We hear a lot of talk about dysfunctional relationships. But what constitutes a functional relationship? Dr Peggy Kleinplatz pondered that question a decade ago and decided to interview people in long-term healthy sexual relationships to find out what makes their relationships optimal. You might be surprised to discover that their answers actually have little to do with the quantity or diversity of sexual positions, orgasms or exotic locations. Rather, some very simple elements are the essential ingredients to making a relationship exciting, satisfying and intimate. Based on the report “The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of ‘Great Sex’”, the following is a summary of theelements you might want to focus on in a relationship in order to keep it erotically alive.
Being present, focused and in your body
When having sex with oneself or a partner, it is more pleasurable and intimate to focus on what is happening in the moment and what you are sharing with your partner rather than thinking about orgasms, erections, your performance, what is sexy, or chores that need to be done later.
Connection, alignment, being in sync
Optimal sexual experiences are not so much about what we do, but how we do what we do. The old adage “One plus one equals three” means that the energy generated between you and a partner takes the sensations and experience to a whole other level beyond the sum of what you each are feeling as individuals. Whether you are engaged in intense or gentle physical touch, if you are in sync then the energy generated will be a strong force that deepens your satisfaction and connection.
Deep sexual and erotic intimacy
Intimacy means respect, acceptance and caring about your partner, including all of their personality traits, desires and quirks and who they are in relationship to you. It involves trusting yourself and your partner to be all that you can be and wanting both of you to feel deep connection and awesome pleasure.
Extraordinary communication and heightened empathy
Because communication is critical in any relationship, people in optimal relationships are able to set aside their ego to really listen with their whole selves as to what their partner needs. Feedback is welcome and received without judgment and without defensiveness, appreciating the importance of what their partner has shared and the desire to enhance both peoples’ lives.
Authenticity, being genuine, uninhibited, transparency
We are not taught to be vulnerable or reveal our true selves. We are encouraged to always put our best self forward and try to make the best of everything. It can be scary to let someone else see our own true feelings, expectations and desires, which often triggers our fears of rejection. We are taught what sexy is “supposed to” look like, which often means hiding our genuine selves. In optimal relationships, partners ignore societal expectations and reveal their true selves in order to experience authenticity in the relationship and genuine pleasure.
Transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation, healing
When we show our true selves, allow our vulnerabilities to surface and are present in the moment, we are like we were as children when we could play for hours without noticing the passage of time. Some describe this feeling as blissful, spiritual, transformative, healing and even meditative.
Exploration, interpersonal risk-taking, fun
Kids naturally explore their world, taking risks and trying new things. Somewhere along the way we become inhibited and afraid to try in case we fail or, when it comes to sex, our partner does not find us sexy or judges our desires or performance. This is a recipe for a stale relationship. When we don’t push our edges, we do not gain the satisfaction of growing and learning – solo and together. Putting a little energy into being creative, exploring new ideas and sexual desires gives back huge dividends in energy, pleasure and connection. Couples who see sex as an adventure of self and partner discovery report a lot more sexual satisfaction. One of the keys to keeping a sexual relationship vibrant is to stretch ourselves just a little on a regular basis and to learn from our adventures.
Vulnerability and surrender
Finally, being willing to be vulnerable and surrendering to our own desires and pleasures and expressions of our sexuality are powerful aphrodisiacs. It is very liberating to let go of fear of judgement – of our own selves as well as by our partner. As a couple, trusting that you will both be loving, respectful and accepting of each other’s’ whole self is a beautiful and powerful gift that gives over and over again. The risk of surrendering your love and full self with someone you love and who can love you back is worth taking!
How do you move forward with all this information to ensure you have a healthy sexual relationship?
You can start by taking a risk. Take a moment to reflect on what sexual desires and needs you are hiding from yourself and/or from a partner. Maybe it is that sex is not as exciting as it once was? Or that the kind of sex you enjoy has changed. Or that you really don’t like it when your partner puts their tongue in your ear. Pay more attention more to your erotic desires and expressions.
Another good place to begin is to make a greater effort to be present and listen to all of your partner’s verbal and non-verbal communication the next time you connect erotically. Then look at the list above and decide what might be your next intention. If you make your personal desires and the erotic relationship a priority, you will gain way more energy than you put in, with side benefits of added pleasure, connection and intimacy. And you will probably even like each other a whole lot more.