Thursday, March 22, 2007

Woman on Top: Closing the Feedback Loop

When I was on Tiffany Granath's show a few weeks ago, we took several questions from listeners who called in. A few of the topics lay at the very edge of the domain of physics as it applies to sex, but most were excellent questions that I was pretty comfortable dealing with.

One fellow in particular said that he and his wife have a good sex life, but she's only fully satisfied if she's on top when they make love. He was wondering why that is and what he could do to add some variety without neglecting her needs.

My guess (given the caveat that I was working with a minimum of data) was that he should take into account his wife's sexual feedback loop.

In physics, engineering, and other sciences, we often think of experimental systems as being open loops or closed loops.

An open loop system is one that has a control, which is also known as an input (think of a volume knob on your radio, or the handle on your water spigot), and an output (the radio volume or the amount of water flowing through your garden hose), but no feedback. That is, the person adjusting the radio volume is deaf and cannot hear when the sound level is correct, or the garden hose extends around a corner and you can't tell how much water is pouring out of it.

Alternatively, a closed system sends some information about the output back to the input. In other words, you turn the knob on the radio until the volume is correct, and then you either stop turning or turn it back a bit. By watching the spray coming from your sprinkler, you know whether you have turned the spigot handle as far as you need to in order to water your yard. In either case you're using information about the output to adjust the input.

Open loop systems work fine for lots of applications, and are particularly handy if you just want to turn something all the way up or entirely off. (In electronics, a common jargon for open loop amplifiers is to say that they "go to the rails," which means they can either put out the lowest voltage or the highest voltage that the power supply can handle, but they don't provide any intermediate voltages.)

If you need some reasonable amount of control over an output, you must have feedback. Sexual response can be considered one of nature's closed feedback loops. The input of of sensual contact leads to pleasurable signals passed through the nerves to the brain. In order to work well, information about the pleasurable signals have to make it back to adjust the sensual contact.

If you're masturbating, you don't need any help figuring it out - you just do what the feedback from your nerves tells you feels good. When you're making love with another person, feedback is a lot trickier. You can't share your partner's sensations directly, so you have to rely on secondary clues - by observing the way they're moving or the sounds they.remaking. The loop is more or less closed, but the feedback is relatively tenuous.

A woman who is on top during intercourse, however, can take advantage of her own strong sensory feedback to ensure that the right spot is being stimulated in the right way.

That is, it may not be the woman-on-top position itself that satisfied the caller's wife. It may instead be an issue of closing her feedback loop.

There are numerous ways for the caller and his wife to attempt to get the same result while making love in other positions. For one thing, he could work harder to interpret his wife's responses to his actions. Studying her movements or the sounds she makes during sex may strengthen the feedback enough to close the loop. Of course, it's important for the woman to broadcast her pleasure as much as possible as well. It can be very difficult to satisfy a woman who is too shy to communicate what she needs and enjoys.

Simply holding relatively still while she sets the pace may be enough to help the caller out. It's possible to accomplish this even in the traditional missionary position, if the man supports himself a bit as the woman thrusts her hips rhythmically. Placing a pillow under the woman's buttocks to raise her hips may make this easier to accomplish. It's worth experimenting with other sexual positions - any position that limits the man's motion while leaving his partner free to take charge will shift the focus and the feedback into the woman's control.

Another possibility is to encourage her help out by stimulating her clitoris or nipples to let her strengthen the sensory feedback loop herself, regardless of the sexual position they are using.

One advantage to focusing on your partner's feeback loop is that it often comes at the expense of your own feedback. That can help slow things down if you tend to finish sooner than your partner would like.

You'll get similar advice from traditional sex therapists and experts, but they usually talk about things like communication and sensitivity to your partner's needs. That's all good, but personally, I feel it's easier to think in terms of feedback loops. Of course, I'm just a physics nerd, and I tend to consider sex in terms of the little diagram you see here. If you click the picture, you can visit the Wikipedia entry that explains (in engineering jargon) the meaning of the components in the schematic.


Eric said...

Very nice. I study electrical engineering and we study positive and negative feedback quite a lot but I had never thought about it in relation to sex. That's what I enjoy about your blog so much; it puts a different perspective on sex which I can relate to from my scientific background that otherwise wouldn't have occurred to me.

Buzz Skyline said...

Thanks Eric.

That's my goal exactly. Those of us who study or work in engineering or the sciences learn lots of really cool and useful concepts. Whenever someone applies hard science concepts to soft science subjects, it seems like it brings a whole new perspective that can be very insightful.

For example, you should check out some of the stuff happening in econophysics these days. In fact, my posts about the "Physics Guide to Hooking up" (Part 1 and Part 2) are inspired by econophysics papers I've been reading lately.

Let me know if you think of any other ways engineering can help with sex. We need to pass this sort of information on.



coturnix said...

Great desription of a negative feedback loop, although copulation is usually regarded to be a positive feedback loop.

Buzz Skyline said...

Good point, Coturnix. Although I would argue that it's a bit more complicated in this case. We really use multiple feedback loops during sex.

Let's assume that you have a particular spot that you need stimulated. In order to stay locked on that place, you need guidance in the form of negative feedback. It's like having someone scratch an itch on your back - if they scratch too high you tell them to move down, if they scratch too low you tell them to move up.

I would argue that the problem the caller had was finding just the right spot and position. Once there, you need to start working on the positive feedback. The woman on top solution let's her take care of both. But negative feed back has to come first, I would say.

In retrospect, maybe it's a bit too complicated for a simple blog post to address.

Allan said...

I am an engineer too. Anywhere I agree that woman (my wife) is more satisfied when she is on top!

Of course, we tried diff positions. Sometimes I am the winner too!

Want to discover more? I got the tips online. Visit the link.

miltiathis said...

Feedback is also influenced by the flow of energy (orgone) between the lovers. Once you establish an initial enrgy link then the exact positioning doesn't matter; you feel a wave of energy which provides stronger and stronger signs that stimulate both lovers almost at the same time. They become one and feedback is instant!

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?