Vanilla sex: The best you’ve ever had?

[media-credit name=”” align=”aligncenter”]Vanilla sex: The best you've ever had?[/media-credit]

Source: Best Health Magazine, October 2008

As far as I can tell, the term “vanilla sex” was coined to denote sex that does not involve toys, props, costumes, third parties, bondage, domination or other forms of role-playing, and that takes place in bed rather than, say, a dungeon.

And the phrase is not intended as favourable. Just two naked people having sex in bed? Yawn! Boring! Vanilla!

But I would like to co-opt and reclaim this term, turn it around and make it positive, not pejorative. Mmm…she kissed me and it was so vanilla. Why did good old vanilla sex get such a bad rap, anyway? I blame Sting, for one. He helped popularize the notion that length of time matters, and more is better. He became famous for his tantric sex practices after a journalist claimed to have overheard him boasting to friend Bob Geldof that sex sessions with his wife, Trudie Styler, lasted six hours.

I also blame Madonna for bringing BDSM (bondage, dominance and sado-masochism) chic into the mainstream with her 1992 book, Sex, which featured the singer in various naughty role-playing poses, and sold like hotcakes.

And I blame Hollywood movies from 9½ Weeks to The Notebook for promulgating the notion that sex is sexier if: (a) it’s outdoors, especially if it’s raining; (b) you don’t know the other person very well; (c) someone is either laughing or screaming; or (d) someone rubs an ice cube all over you.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and dead wrong. For my money—and I’ve been happily married for 12 years—sex gets better the more you know someone, because you can relax and be yourself. It takes place in a bed, where you are both warm and dry and can pull the covers over you or toss them off as circumstances require. It does not involve any items from the refrigerator or, even worse, the freezer.

And good sex doesn’t last long. A recent survey of Canadian and American sex therapists, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, concluded that an “adequate” to “desirable” amount of time for sex, not including foreplay, is between three and 13 minutes. Anything over 10 minutes starts to get too long, they said.

I don’t want to give away too much about my own circumstances, but I was interested to note that the therapists said three minutes can be perfectly satisfactory for both parties. In other words, in your face, Sting! Long live the quickie!

The study didn’t say anything about what type of sex works best in this three- to 13-minute window, but several experts I spoke with have found that for many couples, vanilla is the longest-lasting variety.

“There’s a big difference between vanilla sex and mediocre sex,” says Ottawa sex therapist Sue McGarvie, who believes sex is the glue of marriage. “Vanilla can be spectacular if it’s intimate and emotional.”

Cory Silverberg, certified sex educator and co-owner of the Come As You Are sex shop in Toronto, agrees. “The mistake is thinking sex is about the mechanics, or the toys,” he says. “Or that somehow variety is going to make it better.” When I point out that as the owner of a sex shop, he has just shot himself in the foot, he laughs and says, “If a couple is fighting, sexual toys are not going to change anything.” He can tell which couples will buy something and which won’t as soon as they enter his shop. If there’s friction or bickering, forget it; no sale.

David McKenzie, a Vancouver-based clinical sex therapist, agrees that an emotional, mental or spiritual connection is crucial for female sexuality, saying he’s never counselled a woman yet who wants sex when she’s angry with her partner.

People laugh when I say that one thing I don’t miss about being a bachelor is the sex. But it’s true. All the histrionics, having to shake the rafters and being disappointed if the earth doesn’t move.

Now that I’m married, sex has assumed its proper place in my life. It generally happens at a preordained time. Sometimes circumstances prevent it; other times there’s a bonus. It’s pretty basic, stripped of all its bells and whistles. Afterwards, one of us might casually say, “That was fun.” Then we roll over and fall into a delicious sleep. Or we might get up and go about the rest of our business, of which—with three boys and two careers —there’s plenty.

But that doesn’t detract from its sexiness, or its beauty. Rocky Road? Nutty Cheesecake? Tutti Frutti? No thank you! For my money, plain old vanilla is the best flavour of them all.

This article was originally titled "Make Mine Vanilla, Please," in the October 2008 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!