Why is sex so good? Kinda like asking, “why is water wet?” But still, if we understand what makes sex good then maybe we can make it even better!
One of the main questions in life is: Why is sex so good? According to a new review paper, it’s because sex — like dance, yoga, and other body-based pleasures — is rhythmic, and that rhythm has a way of uniting and heightening the senses.
Authored by Northwestern University researcher Adam Safron and published in Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, the paper argues that intercourse can be such a magical experience because of “entrainment,” which is a fancy way of saying that it gets your brain, sensory, and bodily systems all rowing in the same sexy direction. What happens in the run-up to orgasm, he argues, is what goes on in most ecstatic experiences (consider how a “beat drops” in your favorite new disco anthem). Rhythmic perception and action lead you to attend more to the stimuli that’s turning you on, leading to greater enjoyment, and greater attendance, making for “further enhancing entrainment, thus creating a positive feedback cycle of deepening sexual absorption,” he writes.
It’s not enough to call this increased arousal or pleasure: A better way to understand the way people can lose their sense of selves during the act of sex is with trance, the same way that you might feel a sense of absorption on a particularly good night of dancing, a particularly strenuous yoga session, a particularly deep meditation, or a particularly satisfying run. “Intensely focusing on immediate sensations — such as those produced by rhythmic stimulation — is likely to reduce the amount of mental capacity available for other things,” Safron writes, like ruminative self-narratives, wondering about what could have been, or generally having your mind someplace other than where you currently are. “Such an experience of sensate focusing and altered self-processing may be most appropriately referred to as a kind of trance state,” he writes. “If this trance occurs in the context of another individual who is similarly absorbed, then it could potentially contribute to feelings of connectedness along with the expansion of self-other boundaries.”
I bolded the part that jumped out at me, and it matches my experience. Sex is best when you are “intensely focusing on immediate sensations” — which is closely related to our posts about the importance of enthusiasm and responsiveness. There’s a feedback loop: in order to have great sex you need to pull your mind away from the mundane considerations of life, and the act of pulling away is self-reinforcing, leading to enhanced focus and even better sex!
So how can you use this information to improve sex with your spouse? In addition to the posts I’ve linked to above, here are a few ways you can focus more intensely during sex:
- Sight. Get rid of visual distractions. Unless you’re just playing around you should turn off the television, put away your phones, and lock your door. Focus your eyes and attention on your spouse. You can dim the lights, maintain eye contact, or even wear a blindfold for some power play. Wear something sexy. Do a dance. Keep your bedroom orderly and comfortable to avoid seeing your surroundings as a to-do list while you’re having sex.
- Sound. Put on some sensual music, something with a beat! Like the article says above, a good rhythm helps synchronize your bodies and senses. Turn off the baby monitors, silence your phones. Replace the batteries in the #&%&(#@% smoke detector. In my post about sexual responsiveness I talk about how important it is to use words and sounds during sex, so go read that whole post. Moan and groan, cry out, say your spouse’s name, beg for an orgasm.
- Smell and taste. Using food in your sexy time can be fun, but it may also be a distraction. If you want to focus intensely on the sexual experience, engage with the taste and smell of your spouse. Bury your face in your spouse’s hair or neck. Kiss deeply. Lick your spouse all over. Use oral sex not only to stimulate your spouse, but also to engage your own senses! During oral sex the attention is usually on the receiver, but try flipping that around: when you’re giving oral sex, focus on absorbing all the sensations that come from being close to your spouse’s sexuality. (Husbands especially: hygiene is important if you want your wife to enjoy your taste and smell.)
- Touch. Sex obviously involves a lot of touching, but the touching can often be very goal-oriented: orgasm. However, sex with your spouse isn’t (usually) a race — you can focus your sense of touch more intensely if you just slow down. Revel in touching and being touched all over your bodies. An average human has twenty square feet of skin, so don’t just use your fingers: lips and tongues are obvious, but you can touch anything to anything else. (Check out Body Part Twister for some ideas (automated spinner).) Touch, tickle, massage, tease, and you can learn to build your spouse up to some huge orgasms.
- Restraint. One of the reasons that light bondage is fun is that the person being restrained (the receiver) is free to focus completely on his or her sensations. While restrained, the receiver doesn’t need to think about giving pleasure, only receiving it. Being tied up is permission to be the center of attention, even your own attention. The receiver doesn’t have to do anything, just be.
- Trust and vulnerability. In order to really lose yourself in a sexual experience you have to trust your spouse enough to let yourself be vulnerable. Your relationship needs to be past the point where you worry about looking right, acting right, or moving right. If you’re worried about impressing or disappointing your spouse, or being awkward, you’re not going to be able to focus on your senses. You each need to be comfortable with your own bodies and sexuality, and you need to respect and cherish each other.
“Losing yourself” doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but I think we can take some intentional steps to eliminate distractions during sex and really focus on the sensations we’re creating with our spouses. If you have any tips to share, please leave a comment!