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The joy of comfort sex
June 30th, 2011
07:07 AM ET

The joy of comfort sex

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

Sex with a spouse is like ordering takeout from your favorite Chinese restaurant: Sure, you know what you’re getting and there’s no need to ponder the menu, but the meal is still consistently yummy and generally hits the spot.

The virtues of comfort sex are vastly underrated. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with what’s new and fresh, and sex is no exception: From magazine headlines that regularly trumpet newfangled positions and heretofore undiscovered hot spots, to our culture of serial monogamy in which couples regularly trade in their old partners for new in search of excitement, variety is heralded as the spice of life while familiarity breeds contempt.

But in my experience, the tried and true often has distinct advantages over the path not taken - especially when it comes sex.

First off, consider that many women don’t even experience orgasm the first few times they have sex with a guy, which some evolutionary anthropologists conjecture is like a built-in vetting mechanism: Because the female orgasm takes time to achieve, its mastery requires dedication and patience, an extended “getting to know you” process that encourages a woman to seek out relationships with the partner who will ultimately invest adequate time and energy in the effort to familiarize himself with her unique sexuality.

As Emily Nagoski writes in the "Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms," “A woman is less likely to have orgasms early in a relationship. Her body needs time to adapt to the new partner, to learn to trust him or her, and to relax into the knowledge that her partner accepts and appreciates her body.”

This “getting to know you” process of familiarization extends into long-term relationships as well and allows us to reap the joys of comfort sex. When it comes to ensuring orgasm, predictability is a good thing. While sexual arousal involves both voluntary and involuntary physiological processes, orgasm itself is an autonomic (involuntary) response to voluntary sexual stimulation.

Once we consciously navigate ourselves across the threshold into orgasm, the body takes over and soars. When having an orgasm, we allow our entire being go automatic (or really autonomic). Comfort sex enables this seamless transition from the voluntary into the involuntary: You know where you’re going, so you don’t have to think about it - you can just let go.

With comfort sex, the mind doesn’t have to think about what it’s doing so the mind can disconnect and allow itself to be lulled into a deeper state of relaxation and deactivation.

Like most things we learn in life - learning to ride a bike, learning to drive a car - once we achieve a state of familiarity with what we’re doing we no longer think about what we’re doing, we just do it, and sex is no exception. In neurological terms, when you achieve familiarity with a process you’re no longer tasking the pre-frontal cortex with learning, but allowing those routines to get baked into your basal ganglia, a part of the brain which does not require conscious thought.

Any time you introduce newness or novelty into your sex life, you are tasking the pre-frontal cortex with learning and adapting, which means you’re thinking about what you’re doing and making it harder to cross the voluntary/involuntary threshold.

For some people this leads to an issue known as “spectatoring.”

“Spectatoring is the art of worrying about sex while you’re having it,” writes Nagoski. “Rather than paying attention to the pleasant things your body is experiencing, it’s like you’re floating above the bed watching, noticing how your breasts fall or the squish of cottage cheese on the back of your thigh or the roll at your belly.... You’re worried about the sex you’re having, instead of enjoying the sex you’re having.”

Comfort sex generally means knowing what works and having a sex script or two that you and your partner like to follow. For many couples, simultaneous orgasm is the goal, and the more a couple knows each other the more they’ll be able to synchronize their efforts and soar together to peaks of ecstasy. Predictable, but oh so pleasurable! Having a few sex scripts in your back pocket is also helpful when one or both partners has a sex problem of some sort.

For example, I work with many guys who suffer from premature ejaculation - the #1 sex problem men deal with - and it’s extremely helpful for these men to develop consistent sex scripts that they know will satisfy their partners. Comfort sex is their ally. The same is true of women who may have problems reaching orgasm. If a particular position or sexual context works, why not stick to it?

Of course, it’s only natural for couples to get bored, lose interest in sex, or look for ways to spice things up. Novelty and newness absolutely have their place, but my advice: don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Don’t attribute your boredom to the predictable routines of comfort sex. Instead, freshen up your sex script by extending foreplay and introducing novelty into the early stages of the arousal process.

Give your comfort sex a fresh context. Use novelty to let yourselves simmer and reach a sexual boiling point, but then transition into comfort sex to let yourselves soar. Incorporate some fantasy at the top of your sex-play, or try some role-playing. Take a sexy shower together, or explore something kinky together. Watch some porn together. You can figure it out.

Whatever you decide, use novelty to enhance desire and jump-start the process of arousal, and then let yourselves fall back on the familiarity that you know will get you where you’re going.

You know the old joke in which one pedestrian asks another how to get to Carnegie Hall? The answer - “Practice.”

Comfort sex is no small feat. More than likely you’ve both put in a lot of time (and love) to achieve it. Enjoy the beautiful music you can make together.


soundoff (353 Responses)
  1. ononotagain

    when I read articles like this one, it only serves to cement my position "dear God, get me the FNL outtah here!"

    June 30, 2011 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. guitarjunky

    Just go to a massage parlor, and she will play with your thingy, mmmmmmm that's nice.

    June 30, 2011 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Joe

    Wow, I must be doing something right. Women alway has orgasms with me. Not bragging, it is true. Something about taking your time and doing it right.

    June 30, 2011 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Posthumus

    1. Read sentence #1.
    2. Close browser.

    June 30, 2011 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. AliD

    So the benefits are so women can have organisms and men don't pre-ejaculate? This over new and exciting? I see it for woman, but don't get it if you are a regular guy....

