THE BEST SEX, ACCORDING TO SCIENCE

By: MIGHTY PURSUIT TEAM

When you think about the BEST SEX EVER, what comes to mind? Brad and Angie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Or maybe Halle and Billy Bob in Monster's Ball? If you’re part of Gen Z, perhaps we’re dating you a bit. Maybe the best sex ever evoked images from Cardi B’s erotic escapades in W.A.P. or BDSM from Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it didn’t come from pop culture or Hollywood at all. Maybe what got your wheels going was the carefully curated porno that you watched last night. Everyone seems to have a theory these days about what the best sex looks like. Step into a locker room or a frat house and you’ll find it to be one of the central topics of conversation.  This much is sure, the best sex ever has to involve some combination of nailing, pounding, banging, smashing, slamming or hammering. Oh and the parameters need to be set up just right to get off hard with the hottest person possible. The tricky part is setting up such parameters and finding said person. Should we try the club? Or a Saturday night frat party?   Maybe the stars will align and we’ll happen to swipe right on a bombshell, while they simultaneously swipe right on us. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll find someone willing to partake in the ultimate no-strings-attached FWB arrangement. Real talk though, how should we feel about this person? Married sex is clearly boring, so that’s out. No strings attached at all costs. We definitely can’t let on that we’re interested beyond the stage of a good f**k.  Here’s a far-out theory from Lisa Wade’s bestseller American Hookup: “In pop culture, the hottest sex is often between two people who hate each other. Dozens of TV shows and movies each year include a plotline involving a conceited (but fantastically beautiful) woman and an obnoxious (but painfully attractive) man who detest each other but end up having sex, usually thanks to a particularly heated argument.” She continues, “they rip off each other’s clothes, throw each other against the wall, and knock over lamps. Turned on to the point of violence, they go straight to intercourse. They are “fight f*cking”: a Hollywood phenomenon in which two people who hate each other are also inexplicably attracted to one another, causing them to transition from fighting to f*cking in an instant. Desire that can overcome true loathing must be powerful indeed.” You know that strangely attractive classmate (or colleague) that you hate and think is obnoxious? Could be a contender…. FOR THE BEST SEX EVER.  Are any of these ideas really all that crazy though? Isn’t this the goal?  If you haven’t caught on by now, we’re clearly being facetious. Hollywood and pop culture aside, we’ll give you another crazy idea about what science has to say about the best sex. Are you ready? The healthiest and most fulfilling sex we should pursue has been labeled synchrony sex, which is what world renowned psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson calls, “the way sex is supposed to be.”  Science says that our ideal sexual environment is one that is a safe space with a committed, loving partner who we can openly communicate and express our feelings with and which we feel secure with. This type of sexual environment is made up of people that leading sex educator Dr. Emily Nagoski says have the “heathliest and most pleasurable sex lives.”

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PROVE IT TO ME

Don’t believe us? Sound like something heard in a 90s-era sex-ed class? Let us explain. Way back in the 1950s, famed British psychologist John Bowlby broke ground on what we now know as attachment theory. What he discovered was that humans have a hardwired need to form a close bond with their caregiver. If this does not happen, it will cause moderate-to-severe developmental and relational issues later in life. As we grow into adulthood, this hardwired need transfers from the primary caregiver / parental figure to a romantic partner. In layman terms, how your parental figures bonded with you or did not bond with you during childhood greatly impacts the way you operate in adulthood with romantic and sexual partners, scientifically speaking. In the 1970s, psychologist Mary Ainsworth further developed the theory, outlining three different attachment styles: anxious, avoidant and secure attachments. Each one of us falls somewhere along the spectrum of these three attachment styles. On a very personal level, they help inform what’s happening on the inside of us when we navigate relational and sexual dynamics.  Outwardly, we can portray whatever image we want. We can act like we don’t care. We can shield our emotions. We can say we’re just looking for a hookup. But inwardly we are relating to partners either anxiously, avoidantly or securely. You may be thinking... that's cool and all, but I am actually just looking for a hookup. I just want to get off, I’m not looking for love or a relationship. This is where the science of sex gets really interesting. In recent decades, we’ve discovered that humans do not have any innate sexual stimuli. Meaning, we don’t come out of the womb with a fetish for anal. So you know that thing you have with feet? Yeah, it came from somewhere. Hentai and anime porn? Yep, that too.  Even WHO you’re attracted to was influenced by the environment you. Whether you get turned on by big boobs, washboard abs, hourglass figures or muscular arms, you learned that from somewhere.

