Does Forgetting Make for Better Sex?

Last week I wrote about how sex might be different if people could forgive. This week, I’d like to imagine how sex could be different if only we could forget. However, I don’t mean “forget” in the traditional “forgive and forget” kind of way. Rather, I wonder how sex would change if we could approach it with a clean slate more of the time and with less anxiety about the past or present.

I have to assume that we would be open to a far wider range of possibilities if only if we didn’t approach sex feeling as though we “know” with certainty how we liked to be touched or how a particular type of touch is what brings us to orgasm. I’m not disputing people’s knowledge about their bodies. However, as I wrote in Because It Feels Good, people often close themselves to various types of touch or stimulation and instead focus on a certain “routine” that guarantees them a quick or efficient route to pleasure or orgasm. Unfortunately, some people choose the quick route rather than being interested in exploring something new with their partner from time to time.

Some more thoughts on forgetting:

What if we could “forget” – or at least put aside – what we perceive as our past “failures”? Although I don’t personally or professionally view erectile problems or lack of orgasm as “failures”, some people do. And they may carry around these past experiences as part of their anxiety going forward. Men who remember their past erectile problems with anxiety may be more likely to have more erectile problems again in the future. And those women and men who get stuck thinking negatively about how they had difficulty reaching orgasm the last time they had sex may be more likely to have more difficulty doing so. When women and men are able to relax and let go during sex, they often find it easier to experience pleasure and to reach orgasm.

Of course, forgetting would have its downfalls and so might not be much of a “superpower” at all. There are many benefits to remembering how you or your partner likes to be touched or kissed or what words, when said out loud, make sex that much better. And of course there are safety benefits to remembering – for example, remembering to bring a condom or to take birth control pills on time. There’s also the lovely way it feels to look into your partner’s eyes and to remember all the reasons you love them, to suddenly be reminded of how you felt when you first met or when you first kissed or how you felt when you got engaged or learned you would have a child together.

So I’m not advocating throwing out all of our memories. I’m just saying that perhaps a little forgetting would go a long way.

Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is a research scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, a widely read sex columnist and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure & Satisfaction. Follow her on Twitter@mysexprofessor.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at