How Much Pleasure to Aim For?

     Great marital lovemaking is, . . . well, . . . great. There's really nothing like it. So how much pleasure should we be trying to attain in our marital intimacy?
       I think the answer is simple, but not that helpful: we should aim at "enough."
     "Enough" means that there is a natural physical goal in the act (as well as other goals). That goal is 1) climax (for both partners), and 2) more generally, “delight.” So we should aim to engage in an act that is, among other things, pleasurable and physically and psychologically fulfilling. If we achieve that, we've achieved the ordinary physical dimension of the act.
     Implicit in this "enough" is: don't worry about how much, at least if you have enough. The problem is that, if you focus on having "more" or "an awful lot" of physical pleasure, you face three problems:

   1) it may establish desires that are unachievable, and so create expectations or hopes that will be frustrated, even from a purely physical perspective. Focusing on maximizing the pleasure is likely to lead to some great physical sex sometimes, but it will just as surely lead to a good deal of really disappointing physical sex.

     2) The focus on the "more" you want (that you don't have now) may lead you to fail to appreciate what you do have.  It is so easy for human beings to take what they have for granted and focus on what they don't have.  For example, a husband may be disappointed that his wife is not as intent on having sex frequently as he is, or that she is not as adventurous as he would like her to be, not as interested in variety.  But that same wife may be so focused on her love for her husband that she gets caught up into the act very powerfully and finds it very satisfying -- and that is one of the most satisfying pleasures of sex for a man.  And she may do this even though her husband is also disappointing to her -- e.g., the quality of his "foretalk" may leave a lot to be desired. 

   3) it's hard to prevent a dominating desire for “more” physical pleasure from displacing more important parts of the act -- the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual unity, not just the physical. Most importantly, focusing too intently on maximizing the physical will make the sex not only less spiritual, but less human too.

   Now, if you or your wife are just plain bored during marital lovemaking, you should do something about it!  And especially if your wife is regularly failing to achieve ordinary physical fulfillment in the act – the explosion of pleasure and delight that is orgasm – you definitely ought to do something about it. (And it's usually not that hard to do that.)  But if you are both finding sex enjoyable, pleasurable and finally satisfying, then the best thing to do is not to worry overly about the physical side of it.

Studying for Better Sex?

      It is not unnatural to be curious about sex, or to want to do it "better." Unfortunately, a lot of men are focused on doing it "better" physically, rather than in more important ways. The "better sex" books aren't going to linger on the shelf too long before getting snapped up these days.
     Now, I would not disparage basic knowledge about how to perform the sex act physically. What to do, physically, is obviously part of the marital act. The question is: what is the best way to learn about how to have sex?
     I would argue that there is one way of learning about sex that is, far and away, the best way. That is: "trial and error," or "practice," or whatever else you want to call it: it's simply having sex with the wife you love, over a period of years and decades.
     Anecdotal evidence is somewhat limited, but I have to have recourse to my own experience on this question, and, in all honesty, after forty years of making love to my wife -- and having read a very large (much too large) number of books and websites on how to have sex -- I think there is hardly a single thing I do in our lovemaking that I learned in a book. Moreover, I am even more surprised that some of what works for us has never appeared in a single book or article that I have read -- nothing "kinky", but just little details that are a reflection of personal tastes. In fact, if I were asked to describe what we do on paper, I'm not sure I could really do it very well.
     The sex advice that is all over the place today seems to assume that there are generic techniques that work with everyone, or almost everyone. There is so little recognition of the uniqueness -- as Karol Wojtyla might say, the "unrepeatability" of -- each marital couple.
     One serious danger of relying on "advice" is that the advice comes from men who are talking about different women -- not your wife. The only one who really knows what she likes is you -- that's something you learn over time.
   1) Constantly looking for new ways to have sex may lead you to want to do things that she just doesn't want to do, and, in the process, also create an unnecessary dissatisfaction in you.
   2) A focus on "techniques" can be a real romance-killer – when she senses you are looking for “it” (pleasure) not “her.”
   3) Do you really want to bring other people into your marriage bed as you make love -- the images from books, or videos, or descriptions you have read -- rather than keeping it just between you and her?
     I'm not saying that no husband should ever read sexual advice material. Depending on one's spouse, some variety in lovemaking is an ordinary desire, and not wrong, and you can learn things in this aspect of life as well as others. But there is too little recognition of the fact that constant searching for the "latest advice," or the "secret of the best sex," or poring over sex manuals is a) not necessary, and b) can be distorting. There is so much to be said for just doing what comes naturally -- which ordinarily leads to variety and evolution of lovemaking details over time. In the end, being a "self-learner," together with your spouse, is likely to be the best way to go.  

Going for the Max?

There are spouses (usually men) who treat sexual intimacy 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.