Sexual satisfaction proves important for individual well-being and the well-being of relationships. Relationships where one or both partners are sexually dissatisfied can face many problems and can lead to marital dissatisfaction. Research finds an association between relationship satisfaction and better quality of life and better parent-child relationships.

In our recent study, Dr. Walker interviewed adults over the phone and email to investigate what components people needed to consider sex great. She interviewed 78 adults of various ages and sexual orientations and asked about what makes sexual experiences great and good, and what separates great sexual experiences from good sexual experiences.

We found three primary themes for what makes sex great: orgasm, emotional connection, and chemistry or connection.

The majority of people said that they, their partners, or both needed to orgasm during sex for a sexual experience to be great. Whether folks said they or their partner needed to orgasm varied by gender. Some women placed importance on their own orgasm. This is most likely related to the orgasm gap (the phenomenon where women orgasm less than men in heterosexual sexual encounters, and when women have sex with men they orgasm less than when they have sex with women). Men tended to care more about their partner’s orgasm; this could be because men report their partner’s orgasm as sexually satisfying. Some men and women said that both parties need to orgasm during sex for it to be great. This reflects popular media depictions of orgasms and great sex, where both partners collapse in simultaneous pleasure.

Emotional connection proved an important component for great sex as well, but “emotion” was not always code for “love.” Most people specifically explained that an emotional component during sex did not have to be love, or even romantic. Emotional connection can mean trust, affection, or even comfort. Only a few participants said the emotion must be love for great sexual experiences. Unlike other research which found women more likely to place importance on love during sex, an equal number of men and women spoke of its importance. However, gender differences existed. Echoing previous studies, some women spoke of an emotional connection being more important than physical sensations, while other women wanted both emotion and orgasm. Some even told us that emotional intimacy increased their likelihood of orgasming.

Finally, people said that great sex required chemistry or connection. Respondents mentioned both physical and emotional aspects of sex when they spoke about chemistry and connection. Sexual chemistry often proves hard to define, and our participants struggled to define it as well. However, people agreed that people cannot manufacture chemistry; they said couples either have it or they don’t. Participants made clear that chemistry is out of your control, and you cannot choose with whom you do or don’t have chemistry. Chemistry often allowed for better emotional and physical intimacy between partners. People said chemistry helped them to build affection and trust in their partners, and that good sexual chemistry often led to orgasms.

Participants made clear the importance of orgasms, emotional connection, and chemistry for sexual encounters to transcend from a good experience to great. Learning the components of great sex helps us all improve our sex lives, which improves our happiness, well-being, and relationships. What does great sex mean to you?

Alicia M. Walker is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity and Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation and Infidelity. Her work focuses on intimate sexual relationships, sexual identity and behavior, and gender. She specializes in closeted sexual behavior. Follow her on Twitter @AliciaMWalker1.

Audrey Lutmer is a Sociology PhD student at Georgia State University. She studies gender, sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual behavior. She is most interested in how sexuality affects gender expression. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyLutmer