discussed in popular men's and women's magazine articles. The sample of nonfiction articles (N= 108) was drawn from three men's (Playboy, Penthouse, and GO) and three women's (Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Self) popular magazines. The articles were compared on types of relation-ships (e.g. marriage, dating, friendship, etc.), relational issues (e.g. conflict, sexual relations, initiating relationships, etc.), and rhetorical presentation. Results indicate similarities between men's and women's magazine articles regarding the relationship types and issues discussed. Differences were found between the men's and women's magazines in the portrayal of relationships and in the advice proffered. The implications of the results and suggestions for future research are discussed.
What is the nature of eroticism? What is the role of eroticism in sexual interaction? The answers to these questions are explored as are their implications for the understanding and treatment of sexual desire problems. To the extent that sexuality has typically been defined in the sex therapy literature in terms of a pattern of physiological and observable, behavioral events, the phenomenology of erotic experience has been overlooked. Eroticism involves the intent to contact and arouse another. The erotic experience is to be found with a partner who values enhancing sexual pleasure for each other for its own sake rather than as a means to a goal, for example, tension release, orgasm, intercourse. The erotic encounter involves the shared exploration of sexual wishes, dreams, and fantasies. It is argued that eroticism is a central component in the maintenance of sexual desire. The absence of eroticism is linked to the prevalence of chronic sexual dissatisfaction and inhibited sexual desire among those who are otherwise fully functional. The taboos surrounding sexual arousal and the seeking of sexual pleasure are examined. The value of eroticism for the individual and the couple is discussed in terms of deepening of self-knowledge, self-affirmation, mutual trust, and intimacy. Implications for clinicians are addressed. A shift in paradigms is recommended from the prevailing one, focusing on sexual function versus dysfunction, to another that emphasizes the potential for sharing erotic experience.
The “Good-Enough Sex” model presents a commonsense yet comprehensive perspective that challenges simplistic notions of sex and encourages couples to pursue positive, realistic meaning in their intimate lives. With the Good-Enough Sex model, intimacy is the ultimate focus, with pleasure as important as function, and mutual emotional acceptance as the environment. Sex is integrated into the couple's daily life and daily life is integrated into their sex life to create the couple's unique sexual style. Living daily life well – with its responsibilities, stresses, and conflicts – provides the opportunity to experience sexual interactions in a subtly yet distinctively personalized and enriched way. Sex at times is experienced as pleasure, stress relief, mature playfulness, and on another occasion as a spiritual union. Intimate couples can value multiple purposes for sex and use several styles of arousal. Good-Enough Sex is congruent with the couple's genuine lifestyle. Good-Enough Sex recognizes that among satisfied couples the quality of sex varies from day to day and from very good to mediocre or even dysfunctional. Such reasonable expectations are an important feature of sexual satisfaction as well as inoculating the couple from disappointment and sexual problems in the future. The Good-Enough Sex perspective serves as the foundation for relationship and sexual satisfaction.