The Keys to a Pleasure-Filled Sex Life: Advice From a Sex Therapist

February 19, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller


We aren’t experiencing as much sexual pleasure as we used to. So what can we do to fix that?

Dr. Nan Wise, a cognitive neuroscientist and certified sex therapist, has the answers. Dr. Wise just published a fabulous new book titled Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life, which explores the “pleasure crisis” we’re experiencing—and how we can reclaim more pleasure-filled sex lives.

I recently interviewed Dr. Wise about her book for the Sex and Psychology podcast. Below is an excerpt from our discussion that has been lightly edited for clarity. To listen to our full conversation, scroll to the bottom of the page for the full podcast.

Dr. Lehmiller: In your book, you talk about the long and complicated relationship we have with pleasure and how we’re actually experiencing less pleasure today than we used to. What can you tell us about this? Why are we experiencing less pleasure? 

“Good sex is about being connected…It’s about being present. It’s about being playful.” – Dr. Nan Wise

Dr. Wise: The simplest way to describe it is that our attention is so divided. Our attention is so hijacked across so many different things that we’re not able to be present. And when we’re not able to be present, we’re not regulating emotions as well. The short answer is that we’re overstimulated.

Dr. Lehmiller: So, what can we do to fix that? How do we become less stimulated so that we can experience more pleasure? What kind of advice or recommendations do you give to people in this regard? 

Dr. Wise: Well, first of all, I think we need to recognize how the core emotional systems are wired and how easily hijacked the seeking system can be. When the seeking system is hijacked and we’re getting all these little dopamine bumps from our social media pings and all of that, that affects our capacity to really feel satisfying pleasure. If we understand how that gets hijacked, we can be a little more intentional. 

Now, I use social media. I use devices—and I notice sometimes when people are on those and paying attention to that, it kind of pulls you in. And you want more and more. It’s important to learn to be a mindful consumer of your social media, a mindful consumer of your recreational drugs, your foodstuffs, all of that. Whatever you do, be mindful and prioritize pleasure. 

And when I say prioritize your pleasure, it’s really learning how to be attuned to the sensations in your body.

Dr. Lehmiller: What you’re saying reminds me of some research I’ve read on orgasms where people talk about how they can have good orgasms and not-as-good orgasms. I mean, yes, they’re all orgasms, and generally speaking, orgasms tend to feel good. But maybe we could be having even better orgasms and more pleasure and better sex if we were more attuned and in the moment. So, I think your advice is really kind of how we can go from having good sex or acceptable sex, to really having great sex.

Dr. Wise: Well, you know, it’s funny that you say that. I think in some ways, yes, we could have even better sex when we’re present. But you know, sometimes the, the great enemy of good sex is when our mind is evaluating and trying to get the best sex, the most orgasms. That can take us out of the moment. Good sex is about being connected.

I talk about this in the book. It’s about being present. It’s about being playful. It’s learning to see sex as the playground. Maybe the metric is less about how long the sex lasts or how hard the penis is, or how many orgasms we have. It’s about being present and connected to the self and other and take it back to the body.

If I had a dime for every time I asked one of my clients “what’s going on in your body?” and then they look at me like I’m crazy. Being attuned to our core emotions and how we’re feeling, that’s where sex becomes sensational. And when it’s sensational and we’re connected, that’s another kind of sex. It’s more of that energy exchange where you really enjoy connecting.

We’ve forgotten to slow down and savor. So, satisfying is a different story. 

Dr. Lehmiller: Right. And that gets back to the definition of sex, and the importance of expanding it. So, it’s not going into sex with this goal-oriented mindset of there’s just this one narrow thing being sex. It’s taking an expansive view, exploring, playing, having fun—but really being present and being in the moment is the key to a pleasure-filled sex life.

Dr. Wise: Exactly.

Listen to my full conversation with Dr. Wise below. It’s available in the form of a YouTube video, but you can also stream/download the podcast via the player underneath. Also, be sure to check out Dr. Wise’s new book Why Good Sex Matters!

To stream now, click the play button below; or click the download link to listen later.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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