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The Secret to Great Sex

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Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws via Getty Images
Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws via Getty Images

"Sex is emotion in motion." -- Mae West

Who would believe that Mae West, the bawdy entertainer known for her racy quips and double entendres, would hit on the essential truth of sex? It is emotion -- the quality of our connection to another person -- that defines the type of sex we have, the satisfaction we derive from it and the impact it has on our romantic relationships. Indeed, attachment determines how we behave in bed as well as out of it.

This is a radical idea. For years, sex has been central in our beliefs about adult love. Freud started this conviction with his theory that the physical pleasure we gain from our opposite-sex parent's nurturing and cuddling in childhood is an erotic bond that becomes the template for our adult romantic relationships.

Later researchers -- such as Alfred Kinsey and William Masters and Virginia Johnson, with their inquiries into sexual experience, mechanics and biology -- pushed sex into further significance. The women's-liberation movement unwittingly endorsed this view with its proclamation that women are entitled to have as much sex and draw as much pleasure from it as men -- and the Pill, which freed them from fears of pregnancy, allowed them to do so. In recent years, evolutionary biologists and psychologists have made sex even more prominent with their theory that love is simply a trick -- nature's way to induce us to have sex and thereby assure continuation of our species.

As a result, in the Western world we've come to believe that sexual infatuation and love are synonymous and that sex is the essence of adult love. In simple terms, sex is love -- and good sex is good love. Today we are obsessed with how to have good and ever-better sex. The best sex, of course, is orgasmic. If you doubt the current state of affairs, pick up any women's or men's magazine and you'll find at least one, and likely more than one, article detailing techniques and positions to liven up your sex life. Visit any bookstore and you'll find tome after tome offering the "secret" to firing off the Big O, which, preferably, looks like the kind of seizure you might have if you put your finger in a light socket. Companies, meanwhile, have introduced a spate of new products, from ribbed and flavored condoms to spiced-up lubricants to toys and aids guaranteed to whip you into sexual frenzy and satisfaction. Sex seems to be portrayed as a process similar to digestion, as psychologist Leonore Tiefer of New York University School of Medicine suggests, rather than what it is -- a reciprocal dance.

Vaulting sex to such primacy has, alas, distorted its role in relationships -- and with harmful consequences. Instead of drawing people closer together, all the emphasis on sex is instead driving us farther and farther apart. Consider the fixation on Internet porn. We're abandoning living partners for screen sex. Forty million Americans admit to being regular visitors to Web porn sites, and 10 percent of them say they are addicted. Although patrons of these sites are mostly men, women are fast catching up. And what's most troubling is that the followers are getting younger and younger -- teens and even preteens are watching Internet porn. When adults do get together today, it's often for one-night stands or casual sex. They call themselves friends with benefits. They're going through the motions but with little emotion.

State this "discovery" in a clear short sentence, and share it with your lover.

This post is adapted from Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships.