I’m a big fan of efficient hedonism. Let me tell you what that means. I once read a story about an 80-year-old judo master who had been studying martial arts ever since he was a child. He said that when he was younger, he could have less-than-perfect form and make up for it with strength and flexibility, but now that he was old, his form had to be in perfect alignment. When we act in alignment with our goals and intentions, we’re more efficient because we don’t waste as much energy and time. We don’t create as much friction, so we can move from A to B with more grace and speed. That’s a lesson we can apply to any part of our lives, especially our sex lives and our pursuit of pleasure.
A lot of people hear phrases like “the pursuit of pleasure” and assume that it means wallowing in sensual experiences at the cost of one’s health and well-being, but that’s not what I mean by it. In her book The Pleasure Zone, sex therapist Stella Resnick identifies eight kinds of pleasure:
- Primal pleasure and surrender
- Pain relief
- Elemental pleasures such as play, laughter, and movement
- Mental pleasures
- Emotional pleasures
- Sensual pleasures
- Sexual pleasures
- Spiritual pleasures
For me, the pursuit of pleasure means acting in ways that expand my ability to experience all of these. I don’t want to focus so much on one that I decrease my capacity for another, such as when someone gets so hooked on the pleasure of drugs that they don’t see the physical and emotional damage they’re causing. Efficient hedonism means looking at all of my actions and how they affect me and the people around me. Without that context, it can easily slide into wallowing in unhealthy patterns.
So why do I think this matters? Because I enjoy pleasure and I want to experience as much of it as I can during my short time in this world. When it ends, I want to look back on my life and be glad that I had an amazing time. I want to wring every delicious drop of delight out of it and drink it all. I see a lot of people spinning their wheels or using up all of their energy in friction, which creates heat, but not much else. I don’t want to do that, and that means being as efficient as I can be.
There are lots of ways to do that. Being open and honest about my intentions, desires, and what I can offer is probably the biggest piece. While it’s not a guarantee against friction and drama, at least it lets me point out that I said exactly what I was offering. I find that it invites a prospective partner to do the same, which gives us room to see if we have overlap in what we’re looking for. It also makes space for us to each say yes or no, make a counteroffer, ask questions, and look for some flexibility in what we’re seeking. A deep commitment to honesty and clear communication is essential to the pursuit of efficient hedonism.
Another piece is making sure that everyone is taken care of and everything is cleaned up. A dinner party isn’t over until all the dishes are washed and put away, and a sexual experience isn’t finished until everyone involved feels complete with it. I always drop an email or a text the next day, just to say that I had a fun time and check that my partner(s) did, too. That gives the other person room to let me know if there’s anything that they need to touch base about. If something has come up for them, I make time for a conversation so we can work it out. I’d much rather do that than have unfinished business, and anyway, it makes the odds of another date with that person go way up. Being efficient means looking for possible rough spots, and then doing what I can to smooth them out.
Efficient hedonism also means being willing to follow the pleasure and let go of whatever expectations I had at the start. If my goal is to have a specific kind of sexual interaction, it’s easy to get so attached to that idea of what’ll happen that I forget to enjoy the moment. When my goal is to co-create an amazing experience, I can adjust to the needs of the moment and have a great time. Resisting reality is both pointless and incredibly inefficient. Desire is fine. Attachment to the outcome of desire gets in the way. Letting go of it takes practice, and one reward is getting to have more fun.
I’ve had plenty of experiences during which I was surprised at how much fun something new or unexpected was, so I’m willing to try almost anything twice. Anytime we try something new, there’s going to be a learning curve, so working with that process is a big part of efficient hedonism. That might mean geeking out and figuring out how to do it again. It might mean deciding that a particular activity isn’t my thing. But whatever the response for a particular situation, efficient hedonism rides the learning curve, rather than resisting it.
There’s also quite a bit of planning that goes into it. I need to manage my blood sugar, so I’ll bring a snacky bar and take a break when I need to. Or we can pause long enough to grab dinner before heading back to bed. When I was younger, I would frequently ignore my body’s needs in order to have sex, which led to a lot of post-sex blood sugar crashes and fights. (I get cranky when I get hungry.) A little preparation avoids that and lets me have fun for much longer.
Other kinds of planning include having plenty of safer sex supplies. I have a “go kit” for quickies, and another for more extended dates and threesomes, so if something comes together at the last minute, I don’t have to pull my gear together. Condoms, gloves, lube, and a few hypoallergenic wipes- it’s not difficult to put something together and it’s always better to have safer sex supplies and not need them all than to need them and run out. Of course, I have toy bags that I can pack for whatever might be on the agenda, and the lube and condoms get restocked when I’m cleaning up after a date. That makes prep for the next time faster.
Lastly, efficient hedonism means listening to my body and recognizing when it’s time to stop. The best time to leave the table is when you’re still a little hungry, and the same thing applies to sex. Overdoing it once in a while is fine, but as a regular diet, it’s much less satisfying than having just enough. Being efficient means knowing when it’s time to stop, when it’s time to take a step back, and when I need a vacation.
Ultimately, these are the things that work for me, so you might decide that you need something different to make your hedonism more efficient. Whatever that might be, take a look at how you can make it part of your sex life. The less energy you have to put into dealing with friction, the more ease you’ll find in your relationships. As I tell a lot of the people I coach, the short-term investment of work and time pays off pretty quickly. And with a little practice, you might earn your black belt in sex, too.