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The following is an excerpt from the book Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex And How to Get It. To read our interview with author Marty Klein, click here.


What People Say They Want From Sex — and What They Actually Want From Sex 

By Marty Klein

 

What do most men and women say they want from sex? On the one hand, various people mention a broad range of things: orgasm, “intimacy,” feeling desired, [great oral sex], lots of kissing, a hard penis, light spanking and satisfying their partner, to name a few.

On the other hand, almost everyone’s answer comes down to this: what most people say they want from sex is some combination of pleasure and closeness. Yet, as a sex therapist, I can tell you that that’s not what most people focus on during sex. Think about it — do you?

So what do people — what do you — focus on during sex instead?

  • How they look
  • How they smell
  • How they sound
  • Preventing unwanted activity (for example, having their shoulder bitten)
  • Ignoring (or preventing) pain
  • Hurrying to climax
  • Trying not to climax too quickly
  • Maintaining an erection or lubrication
  • Suppressing emotions
  • Trying to function “the right way”
  • Silently, indirectly urging their partner to do a certain activity (such as stroking their clitoris)

It’s not surprising that if people say they want one thing from sex and then spend the experience focused on everything except that, they’ll be dissatisfied. But people say they focus on those other things (like how they look, or suppressing their emotions) in order to have better sex. “I don’t want him turned off by my big butt,” some women say, “so I usually don’t let him get me from behind.” I’ve heard men say things like, “I’m always afraid she feels bored while she’s giving me oral sex, so I guess I’m constantly checking — is she frowning, does she seem uncomfortable?”

In the quest for sexual satisfaction, many people especially insist on focusing on how their genitalia are working: “I need to know I’m gonna stay hard long enough for my wife to be satisfied,” or, “When I think I’m taking too long to climax, I hurry up, or even fake it.”

Most people don’t think of this as a distraction, but it is — bigger than dirty dishes or unpaid bills could ever be. Focusing on how your penis or vulva is working is an enormous distraction from pursuing pleasure or intimacy. Although many people think that’s the way to make sex better, I’m afraid they’re exactly wrong.

A lot of people (and a lot of therapists) apparently don’t understand that. When people come to my office, they never say, “Please help me stop focusing on my erections, my orgasms, my desire to function the right way — it’s preventing me from enjoying sex.” No, if anything, they want me to help them do those things better. “Doc, how can I make us climax at the same time?” “Doc, how do I stay hard during oral sex even when she’s being too rough?”

Helping people identify what they’re actually thinking about during sex is powerful. Helping them realize that their thoughts are often obstacles to satisfaction is even more powerful. Many people are watching themselves during sex more than they are experiencing sex, which typically undermines sexual enjoyment. We usually imagine, harshly judge and worry about what our partner sees, smells, hears and tastes. This is far more distracting than thinking about work or laundry. Because once sex becomes about how we appear to others, we can’t stop monitoring ourselves. We’re constantly making decisions about how authentic to be, and how much to pose. (This is one reason men and women fake orgasms.) This continual vigilance dramatically disrupts our erotic feelings, expression, and satisfaction.

It’s like trying to enjoy dinner while wearing a brand-new expensive white suit. Even if you succeed in keeping the suit clean, constantly paying attention to it eventually takes over, and ruins, the meal.

 

Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex and How to Get It

From Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex--and How to Get It by Marty Klein, Ph.D. Copyright 2012. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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