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Mastering Intimacy- the 10,000 hour rule

Justin Bieber smashed the pop charts with his 2019 Dan + Shay combo hit 10,000 hours, but he didn’t coin the phrase. I stumbled onto it back in my performance improvement days via “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. To summarize, the true masters of their craft have dedicated 10,000 hours of practice and behind the scenes effort to learning, perfecting, and laser focusing on their passion before they crossed into “the zone” and emerged as the greats that we know and cherish today. Be it the Beatles, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and other notable top performers, the amount of continued practice and development is essential in honing their skills. 

Gladwell paints a logic-based and undeniable picture of their arc into greatness. In my role of performance and life coach, I frequently use this metric to help someone put realistic attainment goals and timelines around when they can expect to “be the top” of their area and get rid of the imposter syndrome. There are roughly 8,760 hours in a year, if someone is trying to achieve mastery from… let’s say zero level mastery, how long should it take, and what amount of grace is needed for this journey? Can they simply go to a weekend class to get the push they need, spend 3 months plugging away at a P90x style fitness or diet regimen, dedicate 6 months to reshaping their gut biome, or is a year needed to fully transform habits into a fundamentally new lifestyle?

Math rarely lies

Let’s pop some numbers into a calculator to simplify it some. If I were to dedicate 10,000 hours of effort, nonstop, without sleeping, how long am I looking at? It would take about 14 months-ish of continuous focus to reach the 10K milestone. That’s 14 months of around the clock effort. 

What’s realistic? We sleep for around ⅓ of our life… so that’s going to automatically stretch it out beyond 14 months. Let’s funnel the hourly breakdown of “a day in the life” into a pie chart. Spoiler alert, I do love me a detailed pie chart, and I found this one online as a discussion point and example only. 

So where do physical intimacy and sex fall on this spectrum of categories? Is it a smaller fraction of sleep, family, or recreation? How small? Ask yourself those questions with regard to quality versus quantity. 

I’ve been talking to people. Lots of people, men / women, married / single about how much physical intimacy they experience. 

The answers are all over the place, so I’ll just focus on the two extreme ends of the spectrum. 

Some couples consistently have sex 2-3 times a week on average for a year. These aren’t all “great sex” moments that you see in movies with flowers and candles. Those include both “quicky” sessions of less than 20 min duration from initial arousal to completion and “extended sessions” of 60+ mins with lingering snuggles and closeness. If that couple averages around 2 hours a week of contact time for 52 weeks in the year, that’s a total of 104 hours of “practice” per year.

On the other end we have people who may have sex once or twice a year when an opportunity arises, and these are quicky sessions mostly with very little (if any) build-up or lingering intimacy once the deed is done. Their actual “contact time” for physical intimacy is less than an hour for a year. 

So why are we nervous and unsure about ourselves when it comes to intimacy and sexual performance? 

For the amorous couples it would take around 96 years to whittle away at the 10,000 hours milestone. So starting at 18 (we are talking adults here) we can expect to hit that prowess phase at around the age of 114. 

For the opportunists I talked to who average 1-2 hours per year… there isn’t a place in our mortal timeline when that comes together.

So it starts to make sense why most of us feel slightly unsure of ourselves AND/OR hold our partners (and ourselves) to a higher level of expectation than they/ we’ve realistically have had time to achieve. Now factor in practice compared to performance. Imagine only getting to play your sport at the championship or in a pickup game with friends. You're cruising along in your daily pie chart of routine, aaaaaaaand boom. It's suddenly "go time." No time to test out different grips, figure out if this glove or that bat work better, am I really right / left handed or switch? Let's just do it and go with what seems to have worked well in the past.  

This is the part of the conversation where we could talk with your partner and say “A core desire of most biological beings is sex. It’s the most powerful driver on the planet. I want to learn this. I want you to learn me. I want to learn you. I want to learn us.”

In my discussions and in my personal journey, I’ve discovered that even for the couples who have “great sex,” they have reduced most of the biology associated with the act into a series of memorized cheat codes that become a race to the top in terms of how long it takes to get to an orgasm. Hitting the big “O” is great and it seems like the ultimate goal, but is that what we truly want? Is that all we want?

Are we engaging simply to collect up a certain tally of orgasms, or are we after something more?

True connection and long-duration intimacy comes from knowing how to passionately engage more than just the standard erogenous zone organs. Sure, its undeniable that a lingam and yoni want love, and they tend to scream louder than some of the more sensitive spaces… but little toes and noses need touch too.  The actual Being inside the body wants the connection the most.  Focusing solely on the body is The issue at the center of intimacy.  True connection comprises both trust and safety, and this doesn’t happen because of body chemistry and sensations.  It happens because one Being can sense the presence of the other Being and it feels good to both Souls. Try giving yourself a challenge of being intimate with your partner and making an upfront agreement that “this interaction will not lead to insertion of anything into anything.” It changes the focus from racing to orgasm to learning about and to leaning into personal connection. That is the gateway to building trust and truly seeing the person you’re engaging. When I talked to couples, I discovered that when things “switch” from flirting to “it’s sex time” the level of connection drops. “It’s like we both leave the room and this train is driving itself on a predictable track with very little deviation.”  What is commonly described is that predictable positions start taking place, eye-contact falls away, and we are no longer in the room together. Other people seem to step in and act out the roles. 

That’s not really the description that we want, but it’s sometimes the only outcome we’ve grown to accept. 

Change the script, derail the train, and get some practice just having fun. 

Breathing mindful calmness into the room so that there is silence and space for the magic of intimacy to grow. Temporarily taking intercourse out of the intimacy equation makes space for intense and deep growth. Some questions to help get a conversation started could be:

  • What works for you?

  • What doesn’t work for you?

  • Do you trust me to take the time needed to help you feel safe? 

  • Can I trust you to keep me safe while I’m vulnerable?

  • Do you actually want to have sex right now, or is there something besides the release that you’re after?

  • Can I spend some time learning about your sensitive zones instead?

  • Would you spend some time helping me understand more about a certain part of my own body?

  • What if we could never have sex again? 

  • What would we do instead of sex? 

  • Can we try it for a night to see where it takes us?

The goal of these questions is not to completely kill someone’s quicky mojo, because I’m not going to lie when I say that there’s a time and place for quickies in a relationship. But, we don’t learn or experience very many new things during a series of repeated quickies. The goal is to extend the length of time that we all get to “practice our skills” before the orgasm sends us into our own versions of sleep or post-coitus euphoria. I’ve seen couples who literally lock themselves in their rooms for a weekend with toys, textured items to heighten sensations, new music, foods, and deep conversations about each other. 

I’d love to know what you think around this under-discussed area of adult life. It’s a topic that we typically assume other couples or partners know better than we do. Sure, maybe there’s a new cheat code here and there to share or pick up, but when you do the math… not many middle-aged mortals have hit the 10,000 hours mark. We are all winging it to some degree, and there’s always room for more practice. Besides, fumbling around in the dark isn't always a bad thing.  

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