We begin life with a sexual blank canvas, but film, advertising, music, porn and our social environment shape what actually gets us aroused.

So what does this have to do with hookups? We may be laser-focused on having casual sex with a dime at the club, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy or fulfilling our attachment needs. Our behavior has been molded by our environment. In her 2015 bestseller Come As You Are, Dr. Nagoski puts it this way: “You learn the sexual language you’re surrounded by. Just as there are no innate words, there appear to be almost no innate sexual stimuli. What turns us on (or off) is learned from culture, in much the same way children learn vocabulary and accents from culture”

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MASKS AROUND THE GLOBE

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us couldn’t fathom a world in which every single person we walked by on the street had a mask on their face. Where we could no longer read basic social cues such as a smile.  We would presume that we weren’t the only ones who had difficulty carrying a conversation without the aid of social cues.  Yet on an unseen level, there’s been an emotional pandemic of sorts that has been raging for years, further exasperated by social media.  We’ve long operated in the confines of life snug with a metaphorical mask on, careful not to let on too much as to what’s happening on the inside. We say this because you might be having a hard time hearing what science has to say about the best sex for the first time. Although attachment theory is likely a fundamental fact about our existence, it does not feel as though that’s how we really experience the world. The truth about sex is not heard in the locker room or on college campuses. It’s not found in movies, music or porn. And it’s not something we talk about with our friends. If anything, it’s the polar opposite. The cultural narrative about sex is a steady one-track beat reverberating throughout our days.  And while this narrative has a stranglehold across every facet of society, we’re all too afraid to step out and be “that guy” (or gal) who challenges the cultural norm. We don’t want to risk the social alienation and rejection that comes with vulnerability. Over the last few years, leading sex researchers Peggy Orenstein and Lisa Wade have traveled the U.S. to document the sex lives of hundreds of young people. In a shocking turn of vulnerability, waves of millennials and Gen Zers from all backgrounds confided in them as to how they really feel about sex Three books came of this: Orenstein with Girls & Sex in 2017, followed by Boys & Sex in 2020, while Wade published American Hookup in 2018.  In Boys & Sex droves of young men spoke of the social collateral that comes from expressing your emotions, especially about sex and women. One student spoke of how his long-term girlfriend cheated on him in college, which led to a breakup. Outwardly, with a mask firmly fixed on his face, he claimed “so I cut her off. I stopped talking to her and forgot her completely”. Orenstein adds detail to the ordeal saying, “the reality was that Rob spiraled into depression: the excitement he’d felt about leaving home, starting college, rushing a frat all drained away, and, as the semester wore on, it didn’t come back.” This all culminated in a mental breakdown.  In the midst of the entire situation, Rob opted not to confide in anyone, saying of the experience, “None of my friends talk about feelings. If you were hung up over a girl, they’d be like, “Stop being a b*tch”. Those words are heard in locker rooms across the country every day. Maybe you have said them or they’ve been said to you. Regardless, we go to extreme measures to protect our vulnerability.

This creates a complicated social dynamic, in which women become sexual objects and men don’t want to risk being “that b*tch” who challenges the norm.

So what are women to do?  Well, they could go on the offensive and model male behavior, treating sex flippantly. We saw this play out very vividly this past year as female rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion leveled the playing field. In the name of female empowerment, they unleashed the 2020 hit song W.A.P. on the scene. In case you didn’t know, W.A.P. stands for "wet ass pussy."  You can read the lyrics on your own, but the Los Angeles Times labeled the track “sex-positive” and “a piece of art”.  The other option for women would be to cave to the allure of male attention, seeking validation through their appearance. Again we see this playing out in real-time on social media, as thousands of women have become “Insta-models”, posting scantily-clad images with a Kylie-like flair.  Their accounts have grown at an explosive rate. Bingo.  Validation. One woman told Wade in American Hookup, “The more attention we get, the more pretty we feel.” Another added, “We simultaneously are grossed out by men’s objectification of women, but we also crave it.” Neither of these options work, if you haven’t already come to this conclusion from your front-row seat in the digital age. Acting like men or catering to men further complicates the human pursuit of sexual satisfaction, putting secure attachments further out of reach. To snap this trend, to truly be honest about our deepest desires and redeem culture in such a way that encourages vulnerability and relational health, we need to create a counterculture.  If we don’t, nothing will change. The odds will be heavily stacked against men and women who decide to challenge the norms. There’s too much at stake to risk social exclusion and alienation. In the end, it’s proven to be easier to live within a sexually dysfunctional society and play by its rules rather than try to be a pioneer who fearlessly navigates the loneliness of social alienation.

