In an earlier blog post we reported on a study published last year in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality called “The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of ‘Great Sex.’” Analyzing interviews with 20 sex therapists and 44 people who reported having experienced “great sex,” the researchers identified eight major components of “optimal sexuality”—sex that is “beyond functional, beyond positive and satisfactory, beyond good.”
It didn’t surprise me at all to read that the number-one component, the one that was brought up most frequently by both experts and “practitioners,” was “being present.”
We’re not talking, of course, about being literally, physically present (although that’s fairly essential), but about being mentally and emotionally there in your body, in the moment. Here’s how one woman who was interviewed for the study put it:
“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.”
For women our age, that running commentary is likely to include not only the long to-do lists of our everyday lives (what am I going to fix for dinner? how can I convince Mom that she really does need that hearing aid? I hope Sally’s midterms aren’t stressing her out too much), but the new and nagging concerns that come with middle-age sex (does my face look more wrinkly when I’m on top? is he going to be able to keep his erection this time? I’ve really got to get back into a regular routine at the gym).
There’s plenty of evidence that the practice of mindfulness—non-judgmental, present-moment awareness—helps people manage things like stress and depression. It only makes sense that intensely focused attention, the ability to be fully aware of sensations experienced moment by moment, would be a central feature of sex at its best.
If you feel sometimes that you are not totally “there” during sex, that you’re distracted or just going through the motions, consider learning more about meditation and mindfulness. Being more present in all aspects of your life will help you more fully experience the pleasures and sensations your body is designed to feel.
Watch for more “components of great sex” in future posts, and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear what makes it “better than good” for you!