There are spouses (usually men) who treat sex as if it were an Olympic event - e.g., the drive to be the multi-orgasmic male who can “drive his wife wild” in bed. What’s the problem with this approach?
We’re not talking here about the basic desire to make conjugal intimacy a wonderful experience for both spouses. We’re talking about an obsession with reaching extraordinary levels of physical, sexual skill.
We can approach this question from two perspectives: our desire to maximize our wives’ pleasure, and our desire to maximize our own pleasure.
Going for the Max for Yourself?
Let’s begin by looking at the focus on male prowess from the viewpoint of maximizing your own pleasure – for example, the obsessive goal of so much sex literature on achieving recurring and extended orgasms (the “multi-orgasmic” male).
One problem with this is that it usually requires immoral activity, since the gurus all say that it’s necessary to “practice” in the form of masturbation (widely accepted nowadays, but fundamentally a narcissistic form of sex).
Another potential problem is that this kind of focus may create standards of sexual achievement that are difficult to reach and maintain, especially as one is trying to master the skill. The “goal” is ahead somewhere, not quite within reach yet, and it implicitly downgrades the current sex with your spouse.
Most importantly, though, rather than putting yourself into the moment with and for your wife, sex now becomes a form of “practice” for yourself to reach some ultimate goal to maximize your own pleasure someday – it’s a means to an end focused on yourself. This requires a focus on oneself that distracts from the self-giving that should be at the heart of the act.
Theoretically, I suppose, you could be going for the max for yourself and still sincerely be “doing it for her” – for her pleasure and delight – but human nature makes it difficult to be so unthinking of self, especially in a matter that involves one of the most intense human pleasures. Your wife could become, practically speaking (psychologically) a tool or instrument for your benefit. Sadly, it might become difficult to determine whether you are making love to her or masturbating in her.
None of this is to say that a man has to be utterly indifferent to his sexual “skills.” In fact, one of the joys of conjugal intimacy is the natural movement from the first, often clumsy efforts of lovemaking to greater knowledge and skill about how to make love, with dividends in sexual delight for both your spouse (which is most important) and yourself (which is important, but not as much).
Going for the Max for Your Spouse?
Now let’s look at the Olympic Lover from the viewpoint of a man feeling a compulsion to absolutely maximize his wife’s pleasure. Sex becomes something less that you do with her, and more something that you are doing to her. Is this self-sacrificing love, or is it just pride? There’s sometimes a fine line between genuinely desiring to pursue her delight because you love her and pursuing it because it is a manifestation of your own power. The desire to be incredibly powerful in bestowing pleasure on her (to the point where she is “beside herself” – ecstatic) can be fundamentally selfish rather than loving. Without obsessing about it, we should be aware that there is a danger of desire to dominate lurking in sex – even when it is not done in a “dominating” manner. The point is that, in this process, it is so easy to view your wife as an object to be manipulated in order to demonstrate (to your own self) your power or capacity.
Moreover (men just can’t understand this) she may prefer a “non-max” sexual intercourse to a “max” one. For example, there seems to be endless debate about the relative physical intensity or pleasure of different forms of feminine orgasm: e.g., clitoral and G-spot and vaginal orgasms. (For more on orgasm, see here.) But the debate often focuses on merely physical pleasure, without attending to the psychological dimension that is so central to the whole experience. Some scientific studies provide evidence that penile-vaginal intercourse is the best for sexual satisfaction, health, and well-being. (See here, for example.) Could it be that the physical union of vaginal intercourse brings with it a "unitive" psychological dimension that is key for a woman's sexual satisfaction in the context of a personal (especially marital) context? If so, then, how much does your wife’s preference for something less “max” physically enter into your judgment about how to act?
Another factor that a husband should consider, by the way, is that a wife can be quite happy with sex even if the sexual act is not orgasmic for her, or only mildly so. What the act signifies or represents – your mutual affection – may be more important for her than the orgasmic intensity. (Of course, no husband would feel happy if he were consistently not giving her an intense sexual experience.)
Another question to ask about “going for the max” is this: “ is your wife aware of your efforts to be an Olympic lover?" If she is aware, a good woman is likely to find your focus on yourself (either your pleasure, or your capacity to overwhelm her) disconcerting, because the focus is not on her, which is what she most wants. If she is unaware of what you are up to, because you are keeping it to yourself, this involves a holding back of what is driving you – almost a kind of deceit – which is contrary to the pure self-giving that is at the heart of love.
To sum it up:
The general rule is this: that if you seek sexual pleasure so much, you will get less of it, because our expectations or hopes will so often out-run reality. Whereas, if we come to the marital act primarily with a desire to show our love and to serve our beloved, without excessive concern for maximizing the amount of pleasure we receive, we will be usually be happy with the delight that ordinarily comes from the act.
Who doesn't enjoy a good, strong orgasm? But if we are constantly trying to calibrate how high that orgasm was on our personal Richter scale, we will be disappointed when it is "average" or less, which will be a good deal of the time -- that's what "average" is, isn't it?
It's also not clear that the best way to find new "highs" on our orgasmometer is by studious efforts focused on that. My experience, at least, is that so often it is simple trial and error -- the ordinary evolution of lovemaking over time in a marriage -- that leads to new, expanding horizons of delight.