The essentials of great sex

Truly great sex had little to do with what men’s and women’s magazines typically focus on, such as multiple orgasms and “lasting all night,” for example.

by David Roth — 

If you want to know what really great sex is, ask an expert. And who are these experts? Simply put, they are the people who are having great sex. This is the revolutionary assumption sex therapist Peggy Kleinplatz, Ph.D., a clinical professor at Ottawa University, and her colleagues made when they interviewed 64 people over a five-year period, mostly from the U.S., all of whom said they had great sex lives.

Kleinplatz’s findings paint a radically different picture of optimal sexuality than what is portrayed in the media. Truly great sex had little to do with what men’s and women’s magazines typically focus on, such as multiple orgasms and “lasting all night,” for example.

Popular culture promotes “achieving great sex through ‘secret’ techniques, novelty and variety, suggesting that one is to look outside of oneself to find great sex. In contrast with these sources and mechanistic models of sex therapy, the participants in this study found techniques and sex ‘acts’ mostly irrelevant,” says Kleinplatz.

This is not to say that we don’t want to explore or add variety to our sex lives. It simply means that when all is said and done, those aren’t the fundamentals of what we consider truly great sex.

This new study also shows that while health and fitness are always important and should not be downplayed, great sex has less to do with proper physiological functioning (e.g., hard erections, vaginal lubrication, intercourse, orgasm) than how people connect emotionally and, in a broad sense, spiritually.

By focusing on the individual’s subjective experience, the definition of sex may also be broadened to include times when no physical contact is involved.

Kleinplatz lists eight common traits of great sex (see box).

What is perhaps most striking about this new research is that its conclusions seem to apply across the board. Participants differed enormously from each other in terms of sexual orientation, age, relationship status, level of physical ability and sexual functioning, and represented different racial and ethnic groups. Their conceptualizations of great sex, however, were more similar than they were different.

“The major components of optimal sexuality seemed to be almost universal among participants of different backgrounds, sexual proclivities and relationship histories,” says Kleinplatz.

There may be various routes to great sex, but how we define the experience tends to be very similar for us all.

Eight components of great sex

The study, called “The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of ‘Great Sex,’” just published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, identifies eight components of great sex.

  1. Being present, focused and embodied — This was the first and most frequently mentioned factor contributing to great sex. As one woman described, “It’s being fully alive in one’s skin, engaged with the partner — emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually — in the moment.”
  2. Connection, alignment, merger, being in sync — Depth of the connection between partners was one of the most critical elements of the experience, regardless of the duration of the relationship.
  3. Deep sexual and erotic intimacy — This is the foundation of a relationship in which optimal sexuality becomes possible. It involves deep mutual respect, caring, genuine acceptance and admiration, although sometimes this is easier said than done.
  4. Extraordinary communication, heightened empathy — Kleinplatz describes the study’s participants as having “black belts in communication.” She states further, “These weren’t people who learned all about the other sex’s genitalia and then applied the technique. These were people who were so engaged in and with their partners’ bodies that they could read their partners’ responses, not only [in] touching them, but in feeling them also.”
  5. Authenticity, being genuine, uninhibited, transparency — “This is pretty much the opposite of self-consciousness,” says Kleinplatz. “It’s allowing oneself to be emotionally naked while being seen by a partner.”
  6. Transcendence, bliss, peace, transformation, healing — Participants in the study often reported a sense of timelessness or the infinite during great sex.
  7. Exploration, interpersonal risk-taking, fun — Participants described great sex as an adventure, an opportunity to discover things about themselves and their partners, and a chance to pursue ever-greater depths.
  8. Vulnerability and surrender — “Giving oneself, letting oneself be vulnerable and surrendering to a partner were exquisite aspects of great sex,” participants in the study said. Kleinplatz describes great sex as a leap of faith.


David Roth, Ph.D., is a medical school-trained sex and relationship therapist, certified clinical chaplain and former graduate school professor of spirituality in practice at the Center for Relationships and Sexuality. or 480-773-3784.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 5, Oct/Nov 2009.

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