New research provides evidence that orgasm, emotional connection, and chemistry are key elements in people’s experiences of “great sex.” But the findings, published in Sexuality & Culture, also highlight that the factors that contribute to an extraordinary sexual experience vary widely among individuals.
While a lot of research has been conducted on sexual dysfunctions and factors influencing them, there is a dearth of research about what constitutes a great sexual experience. Many people get their information about sexual experiences from popular media and pornography, which often depict unrealistic standards. The authors of the new study wanted to investigate and understand the factors involved in “great sex,” which they hoped would be relevant and beneficial for sex clinicians, relationship therapists, and the general public.
“A friend once asked me, ‘What is great sex anyway? What constitutes great sex? Is there a standard for that?’ That led me on a search where I discovered that we didn’t really have an answer,” explained Alicia M. Walker, an associate professor of sociology at Missouri State University, and the author of The “Secret Life of the Cheating Wife” and “Chasing Masculinity.”
“I started wondering whether people share a definition for great sex. Is what you consider great sex also great sex for someone else? So, I decided to run a study and find out.”
The researchers started by recruiting sexually active adult participants for interviews via multiple online platforms including social media sites and classified ads sites. The interviews were mostly conducted via email, following a format where one question was sent at a time and the participant would respond to the question. Based on the response, follow-up questions would be posed. The process for a single interview could often take weeks.
The use of email interviews was deliberate, as studies have shown that people are more open about sensitive topics like sexual experiences when they aren’t face-to-face with the interviewer. The use of pseudonyms and destroying electronic correspondence after interview transcripts were measures taken to ensure confidentiality.
The participants were a diverse group in terms of age, sexual orientations, identities, and relationship statuses. Of the 78 participants who completed the interviews, 49 identified as women, 28 as men, and one as genderqueer or genderfluid. In terms of sexual orientation, 52 identified as heterosexual, while 24 identified as non-heterosexual. Various levels of educational attainment and relationship statuses were represented, with ten participants identifying a racial identity other than White.
Many participants believed orgasms to be a significant component of great sex. Forty-nine individuals stated orgasms were an essential element of their sexual encounters. While some only emphasized their own orgasm, others prioritized their partner’s satisfaction. A number of participants considered mutual orgasms as a key element of great sex and multiple orgasms were particularly important for some women. Yet, interestingly, twenty participants asserted that orgasms were not a necessary element for sex to be great.
Emotional aspects were another factor highlighted by participants. Fifty-two participants suggested an emotional connection was crucial for great sex. However, they drew a distinction between emotional connection and romantic love; emotional connection need not always signify romantic love or love at all.
Gender differences were apparent in these responses, with some women prioritizing emotional connection over physical satisfaction. Eight participants associated emotional aspects directly with love, while others defined it as trust and affection. On the other hand, sixteen participants disagreed, insisting that an emotional component was not required for sex to be great.
Furthermore, chemistry was recognized as an essential component of great sex by thirty-six participants. Participants generally agreed that it’s something automatic and uncontrollable, not something you can artificially create. While chemistry was hard to define, many participants said it was intricately tied to liking and trusting the person with whom they are engaging in sexual activities, allowing them to “let go.”
“There was a lot of diversity in responses,” Walker told PsyPost. “Some people say great sex has to include at least one orgasm. Other people say no orgasm is required. Some people said an emotional connection of some kind was necessary, and others said absolutely not. So, the sheer spectrum of answers was fascinating.”
The findings illustrate that there’s considerable variability in what people consider essential for great sex, and these elements may diverge from conventional expectations.
“Your idea of what makes sex great may be different than your partner’s,” Walker explained. “The sex that’s great for you may be mediocre or even bad for your partner. And so often we’re not having these conversations with one another, but we should be. The more we talk openly about our sexual needs and expectations the greater likelihood our experiences meet our expectations.”
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“These results aren’t generalizable,” Walker said. “I specifically sought out folks for the study. This wasn’t random sampling. These were folks who were willing and able to participate in a phone or email interview with me. There are so many questions left to answer! There’s still so much we don’t understand. I’m currently working on developing a survey on this topic to find out more.”
“We really need to develop a sociology of pleasure,” the researcher added. “We’re quick to talk about sexual health, but we often ignore sexual pleasure, which is an important facet of our romantic and sexual lives. Folks giggle and downplay the importance of research in this area, but our sexual experiences are an important facet of our lives. The more we understand those experiences the better.”
The study, “Caring, Chemistry, and Orgasms: Components of Great Sexual Experiences“, was authored by Alicia M. Walker and Audrey Lutmer.