05 Apr

If you follow my blog, you know I spend a lot of time researching and writing about the relationship between flow and sexual satisfaction

What is flow? Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It describes a state of being in which one is so engrossed in an activity that time feels distorted, they feel a sense of oneness with whatever they are doing, and there is a feeling of intense focus and control. It’s likely that you’ve heard a flow state described by athletes or artists, but only recently has the idea made its way into our understanding of what makes some sexual experiences feel so profoundly erotic. 

Research1 tells us that the perfect balance of challenge and skills is one of the best triggers for flow. As you can see in the chart below, if the challenge is too far below your skillset, you’ll feel bored. If the challenge is too high, you’ll feel anxious. Presence, focus, and pleasure show up when the challenge is just a hair outside your skillset.

It’s a long-held assumption that novelty is a key ingredient in keeping the sexual spark alive. Yet so many couples struggle to integrate new things in a way that they are comfortable with, excited by, and end up enjoying. Keeping the challenge-skills ratio in mind makes it far more likely that novelty will have the intended outcome of heightened sexual pleasure and erotic intimacy

Take Sarah and Mark. They came to see me after several failed attempts at “spicing things up.” Their first attempt: Sarah blindfolded Mark and tied him to the bed. Unfortunately, the build-up of tension had the opposite effect. Mark, excited, but also nervous about what he couldn’t see, was unable to get an erection. He ended up “getting in his head.” This disappointed Sarah, which only made Mark feel worse. They tried again a few weeks later. Mark surprised Sarah with a sex toy he found online. She appreciated the thought, but it was very similar to something she’d tried before. They ended up having a good time, but it didn’t do much to elevate their sexual connection.

Where did Sarah and Mark go wrong? Their first attempt was too far outside of Mark’s comfort level (or skillset), which ended up creating too much anxiety for him. Their next attempt was too far below Sarah’s experience level, which is why the sexual interaction felt lackluster. 

I advise couples to spend time talking through ideas before mutually agreeing on something that they feel strikes the right balance of challenge and skills. I usually give couples a comprehensive checklist of different things they might try. I have them mark items they would consider trying, items they definitely want to try, and items they have no interest in trying. We process the feelings they have around each act to create as much overlap as possible between their preferences. Then I have them take baby steps as they begin to explore together. This approach gives us the best likelihood that novelty will have the intended effect.

Where exactly is that sweet spot, and how do you go about identifying it?Research1 shows that the challenge only has to be about 4 percent greater than your skills. That’s it. Any more than that, and a stretch is likely to turn into a snap. You’ll know you’re ready to stretch when you feel optimistic and excited by the challenge as opposed to nervous or overwhelmed.

What do you do if you and your sexual partner have different skills or experience levels? The answer is simple. You do what any good teammate would do. You practice patience. You remain encouraging. And you provide support until your partner approximates your level. I explain this in this YouTube animation I created. 

Finding the right balance of challenge and skills is one of several, simple ways to trigger a state of flow during sex. And people who experience the occasional euphoria of a flow state have significantly higher levels of sexual satisfaction in the long-run2.

This article was reposted and used with permission from Dr Emily Jamea. Click HERE to learn more about her or to read more of her articles.

Emily Jamea Ph.D., LMFT, LPC

Check out the AMAZING Ultimate Intimacy App to harness the flow of your sexual intimacy! It’s FREE to download and so much fun! Just click HERE

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