Morning light had just begun filtering through the window blinds. We’d been touching and kissing each other.
She got on top of me, both of us audibly gasping when we became connected. She started moving her hips.
I put my hands on her thighs to slow her pace. She placed her hands on my chest, then leaned down to kiss me, her hair falling over me.
She sat up again and was still. I took a long, deep breath, closing my eyes. And just before I started moving in rhythm beneath her, the thought struck me of how amazing I felt, how incredible she felt, how magical the moment was between us, our bodies joined, and how grateful I was to be experiencing this essence of human physical and emotional existence. I couldn’t articulate all of that in the moment, of course. I told her simply, “you feel amazing.” She nodded and again moved faster.
And I asked myself, has it always been this good? Because right now it feels better than it ever has.
Redefining Sexual Maturity
The term ‘sexual maturity’ is most often used in relation to puberty. As a human becomes sexually mature, they transition out of childhood and adolescence into a mind awash in sexual desire — and a body fully capable of experiencing and having sex.
That process is of course important, but the term sexual maturity can also be applied to how we as individuals conceive of and relate to sex, and how we, through experience, trial and error, and experimentation, come to understand what we want out of sex and how to safely, both physically and emotionally, create sex that delivers pleasure for ourselves and our partners.
That process, unlike puberty, lasts a lifetime. As our bodies change, as our desires evolve, as our understanding of what turns us on and off gets richer, as our ability to appreciate and value pleasure deepens, we can, hopefully, continue the process of becoming a more sexually mature person.
I’ve come to realize, in answering my question from above, it’s because of that sexual maturity that, yes, it is better now than it was when I was younger, when my understanding of sexual desire was like a blank canvas.
These are the factors why.
Out with Novelty, In with Deep Appreciation
So many times in my early sexual life I was distracted when having sex by the overwhelming reality and sensation that I was actually having sex.
It was as if the virginal anticipation of having sex never dissipated, that each time was like the first time, in the sense that having sex was such an accomplishment and event that I couldn’t fully appreciate it. Having sex, it seemed, was the goal, not the sex itself.
And that produced bad sex, both for me and my partner. The bonding was still there, and so too was pleasure — but way below its potential.
Chalk it up to the need for experience, or getting reps in, like shooting free throws or doing push-ups or making pasta or any other repetitive task. Both the body and the mind had to learn to relax and to be in the moment.
It took me years, and different partners, to reach a certain comfort level with sex. It took all that time to learn that having sex wasn’t an aberration, and I could take a step back and appreciate it while it was occurring.
Ironically, long droughts in between sexual partners — especially during the year-plus of lockdown — made me appreciate the beauty and wonder of sex, the soothing nature of being touched, the feelings that can only be produced by having sex with another person.
It boils down to being able to value each and every experience on its own, and to treasure it, admire it, respect it, wonder at how good it feels — and wanting those feelings to last longer, and/or to have them again and again.
Taking that simple mental step back made me a better partner — and allowed me to enjoy sex in the moment so much more.
Learning, Valuing and Accepting My Body
Like a lot of people, most of my sex education, at least the parts going beyond reproduction and STIs, came from the media. I learned what the female body looked like from Playboy magazine. And I learned what the ideal male body looks like from the movies (hey there, Top Gun).
It wasn’t long after puberty that I started wanting my body to look a certain way — and a way that was different than how I did look.
Bigger, more muscular, stronger. And it was around the same time, as I imagine it was for all of us, that I started to learn — and become frustrated with — what my body could and couldn’t do.
Athletically, I wasn’t as fast or powerful as I wanted to be. Medically, I struggled with allergies and asthma, to the point it would send me to the hospital and limit my outdoor activities. I had to learn how my new voice sounded, what it was like to be seen with body hair, all the while somehow controlling — even though I really couldn’t — the unplanned, poorly timed, seemingly from out of nowhere erections and sexual desire.
When it came to sex, I was a clean slate. I didn’t know how my body would respond, much less someone else’s. I was still so nervous and excited about just the idea of being sexual (“I’m having sex! I’m naked with a woman!”) that I was completely out of touch with not just what I wanted, but any sort of expansive perception of bodily pleasure, either my own or my partner’s.
I just assumed because it felt good and was fun and exciting, it couldn’t get much better.
Fast forward a few decades. I now have my asthma under control, and (generally, minus cedar season) my allergies. I’ve long come to terms with my physical appearance, even if there are things I don’t particularly care for or would wish away. There are other bodily realities that I’ve lived with a lifetime, and hardly ever think about (until, unless, I’m naked with someone for the first time. Alas.)
I’m mindful about with what food I put into body. When I exercise, I try to concentrate on the movements, making each rep intentional, paying attention to form and how my body feels and reacts and responds to the strain of lifting weight, jumping or some other exercise.
During lockdown when the pandemic hit, I started working out at home. Without all the weight machines, I began doing more and more bodyweight exercises. Those have put me in touch more with my body — and made me much more intentional and focused on movement and effort — than I’ve been in ages. I’m no longer mindlessly moving a machine.
The machine is me.
And that has carried over into sex. In addition to the sexual maturity I mentioned above, and being better able to define what most turns me on, I am now able to be more conscious of the sensations of my body.
And like with exercise and anything else, the more you do something, the better you get at it — and the more you need to, and want to, try different things.
At the same time, the more you do something, the more you also realize what you can’t do, and where the pitfalls lie. Sometimes your body fails you, and that happens during sex. It can be a problem, a problem that festers, or it can be something you address, get comfortable with and learn to adapt to.
Good sex, better sex — they both start with you and your comfort with your physical self, warts and all. If you can give yourself grace about the things you don’t like about your body, and celebrate the things you do, you are more likely to take satisfaction in being physical.
I hope that as I age, as my body becomes less reliable and predictable, I can continue to have that kind of grace, and be open-minded about the many ways to experience pleasure.
The more you can accept your body’s failings, when it acts in ways you wish it didn’t— if you can fully accept that your body’s ways of being and responding are often beyond your control — but is still a wondrous thing that is wholly yours and yours alone and to be valued and treasured, the more you can enjoy the ways your body is able to give and receive pleasure.
That attitude can be contagious as well. You can infect your partner with it. While this mindset starts with you, it doesn’t end with you.
Learning How to Learn (and Pleasure) Someone Else’s Body
I can still remember the first time I touched a woman’s body.
And I can still remember all the other firsts. What stands out in those memories is the exact opposite of what I described above in terms of sexual maturity. I can remember what it was like for me, but I have little recollection of what my partners’ memories are of those same encounters.
I assume, maybe correctly, but just as likely not, that my partners enjoyed themselves, felt good with me.
But for far too long I was in the dark about my partner’s pleasure. And I think by default that means I wasn’t paying enough attention to their bodies in a meaningful way. I was, both literally and metaphorically, grasping.
Through reading, learning, more experience, and therapy, I’ve realized how important it is to prioritize and pay attention to my partner’s pleasure.
Focusing more on my partner is fun and enjoyable for us both. Exploring someone’s body is thrilling, and what’s equally thrilling and satisfying is helping someone else share in the pleasure I’m fortunate enough to experience.
That’s almost aways the case when beginning an intimate relationship with someone new. But it’s just as if not more important with a long-term partner. Even if you’ve been with someone countless times, perhaps over many years, and you think you know every nook and cranny of their body and know what to say (and not say) to get them going, caretaking to your partner’s pleasure is what sustains intimacy.
Of course, one needs to prioritize your own pleasure too. But I’ve really come to appreciate, both because of long droughts in between having sexual partners (more on that below) and in having partners with whom I’ve shared magical physical connections, the sense that there is something unique, like a fingerprint, in the make-up of an intimate relationship. That, if you’re lucky, you create a dynamic that can only exist with you and your partner, one that can’t be recreated or mimicked be either of you alone or even with someone else. Generating that comes via trust, vulnerability and honesty, all things that take time and intention to develop. But it’s so worth it.
Broadening My Perception of What Counts as Sex — Including Intimacy
As a younger man, I defined sex very narrowly: as penetration only. Even oral sex didn’t count to me as sex itself, just a form of sex that occurred before or after the real thing.
