Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

I've always had a hard time with the saying, "Life's a journey, not a destination."

It's the kind of thing people said to me a lot when I was in early- and mid-adolescence, because I was (and am) an intense, high-energy person who moves at a fast pace. "Slow down, Emily, life's a journey not a destination. Enjoy the ride!"

Fuck you, I thought, I get motion sick and I wouldn't be bothering with trying to get somewhere if it weren't somewhere I thought was BETTER THAN RIGHT HERE.

What I wish someone had told me was, "Life's a destination, not a journey, and you're ALREADY HERE." Which really is just a restatement of the same thing, but it opens up the question, "Then why do I feel like I'm in such a hurry?"

The reason I feel like I'm in such a hurry is because of how attractive all that stuff out there in the future looks to me. And a little bit, sometimes, because of how crappy where I am is.

What has this to do with sex?


I have three Top Tips about sex, and the second one is:

It's not about orgasm.

The reason this is a Top Tip is because a lot of people get Very Wrapped Up in orgasm. They see it as a destination. It's not, not really; it's just one of the places you can be. But where you CAN be isn't anything like as important as WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

The arousal you have right now, the sensations you have right now, the partner you have right now, the body you have right now. Here you are.

I think people would have better sex if they didn't conceptualize it as traveling along a path toward orgasm but as simply BEING right here and now.

Indeed, I think this is why sensate focus works so well as sex therapy:1 it takes away the option of orgasm and demands that you pay attention to the sensations you're experiencing right now. This inevitably brings to the surface all your historical psychodrama, but with sex stripped down to its essence, it becomes easier to notice what part of your experience is about the here and now and what part is just the historic noise in your head.

I know that arousal can feel like a drive, that sexually appetizing stimuli draw you toward them. But I do promise you that the experiencing of WANTING SOMETHING TERRIBLY (e.g., orgasm) is, in itself, an intense, beautiful, erotic experience.

Give it a try. Arousal is a destination, not a journey toward or away from anything in particular. It's a state of being that constantly changes as your environment changes. It's where you are right now. And nothing bad will happen if you stay exactly in this place for a good, long while.

So sit still. You're already where you need to be, even if where you are is wanting to be somewhere else. If you see what I mean.

  1. Linschoten, M., Weiner, L., & Avery-Clark, C. (2016). Sensate focus: a critical literature review. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 31(2), 230-247.

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