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CREATING A COUNTERCULTURE

Maybe you’ve already had enough surprises by now, but we’re going to throw just one more at you.  Science was not the first one to reveal that our ideal sexual environment is one that is a safe space with a committed, loving partner who we can openly communicate and express our feelings with and which we feel secure with. Long before recent scientific discoveries, there was a book that started articulating these same truths about 3,500 years ago. You might be familiar with it. It’s called the Bible.  You mean the same book that got thumped repeatedly over my head in Sunday school, that says you’re going to hell if you have sex before marriage? Yes and no. Let’s clarify terms. In all likelihood, what you were probably exposed to was a caricature, which the Oxford dictionary defines as "a grotesquely exaggerated representation of (someone or something)." Which goes to say the modern American church and the weaponization of scripture bears little-to-no resemblance to the early church and what was known as the way of Jesus Yes, it’s still called “the church” and “the Bible”, but it’s a caricature that has badly distorted their true, authentic forms. Scan the pages of scripture and you won’t find “you’re going to go to hell if you have sex before marriage” anywhere.  In fact, during the first century Jesus painted a beautiful vision of human sexuality to his earliest followers.  He articulated that marriage was the only vessel that would produce a safe space with security, openness, vulnerability and sacrificial love. Oh, and the best sex too. You may not associate marriage with any of those things, but that has likely been influenced by the amount of patriarchal, oppressive, manipulative or dysfunctional marriages we’ve seen play out in our society. You may also feel that Jesus’s words came in a cultural context that was prude. But you’d be surprised to hear this was not so. If anything, the ancient Greco-Roman world was more sexually “free” and promiscuous than the one we have today.  Orgies were a regular fixture in the public square. In THIS context, Jesus explained that marriage is meant to be the ultimate space for physical AND emotional faithfulness, wrapped in wholehearted sacrificial commitment.  And isn’t this what we’re all looking for? On the grounds of attachment theory, we would say yes. We deeply desire secure attachments. There’s a case to be made that anything less than marriage is antithetical to attachment theory. Dr. Sue Johnson says that even cohabitation “stops short of complete emotional linkage” in her 2013 best-seller Love Sense. Dr. Tim Keller, author of The Meaning of Marriage, added, “Someone who says, “I love you, but we don’t need to be married” may be saying, “I don’t love you enough to curtail my freedom for you.” Ouch. In the end, the spiritual and scientific narratives about the best sex weave together in harmony. This isn’t really a surprise, though.  If God is the creator of everything, why would these two things conflict? He created the laws of nature, but he also created sex and the ideal environment in which it would thrive. Scripture originated these truths, while science continues to confirm it in alternate ways.

In the end, this harmonious tune from the scientific and spiritual is beckoning at us with an invitation to taste the fruit of a beautiful and erotic counterculture.

Keller says, “the best sex makes you want to weep tears of joy, not basking in the glow of a good performance.” On a personal level, this doesn’t come automatically. Participating in this counterculture is going to be a messy process. All of us are constantly being bombarded by dysfunctional narratives of sex. We also have a lot of sexual baggage from our past that we need to heal from. We ultimately need to give ourselves grace. The journey can be just as beautiful as the end product. But here’s the key: we don’t do this alone. Earlier, we talked about the social alienation that will inevitably come from pursuing a vision like this for our sex lives. And if we were flying solo, it might feel somewhat unattainable and far too much of a risk. If no one else is pursuing this, how will we? But all across the country, an unlikely group of communities are emerging who are pursuing the way of Jesus as they strive to create environments of vulnerability, togetherness, honesty and sacrificial love.  We’ve witnessed this first hand in New York City, San Francisco, Denver, Boston, Seattle, and Portland. The end goal here is not just to find someone that we will develop a secure attachment with and get married so we can having our best sex ever. No, being part of a counterculture means unlearning toxic ideologies and learning to process our feelings in a completely new way. Countercultures encourage us to finally reveal what’s going on inside and to do this in the presence of a trusted group of people.  And over time, we find that we’re not only improving sexually, but emotionally, spiritually and holistically in such a way that renews every area of our life.

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