Nerve just published an interesting summary of the results of a survey on sexual satisfaction, asking people to define what it means. As any good sexologist could've predicted, the answers were all over the map but two very basic, overarching generalizations can be made: sexual satisfaction is about pleasure; and usually it's about mutual pleasure.
In plain English, good sex is what makes you feel good sexually. Aha! Not complicated at all. But not exactly demystifying either.
When it comes to actually defining what brings a person sexual satisfaction, or what kinds of acts or emotions are involved, I don't think any survey can yield meaningful results.
Why? Because sex satisfaction is as individualistic as personal satisfaction and, arguably, even more subjective than love. Really. It's a no-brainer to predict that MOST (though granted not all) parents will love their children, and that most children will love their parents, for one example.
But who can predict which partner will turn you on the most or which one you are most likely to have the best sex with? I know culture wants us to BELIEVE that it's ALWAYS the person you marry. You're lucky if it turns out that way. More often, sexual attractions and lusts come and go, change over time, evolve with age, and detour when, for personal reasons, we just suddenly feel like Mr or Ms X holds the holy grail of our joy between their legs.
When it comes to human sexual response, individual needs and desires and biology and psychology come into play. Trying to impose objective standards on sex is, in fact, where all the trouble begins. It leads to people believing, for example, that everyone should be fully sexually satisfied by vaginal penetration. (The data's pretty clear that as much as one-third or more of adults don't derive full satisfaction from vaginal intercourse, and that includes women as well as men. )
The individuality of human sexual response is, of course, a major theme in my current sexological work, both in my therapy practice and in my books and theoretical work, where I try to unravel the science behind sexual choices and behaviors.
Here are a few bits from SEX FOR GROWN-UPS on the subject --
In my years as a therapist, I’ve come to the conclusion that
what makes sex more or less satisfying to people depends a
great deal on how much they know and understand about sexual
technique and how comfortable they feel with their own
and their partner’s anatomy.....
Many of the relationship problems I see in my office stem from
our cultural ignorance and negativity about sex. Adults are discouraged
from learning about their own erotic capabilities.
They are poorly educated on sexual hygiene, and more intimate
acts – like how to jerk someone off or how to satisfy them
orally – are treated like mysteries that require tomes to fully
One thing you cannot learn from surveys or even most studies is how the person him or herself feels about their own genitals and the genitals of others. Asking a woman to define sexual satisfaction when she feels shame about the way her vagina smells or the way it lubricates is very different from asking one who loves her vagina and encourages partners to give her oral sex. Asking a man to define sexual satisfaction when he is uptight about the size of his penis is different from talking to a guy who is at ease with, or even proud of, what he's packing.
Yes, they may all derive satisfaction from sex -- but they may not derive it in the same ways, nor from the same acts, nor even to the same degree. Their negativity or fear lowers their ability to achieve the level of satisfaction that more sex-positive, hedonistic people experience in bed.
Or as I put it in SEX FOR GROWN-UPS
People with a negative sexual self image tend to feel anxious
and inadequate. They find it hard to articulate what they want,
and harder to ask for satisfaction. They may be their own worst
enemies – censoring their fantasies, sublimating all their urges,
and sacrificing their needs to please their partners or their parents.
They may struggle with shame for wanting what they
want, or wish they were more like other people, who they imagine
are having better sex lives. In the end, they never get as
much sex, or the kind of sex, they need to feel complete.
I know quite a few people pooh-pooh sexual satisfaction, dismissing it as either a luxury item or an impossible dream, perhaps even tainted a little by the sinfulness of wanting it in the first place.If you ask me, though, a life without sexual satisfaction is a life unlived -- biologically, emotionally, and experientially. It is only in the moment of total sexual satisfaction, really, that we experience a peak of human biological potential and wellness. That's another theme in my book I should probably explore here too.