When Dana Ménard turned her master’s and doctoral research into a book about what makes for great sex, little did she know couples around the world would be stuck at home together for weeks and weeks.
Magnificent Sex is a recent release by Routledge, published just as COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Co-authored by Peggy Kleinplatz, a certified sex therapist and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, the book looks at the phenomenology of sex — the study of the structure and experiences surrounding it.
The book seeks to answer one central question, said Dr. Ménard: “What is great sex?”
Magnificent Sex is based on interviews with 75 men and women from a cross-section of society, as well as interviews with sex therapists. People of all ages, sexual orientations, and preferences opened up about their best sexual experiences.
“This book is useful for professionals, but it’s written for lay people,” she said. “The results are super-readable.”
It’s not a manual of how-to tips and tricks. It’s about common themes expressed by ordinary people.
“We went out of our way to ask open-ended questions so that the people we interviewed could define their optimal experiences in their own ways.”
The answers to what constitutes magnificent sex might be surprising to some, Ménard said.
“People might think, ‘Oh, I know, it’s orgasm for men, relationship for women.’ But that’s not what we found at all.”
One chapter of the book breaks down what Ménard and her co-author have dubbed the “components of optimal sexual experience.” It delves into themes like “being completely present, focussed and absorbed in the moment,” or as one of the people interviewed described it, “The room can be on fire and I probably wouldn’t even notice.”
Ménard said those “components” are like the “molecules of magnificent sex.” Her chemist husband would appreciate that description, Ménard joked, before explaining those molecules are different than the “contributors” to great sex.
Contributors are things like being comfortable with yourself, taking care of your body, being expressive with your partner in the moment of a sexual experience, or being in a relationship characterized by trust, respect, or humour.
“Contributors are the things that help make great experiences happen,” Menard said. “It could be things in the deep past but it could also be something that you and your partner do in the moment of a sexual experience happening or something that happened earlier that day.”
The book includes people in polyamorous relationships and those who have been in monogamous relationships for 25 years or longer; LGBT people and straight people; those who describe themselves as “kinky” and those who say they are “vanilla.”
Ménard, a clinical psychologist who counsels students in the Odette School of Business and is joining the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences as a psychology professor in July, said she is especially proud of the number of seniors included.
“The sex literature has ignored this group. Society has basically said, ‘You are a cookie-baking grandma. You are a lawn-cutting grandpa. You are done sexually.’”
The cover of the book features a mountain scene. It’s a metaphor for the research findings, Ménard explained.
“When it comes to magnificent sex, the view from the top seems to be the same, but people take many different ways up the mountain.”