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How To Be A Great Lover

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How To Be A Great Lover

Is a great lover determined by parts or practices?

Do you think Don Juan or Casanova left instruction manuals detailing their secrets? To my knowledge they didn’t, so we are going to have to construct a playbook on our own, each of us.

Some years ago San Francisco columnist Jean Gonick wrote about overhearing two women sitting in an airport lounge having an intimate heart-to-heart, what used to be known as “girl talk” but nowadays is referred to as “sharing”.  One woman recounted to the incredulous envy of the other the remembered delights of going to bed with Bernard, a “man who didn’t just make you happy that you were having sex with him, he made you glad that you were alive.”

When I was young enough to be just beginning to sort out the meaning of sex I looked for clues in the folk wisdom of the day – from grade school humor like “How far is the Old Log In(n)?” to my parents’ 78 record of Bessie Smith singing “You’ve been a good ol’ wagon, Daddy, but you done broke down.” I deduced that being a good lover depended on a man’s ability to produce a tool of admirable dimensions and to wield it long enough to get the job done right. From the jokes and stories I listened to carefully the time frame for getting this job done appeared to mean all night long.  For example: “On the night of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Phillip she said “Sir, I offer you my honor.”  He replied “Madam, I honor your offer.” And so it went all night long – honor, offer, honor, offer.”

Judging from my counseling clients and the mail I got to my advice column I am not alone in the deductions I made at the age of twelve or so: “if it’s in deep enough and it’s in long enough then it’s in-decent.”

Is being a great lover about only size and stamina then?  Apparently sometimes yes and sometimes no. The late Carole Lombard was reputed to have said that Clark Gable was a lousy lay but that she didn’t care.  The same was often whispered about the late J.F.K., a reputed womanizer despite his lifelong bad back.

If you’re willing to grant that good sex can exist in and of itself, then what are its ingredients? A love of the doing would be one key factor.  It is a joy to see anyone who has spent long hours perfecting his skills at something he enjoys doing.  That’s why the TVsports channel ESPN has such a wide audience. A developed taste for small nuances and subtle distinctions is another facet of a great lover. That we give due respect to a critique by a wine connoisseur and nothing but a snicker to the Kama Sutra is proof of our culture’s odd priorities.

I had a counseling client, an educated young man I’ll call Bob, who was a “head-tripper”, an over-intellectualizer, whose ongoing internal discussions immobilized him socially.  He was still a sexual virgin in his late twenties and unhappy with that state.  Together we devised various exercises to get him more in touch with his bodily feelings and encourage spontaneity. One ploy he came up with on his own was to turn on a radio to a  station whose music he generally enjoyed and to dance alone to whatever was played.  It was important that it be the radio so that he couldn’t plan to hear songs in any particular order. “It was fun and a wonderful release”, Bob told me, “but I had to keep talking to myself so I wouldn’t feel so foolish.”

“What did you say to yourself?” I asked him, ready for an involved narrative of well-reasoned pros and cons about every little action.

“I told myself three things.  First, there is no one right way to do this; I’m making it up as I go along.  I also reminded myself to let go of my thoughts and trust my body, and that my body was capable of wonderful surprises.”

My reasoned therapeutic response to that was “Wow!” What Bob discovered was not only an excellent antidote to uptightness and head tripping, he’d also divined the secret to good sex, maybe even great sex, although he didn’t know that yet: Enjoy the doing.  Pay attention to and appreciate the subtle nuance and remember that there is no one right way for it to go.  You can learn to trust your body to respond appropriately without precise mental directives, and that it will be capable of wondrous surprises indeed.

Okay, so what are the ingredients, in a nutshell, of being a great lover?  Here are some qualities that the many women I’ve spoken with over the years agree upon that a great lover has:

1. A real love and appreciation for what makes a woman a woman, and this woman different from all others.  “I adore the lush curve of your belly” as opposed to “You could firm that up with just a few minutes a daily sit-ups.”

2. A sense of fun and delight in what Alex Comfort so aptly called the joy of sex – not scoring, not getting laid, not “doing your marital duty”. Not even “working” on the goal of making your partner moan and groan.  I’m talking about deriving pleasure from the sheer fun and silliness of two people trying to occupy the same physical space.

3. A lack of a preset program, a willingness to go with the flow so that even if all the possible acts or positions in each person’s repertoire do not get their turn on tonight’s playbill a good time will still be had by all.

4. Pays attention to nonverbal cues.  ‘Does this body move toward or away from my touch?’

5. Nonjudgmental curiosity and adventuresome experimentation.  “I never heard of that; let’s try it” as opposed to “You want me to do what?”.

You’ll notice that all these qualities are non-gender specific.  If you are a lover of men or women much is similar if not identical.  You see, it’s all about attitudes translated into actions, not just the actions themselves.

Still interested in anatomic details? The most frequently mentioned ones were not the obvious at all. They were individual peculiarities like the texture of a bald head or the unique placement of a singular dimple.  Whatever each woman recalled as a sexy quality of her greatest lover was so because that’s how she felt about the man himself.  Sexy is as sexy does.  That’s  the secret of great lovers:  “It ain’t what you do it’s the way how you do it.”  Those old blues singers knew what was what all right.

[Isadora Alman]

Isadora Alman, M.F.T., is a California licensed marriage and relationship therapist, a Board-certified sexologist, author and lecturer. Her syndicated sex and relationship column "Ask Isadora" ran in alternative weekly papers worldwide for 25+ years. Web surfers can find her columns on her online free interactive Sexuality Forum (link is external). She is the author of two collections of Q & A's from columns: Let's Talk Sex and Ask Isadora, as well as Sex Information, May I Help You?, a peek behind the scenes of a sex help phone line which still flourishes in San Francisco today. Doing It: Real People Having Really Good Sex is a collection of helpful hints and titillating tidbits culled from column readers and Forum web site users. Her novel Bluebirds of Impossible Paradises: A Sexual Odyssey of the 70's is out in paperback on She has also contributed chapters to several books including Herotica (Down There Press), Dick For A Day (Villard NY), The Moment Of Truth (Seal Press) and Single Woman Of A Certain Age (Inner Ocean Publishing, Inc.) Isadora has been a talk show host and frequent TV and radio talk show guest, and a lecturer and workshop leader on a variety of communications topics. She conducts her private psychotherapy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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