The Most Important Factor in Good Sex Isn’t Arousal, It’s Context
This article comes from our Sex Life 101 series. Here, Sensuality Coach and Sex Educator Eleanor Hadley takes readers on an evidence based journey through the world of intimacy, relationships and desire.
If I were to ask you to describe the best sex you’ve ever had, what would you tell me? Go on, have a think. What factors made that sex SO damn good? Were you on holiday? Were you in love? Was it spontaneous? Were you deeply relaxed? Was it the first time with someone, or was it with a long-term partner? Was it with someone you found wildly attractive? Or perhaps you lived out a fantasy? This is an exercise I often get my clients to do in order to determine a few things about their sexuality. Firstly, how their sexual brakes and accelerators were operating at the time, what their desire type might be and lastly, what type of context cultivates great sex.
RELATED: Sex Drive 101: All About Arousal
Context is all about how our internal and external environmental factors can impact how our brains perceive certain stimuli or sensations. Sex-positive contexts lead to an increase in desire, whereas stressful contexts lead to a decreased desire for sex. One way to think about context is to consider the act of being tickled. In a sex-positive context where you’re feeling playful and flirty with your partner, the sensation of being tickled can be perceived as fun. But when you’re in a stressful context, like on your way out to an important meeting, and you get tickled, it’s likely that you will perceive that sensation as an annoyance instead.
You know how holiday sex tends to be way better than sex at home That’s due to context. When you’re on a vacation, there are no time constraints, there’s way less stress and everyone is far more relaxed. It’s easier to be present and loving towards your partner and to allow space and time for eroticism. Since you’re in a less stressed state, and a sex-positive context, your brain is better able to perceive any sexually relevant stimuli as something worth moving towards with curiosity. When you’re in environments that are stressful though, it doesn’t matter how sexy your partner is, or how much you’re trying to turn off your sexual brakes and turn on your sexual accelerators – almost everything will be perceived by the brain and body as a potential threat, in turn shutting down your sexual desire.
According to sex educator and author of the book Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., there are four key components that contribute to a context being perceived as sex-positive, therefore enhancing desire. These are:
- High Trust – Feeling safe with your partner – physically, emotionally and mentally
- High Affection – Feeling close to your lover, treating them kindly and with care
- Low Stress – Creating a relaxing environment, not rushing or being worried about internal or external factors
- Explicit Eroticism – Creating a romantic, sensual and sexual environment that is different from ‘regular’ life
If you’re experiencing any issues with your sex life, particularly when it comes to low desire or lack of libido, it’s important to consider the context in which you’re approaching your sex life. Context is particularly important for women, whose desire can be impacted greatly by high stress and feeling disconnected, underappreciated and emotionally burnt out.
A recent study from the Journal of Sex Research found a strong link between low desire in women and unequal relationships. This inequality refers to partnerships where the majority of household tasks and mental load are relegated to women. The study found that women in equal relationships were more content and subsequently experience higher levels of sexual desire, whereas long-term inequality caused exhaustion and resentment which fuelled a lack of desire for sex with their partners.
This is essentially an invitation to step up, take on more of the household work and lighten her mental load. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll get laid just because you did the dishes one time – it’s not that simple. The more equitable your relationship, the more satisfied you’ll both be in the long run. More relationship satisfaction = more sexual desire.
Eleanor Hadley is a Sensuality Coach and Sex Educator, specialising in & sensual movement and embodied lap dance. Through 1:1 coaching, group programs, retreats, workshops, writing and speaking, Eleanor is passionate about helping you to enhance your sex life and elevate your relationships.