The other day I was asked by a sex researcher to participate in a new research endeavor. The study is setting out to consider the question “what is great sex?” In talking about why she was embarking on this research, she explained that almost all of the writing on sex therapy, and most of the research on human sexuality in general, is focused on either dysfunction or treatment. This makes some sense. We have sex problems, we rely on “experts” to study them and hopefully come up with ways to deal with these problems. It’s a medical model that for better or worse, we’re comfortable with.
But what does is mean when most of the so-called experts are only looking at what makes sex bad not what makes it good, or great?
Participating involved spending about an hour on the phone with two researchers, answering their questions about when I had great sex, what made it great, how I would describe it, etc…
Before the interview began, I mentioned in passing that I hoped they didn’t end up with results that were all spiritual clichés and emotion. Having read way too many books about supposedly great sex, I’m wary of theories of great sex that never get to the “dirty” parts. Sure great sex might be all about connection, transcendence, and oneness. But shouldn’t it also be about bodies flailing and juices flowing? Shouldn’t we hear about tongues and thighs, and buttons so tender even the mildest caress will send you reeling? I feel like all too often, when we talk about great sex (particularly sex educators and sex researchers) the sex part gets sanitized. I think this is one of the things I’m always hoping for in porn, representation of great sex that’s completely messy.
Then I started answering their questions about my own, very private, sex life. Putting myself under the microscope, with pressure to be a good research subject (and also to be entertaining, as my neuroses requires) brought me to several thoughts I hadn’t had before the interview began, most of which have changed the way I think about great sex.
Great sex is all in the past
To answer any of their questions, I realized that first I had to think back to sex I thought was great. The tricky part is that in the moment of doing this, in recalling for them a moment of great sex, I am instantly relying on a matrix of internal evaluations of great sex which I may not ever be able to fully articulate. They were asking me to describe great sex I had, but I was more interested in why the sex I was thinking of was the sex I chose to recall as great.
In order to get a less filtered picture of what great sex is, I’d have to be having it while answering their questions. Even then, there would be filters.