June 30th, 2011
07:07 AM ET
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.
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.
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