    June 30, 2011 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Edsr

    I forgot how!

    June 30, 2011 at 19:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cory

    This article makes me want to dump my girlfriend and go find some "strange" Thanks

    June 30, 2011 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ManOfWar

    My backside is basically a muffin and my wife keeps berating me and calling me a f***ot. Help?

    June 30, 2011 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ME

      Is she married with your "muffin"?..........................

      June 30, 2011 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
    • babs

      have you considered the possibility that she's right?

      June 30, 2011 at 19:51 | Report abuse |
    • Woody Hardin

      Hit the gym. Hit the track. pump the iron. Be the ManOfWar you say you are. Then to her cushion you can do the pushin.

      June 30, 2011 at 19:54 | Report abuse |
    • Gerry

      is this an erotic turn on for her? fetish?

      June 30, 2011 at 22:01 | Report abuse |
    • be a man

      stop apologizing for your body...bang an escort and you'll see your abusive wife for the worthless leech she is. then consult a divorce attorney and get yourself a nice young, replacement for asia.

      June 30, 2011 at 22:07 | Report abuse |
    • Some Guy

      Ohhhhhh, do you know the muffin man,
      The muffin man, the muffin man,
      Oh, do you know the muffin man,
      That lives on Drury Lane?

      July 1, 2011 at 06:44 | Report abuse |
  9. Scorpion

    Get over here!

    June 30, 2011 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Pinter

    I prefer the comfort of strangers

    June 30, 2011 at 20:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. yuckatan

    So, this whole notion that women take much longer to orgasm has simply not proven true in my experience. They do it the first encounter – sometimes with barely any or no contact at all – and usually are first to cross the finish line many times in a session before I even round the last bend. Where does this myth come from that they take forever?

    June 30, 2011 at 20:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ctsiren

      Ha! That's really funny!

      June 30, 2011 at 20:41 | Report abuse |
    • yuckatan

      I'm not joking! I'm genuinely curious!

      June 30, 2011 at 20:48 | Report abuse |
    • m

      Haven't you ever heard of faking it?

      June 30, 2011 at 20:57 | Report abuse |
    • yuckatan

      Yes. It's quite evident when women are faking if you know where to focus. These aren't. Good try, though.

      June 30, 2011 at 22:37 | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      I'm pretty sure your large ego is compensating for something else.

      July 1, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      I agree. My current girlfriend made it three times before I did on our first night together – and we're both 49!

      July 1, 2011 at 14:33 | Report abuse |
    • yuckatan

      I knew someone would say something about ego. I'm actually not bragging or compensating. Have just seen enough to know the myth doesn't hold up to the reality I've observed (and numerous women have said the same on here).

      July 1, 2011 at 14:47 | Report abuse |
    • The One

      I believe that a women can hit first during the first encounter as long as the guy is experienced and not "over excited". Take your time and pleasure her. She hits first everytime. 'nuff said!

      July 2, 2011 at 14:39 | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Yeah I don't know where this myth came from either.

      I orgasm FASTER with a new partner. The newness is such a turn on and even the shape of a new d**k is extra stimulating as it touches different places...... 🙂 My female friends feel the same.

      And the one guy who couldn't pleasure me the first time.....well, that was his last chance as well.....loser......

      July 2, 2011 at 19:31 | Report abuse |
    • Amyl

      Hmn. Sorry, but if so many are "first to cross the finish Line," it suggests they just want it over with.

      July 18, 2011 at 04:00 | Report abuse |
    • Stefanei

      They're faking it...sorry!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:28 | Report abuse |
  12. Sub-Zero

    Fatality

    June 30, 2011 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Sub Zero

    Toasty!

    June 30, 2011 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sonya Blade

    Johnny, I'm late....

    June 30, 2011 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Greg

    Ian... You used the word "Yummy"? It made me physically recoil! I had to confirm that a man wrote the article... figured I must be wrong.

    June 30, 2011 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Strange Slice

    What this guys fails to point out is this:
    You are the proud owner of one of the best ice cream stores – but you hardly ever get to eat any ice cream. And when you do, the only flavor you get to taste is vanilla.. No sprinkles, no toppings.

    July 1, 2011 at 02:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. suck my dirk

    Why do you losers feel the need to correct ppls grammar on here??! This is not a thesis paper you idiots!

    July 1, 2011 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Truthseeker

      Because it is a good tool to uncover whether a person went past the kindergarten. Get a degree and you'll probably understand why spelling is such an integral part of one's overall expression. Oh and by the way, what is "ppls"? I couldn't find the word in any dictionary. You should have finished school if you were to ask me.

      July 1, 2011 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      If you are too illiterate to use basic grammar and spelling correctly, then your opinions are probably meaningless.

      August 12, 2011 at 00:18 | Report abuse |
  18. Howie

    This guy is 100% wrong. Every woman I have ever been with has taken off like a rocket the very first time, and nearly every time. Then I got married. She was a rocket too for about 12 years. Seems to have run out of fuel. Not comfort s e x any more, now big hassle to please husband and oh does she let me know.

    July 1, 2011 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      Are you my husband?

      Yeah, I agree though. This article is flat out wrong for all the women I know!

      July 2, 2011 at 19:33 | Report abuse |
  19. Smee

    Donkeys are everywhere.

    July 1, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. arun

    Does materbsting continuously for a year or two (3 times/day) makes us impotent for a male????

    July 5, 2011 at 02:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Pankaj Manocha

    The article was informative !

    July 18, 2011 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.