Is quality sex about quantity?

A Chinese friend of mine is newly wed. He told me today that one of his plans is to have quality sex.

But what is quality sex? I am sure that everyone has a different idea. Today in the U.S., a common notion of quality sex is to have an incredible orgasm experience. An earthshaking, quivering orgasm. Or a series of explosive orgasms, one after another. Based on my own observation on Facebook, Tantra seems to be a new fad in the sexual landscape. For many Tantra devotees, the new excitement is to have a “full body orgasm.” There also seems to be some confusion of quality and quantity. A Medium writer recently wrote that “My sex partners better be insatiable, because I certainly am when it comes to sex in a relationship.” It is my impression that in the West, there is a common belief that more is better. So, in sexual matters, it would mean more frequent sex, more sex partners, more orgasms, more intense orgasm, … The list goes on. This is a materialistic approach to sexual life.

But is more really better? I published my book, The Zen Teachings of Jesus, in the mid 90s. In that book, I said that one of the most crucial elements of Zen is simplicity. While Westerners tend to think that more is better, Zen and Taoism have quite the opposite idea. There is this paradoxical Zen notion that less is more. I actually used sexual life to illustrate this principle in my book:

“Yes, there can be too much of a ‘good’ thing. If we have not learned this yet, we may learn it from the Cosmo-girl… Cosmopolitan magazine, catering to the market of young, ‘sophisticated’ urban women, once ran an article with this headline” “FOR GREAT SEX, LESS IS MORE. Preserve the mystery, go slow. Make love the old-fashioned way. Make him earn it.”(Ellen Kessner, The Delights of Sexual Mystery, Cosmopolitan, September 1984, 258)

It seems that the Cosmo-girl has taken a lesson from Lao Tze. Many things in life work in a counter-intuitive and paradoxical way. Sex is perhaps no different from food. There is a danger of over-eating — it may ruin your appetite. Both Lao Tze and Epicurus teach moderation in the consumption of pleasure. The Cosmopolitan magazine article quoted psychotherapist, Nathaniel Brandon, who said, “You build up much more of a charge by deferring sex than by instant gratification. It is erotic to contain sexual feelings and take time to know the person.” Apparently, Zen teachers are not the only ones who appreciate the magic of thinking small. So, yes, less can be more. It is easy to understand that food will taste better if you are hungry and not already full.

But what about the intensity of orgasm? Here too, I take a contrarian view. For me, quality sex is not about orgasm per se. In fact, the modern obsession on orgasm may very well ruin someone’s sex life. Taoism teaches the wisdom of wu-wei (literally meaning “doing nothing”) and the Zen masters prize no-mind. When the mind is obsessed with achieving something great, how can one be relaxed and spontaneous? For me, quality sex has more to do with the time I spend with my partner leisurely, without any hurry or pressure. It has more to do with my time spent totally engaged with her, savoring every moment of togetherness, paying attention to little details. There are no expectations because quality sex is not a matter of achievement. It is pure play and a sensual exploration. Taking delight in each other’s body. It is a journey which has no goal and no script. But relishing in the small joys and pleasures along the way.

My Chinese friend told me that his best friend is also a Taoist like me. This Taoist friend once related that he often spends several hours making love to his girlfriend. This rings true to my understanding of genuine love-making. Having time to relax and cherish each other is the ultimate luxury. Again, the focus here is not some kind of phenomenal orgasm. It can be just time spent in silence, listening to my partner’s heartbeat and her breathing. There is no time limit. No goal. No expectation. The lovers just “be.” This is the Tao of good love-making.

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Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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