Di Daniels (left) chats with professor Peggy Kleinplatz (right) about her research. Illustration: Jennifer Vo.
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Dr. Peggy J. Kleinplatz is a renowned researcher in the field of human sexuality. She has received the Prix d’Excellence in 2000 by the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education. She’s also edited four books, including New Directions in Sex Therapy: Innovations and Alternatives, which won the 2013 American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists  Book Award and the Professional Standard of Excellence Award in 2015.

Currently, Dr. Kleinplarz fills the role of a full professor of medicine and a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa. Her research focuses on optimal sexual experiences, and she kindly agreed to shed some light on what constitutes “great sex” in the modern world.

Di: Could you provide us with a bit of background surrounding optimal sexual experience, and why you decided to study it?

Dr. Kleinplatz: Sure. I’m the director of the Optimal Sexual Research Team at the University of Ottawa, and for about the last 10-11 years we’ve been studying extraordinary lovers.

To give you a bit of background, the most common sexual problem among men and women in every age group is lack of sexual interest.

There’s a lot of sex out there that’s lackluster and disappointing, so we decided to study what makes sex utterly magnificent as an antidote for all the people out there who are apathetic about the sex lives they’ve got, and wonder what all the fuss was about.

According to your research, what makes “great sex” great for couples?

So in our first study we decided to look at what exactly is “great sex”. And we found that it had eight components… most commonly mentioned and predominant among these eight was high levels of embodiment… being present… being in the moment.

So what we found is both a crucial component of optimal sexual experience and contributes to its occurrence. Being in the moment, being so alive in each other’s embrace that nothing else could possibly interrupt or disrupt you.

Another important factor is authenticity—being able to be true to yourself while being present with another. That requires trusting yourself and trusting the other fully.

In other words, it’s going to be easier to find your way to extraordinary erotic intimacy once you become the kind of person who is centred enough within so that you can afford to let go with another person.

What were some of your findings?

Our findings on communication have little in common with conventional findings in psychological research or in sex research on communication.

Most of the clinical work on communication in couples is focused on how to attain effective communication, and suggests it’s important to do things like active listening, validation, paraphrasing, asking open ended questions, and so on.

Effective communication may get you to adequate sex. However, extraordinary lovers are black-belt communicators. They are extremely vivid in their speech and descriptions. They can express their desires with a level of clarity that’s crucial to enabling intense erotic intimacy to transpire.

Similarly they are extremely sensitive in touch—some people touch with technical skill—but these extraordinary lovers are far beyond that. They touch so as to feel what is happening in their partners moment by moment. They aren’t working off of some script you know—first I make-out, then I touch here, then I stroke his penis or caress her vulva—in steps one to three. This is nothing like that.

This is an awareness of what exactly you’re feeling in the person as you’re touching him or her or them, so as to be flexible and responsive to the feedback that’s coming through your fingers… and hands… and lips in the moment.

So prescriptions won’t work. It’s a question of being so attuned to what’s happening in your partner’s body as the two of you, or more… can engage in rehearsed, if spontaneous, dancing

In terms of your research, what does the future hold?

We have a book coming out in 2017. Our research team will be putting forth a book based on 12 years of research… what we’re doing now is trying to answer the question: “can anybody become an extraordinary lover, or do you just have to be lucky?”

We are now doing a study where we are taking people who want to improve their sex lives—some of whom are in trouble(d) and distressed relationships. Much of what sex therapy does is try to move from “bad sex” to “not bad sex”, but how many of us really want sex that’s merely adequate?

Our team is now working clinically in trying to help couples move from dysfunctional sex to magnificent sex, without ever having to stop at “normal” along the way.

In addition, we’re also taking couples who are sexually normal but who want to enhance their sex lives and we’re now doing work in helping them find the stuff that dreams are made of.