Was it good for you?

Thoughts on sex and commitment

What’s the formula for good sex?

TV shows offer one recipe. Take an attractive man or woman, add a nice restaurant dinner, stir in a few drinks and follow the trail of chemistry where it leads, and next thing you know you’ll both be lying back amid tousled sheets with smiles of satisfaction, having just had mind-blowing sex in which there were no awkward pauses and both people reached heights of bliss with no effort whatsoever.

Know what? TV can be a huge, unabashed, pants-on-fire liar.

One thing I know
It’s hard to write a column about sex, shouldn’t a sex expert like Dr. Ruth be writing this? After all, I can only really speak about my own experience in this area. And no doubt there are some for whom the TV scenario does ring true. But if I had to share one thing that I’ve learned about sex, it’s this: good sex is not all about instant chemistry, a long resume of bedroom experience, or expert technique.

Good sex is all about a promise.

Relax and enjoy
I read a magazine study once that shared an interesting statistic: married women tend to find sex a more consistently satisfying experience than single women. Actually, this makes perfect sense. Crack open nearly any book on sexuality, and it will reveal that – for women especially – anxiety is often the death knell of sexual satisfaction. The ability to relax and let go is critical.

Society loves to joke about marriage as a trap. It’s the classic rationale for wild bachelor and bachelorette parties: better seize one last chance for freedom, because you’re about to be forever bound to the old ball and chain. The truth is, when marriage is based on a generous love, desire, and respect for the other, it’s actually liberating. When you’ve made that kind of commitment, you don’t have to worry about being judged, found wanting, cast aside. This is as true in the bedroom as it is anywhere else. You can relax, knowing that no matter what happens (or doesn’t happen) when the lights are out (or on), it won’t be a deal-breaker. After all, the two of you have a whole lifetime to get it right.

Because of my own marriage commitment, I’ve also found that a very personal level of anxiety is gone. Since puberty, I’ve moved through life with a swarm of body image issues buzzing around me like mosquitoes. I can hardly remember a time when I haven’t been plagued by wistful longings for a perfectly flat stomach, willowy legs, and radiantly clear skin. But knowing that my husband finds me attractive enough to commit to all of me, just as I am, is damn good repellent. With those insidious little insecurities of mine off the table, I can actually relax.

Put on the lab coats … time to experiment
Now, I don’t mean to imply that chemistry and technique are totally inessential to good sex. There’s no surer recipe for misery than to commit to someone you find physically unappealing, hoping that it will get better. I once witnessed a marriage crumble because the wife had never sexually desired her husband. Several affairs and a whole lot of pain later, they divorced. Her husband’s advice for me, won from hard personal experience, was that mutual chemistry is a non-negotiable; he urged me never to walk down the aisle without it.

Likewise, as any women’s magazine will point out, there are lots of specific things one can do in bed that can spice up the proceedings. But those things can be discovered together. In fact, it’s easier to be sexually adventurous once the commitment and good channels of communication are already in place. On the other hand, no matter how many sexual tricks you have up your sleeve, it’s hard to force a feeling of security and trust.

All of me, all of you
Throughout my life, I’ve heard couples say, “Before we commit to each other, we need to test it out, to see if we are sexually compatible.” This statement does acknowledge a certain truth: sex is a huge part of marriage. But it can be hard to truly gauge the potential depth of a sexual connection when there’s uncertainty or pressure involved. Fact is, sex is the place where all the separate parts of us – our bodies and souls, our vulnerabilities and most secret desires, our ability to create physical and spiritual life – come together. And it’s within the freedom of a commitment that these things can best be acknowledged, explored, and given space to run wild.