But once I was in a long-term relationship, I realized how shallow that perspective was. All the things that happen in a relationship, from your interactions upon waking up to whether or not you kiss each other goodbye when parting, to the texting during the day to the running of errands and managing and handling of day-to-day duties, go into and spill over into your sex life.
I’m not saying that sex should be your motivation to do the laundry and make dinner. What I am saying is you can’t separate what you eventually want to happen in the bedroom from the rest of your life. To maintain a strong sexual relationship, the rest of your relationship must be on stable footing.
And that’s why what we think of sex must come to include all the other things that are part of physical (and emotional) intimacy. Telling your partner how attractive they are and that they turn you on. Catching eyes and smiling while you’re drying the dishes. Holding hands, hugs, suggestive texts throughout the day. All those things create mystique and fuel desire, which translates into a steamier physical connection.
Touching your partner doesn’t always mean sex nor is it always sexual, of course. But it’s part of the sexual dynamic. So too is kissing.
After care is also part of sex. The holding, the touching, the talking or feeling asleep together. Sharing your bodies, and allowing yourself to be exposed and vulnerable, physically, is one of the greatest things you can offer and share with your partner.
Learning to practice all those things, and to value them, to include them in your perception of what sex includes and entails, yields a more holistic understanding of whasex is and can be.
Expressing and Communicating About Desire
The frustrating thing with cliches is they tend to contain kernels of truth. If you can’t talk about sex with someone, you shouldn’t be having it with them. Just because it’s easier at times to not talk about doesn’t mean you shouldn’t — and having those conversations will strengthen the bond and trust with your partner and ultimately lead to better sex.
Whether it’s a matter of consent, or sharing one’s turn-ons and fantasies (and turn-offs), it’s critical to check in with your partner and talk through what’s on your mind when it comes to sex.
There’s simply no way for one person to know what another person is thinking and feeling about sex — it’s way too complicated.
Communicating about sex deepens levels of trust because it forces you to be vulnerable and honest. That then translates into a stronger connection, which can lead to a more comfortable, freeing, sexual dynamic that can lead to more openness, experimentation and willingness and ability to share and give pleasure.
It’s not difficult for me to measure the difference in the sexual dynamics and bonds in the relationships where sex was freely talked about, and those where it remained hidden under the rug. The ones where we could talk about sex had better sex, period.
If you can talk about how to raise kids, or what you want for dinner, or where you want to go on vacation, or what to watch on TV, you can talk about sex. And just like all those other things, talking about sex will make it better.
Part of the reason sex is so special, especially good sex, is that you can’t take it for granted. As someone who has had long droughts in between partners, as someone who wondered if he’d even have sex again, I can tell you that being sexual is something to be prized and valued.
Even if you have a partner, as I assume most people understand, the sex can come and go. There can be misfires. There can be stress, and disconnection. A lot of things have to go right in order for a person to be enjoying sex.
And I know many people who haven’t been as lucky as I have — and as I type this I’m single again, not knowing if or when I’ll have sex again. That may sound drastic, but truly…you never know.
I’m not a one-night stand kind of person. It takes me awhile to build up to wanting to be intimate with someone. Who is to say I will meet another woman with whom I can connect on that level? It’s not guaranteed, not by a long shot.
This is the part of this piece that gives me the most concern, more so than any changes to my body. Being older means there is less ahead of you than there once was. What are the chances, really, of finding another needle in a haystack?
I realize how that sounds, perhaps it’s bit too pessimistic or cynical. But the overall point is that there are factors beyond our control in so much of life, and it’s absurd to think that doesn’t apply to sex. Of course it does.
Many, many things have to go right just to have sex. To turn that into a sustaining, meaningful connection over time, even more things need to go right.
The sexual encounter I described at the top of this piece? It felt in that moment that I’d won the lottery. We all know how random luck goes into winning a lottery.
Sex is an integral part of the human existence; our desires for it are closer to needs than wants. Fewer things can make you feel as alive or in touch with your body; sex can be life-affirming in a way no other physical activity can. I hope it returns into my life. If and when it does, I will treasure it and value it with all what life has taught me to appreciate about it.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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