In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks invented the phrase “Zone of Genius,” which refers to times when you are operating from your natural strengths and innate abilities.
I want to explain how you can harness your “Zone of Genius” during sex to have the most satisfying sex of your life.
First, let’s consider the way “Zone of Genius” differs from others states (“zones”) you may have experience with.
There are four zones Hendricks refers to in his work:
- The Zone of Incompetence: A task or skill you’re simply not proficient in—it doesn’t come easily, and you’ve no desire for it.
- The Zone of Competence: A task or skill you can do, but you’re no better at it than another person. It doesn’t light you up, but you have a basic working knowledge of the task.
- The Zone of Excellence: A task or skill you’re excellent at compared to most other people. You are good at it, which comes with a sense of accomplishment and proficiency. Yet, you lack the motivation to wholeheartedly pursue this task or skill.
- The Zone of Genius: A task or skill where your natural talents meet your honest internal motivation. There’s a sense of “flow” and enjoyment while using this task or skill. You can really relax into this task or skill, because of how well you know you can complete it.
I would categorise the first three under the banner of “meh”. The Zone of Incompetence and Zone of Competence are manifestations of things you do poorly or barely well. And The Zone of Excellence encompasses things you can do well but will undoubtedly lack the motivation to do in future.
The fourth is the only zone that’s genius, hence the name. It’s where you thrive because it’s the intersection of where your natural talents and authentic motivations meet.
But how do these zones translate to sex?
They relate to sexual boredom.
Wait, what? Yes. If you can learn this one thing, then you can use any sexual boredom you’re currently experiencing and turn it into your “zone of genius”.
Let me explain how.
Bec and Henry had a normal sexual relationship. Bec ruled out sexual behaviours that made her uncomfortable at the start of their relationship. Henry did the same.
They did this “screening process” without realising it by keeping note of each other’s subtle hesitations in bed and avoiding positions or styles that might make the other person feel anxious.
During sex, Bec and Henry would occasionally experience something that made them feel uneasy or embarrassed. They swiftly went to something else and didn’t attempt it again if that happened.
Yet, recently Bec was feeling bored, uninspired, even uninterested in sex. She didn’t know if this was normal but assumed something was probably wrong. Even though their current sex was feeling boring, there was something she wanted to try.
Bec wanted to experiment with oral sex, but she sensed that made Henry uncomfortable. She had brought the topic up several times in their early years together, but Henry didn’t seem keen. Actually, Bec never brought up the subject directly. She just hinted and hoped he would take a hint.
Like all couples, Bec and Henry had a sexual map. Some sexual things were acceptable to them, others were off-limits, and others still were way off-limits. Oral sex was currently in the off-limits area.
When people start their relationship, they can spontaneously experience things in their “zone of genius”. These are sexual behaviours you discover that you’re comfortable doing and your partner is comfortable receiving. These actions work well and lead you to want to do them again (and again).
Then, over time what was once in your lights-me-up-hot “Zone of Genius” falls back into the “Zone of Competence”. At the same time, boredom creeps in. Without something new to take its place as the shining star of genius in your sexual relationship, you soon feel the stagnancy of boredom.
This is what Bec was feeling. After six years together, there wasn’t much spark or novelty.
It may surprise you to hear that boredom develops due to the elimination process built into normal relationships. In other words: boredom is normal, but it’s not a life sentence. You can transform sexual boredom into your “zone of genius”.
As we’ve covered, you get to choose what makes you uncomfortable (which you subsequently mark as “off-limits”). Your spouse has the opportunity to do the same.
Then you’re left with what you can do together. Bec and Henry had sex in ways that made them feel at ease, and they avoided doing things that made them uncomfortable.
This is why sex in committed relationships is always “leftovers” or a cross-section of what you and your partner both want.
Like a Venn diagram, with one circle being everything you’re OK doing and the other circle being everything your partner is OK with, you’re left doing anything and everything in the space between the overlapping circles.
Giving Bec and Henry permission (or advice on how to) to try new things isn’t going to help. Why? This Venn diagram-style process is a tremendous force that operates quietly and unpercepably in relationships. And it’s not a simple as trivial suggestions like “communicate more” or “try a new position”.
Most of us are unaware of how normal sexual relationships evolve, but they operate elegantly. You and your partner try out all of the mutually acceptable sexual activities you’re both comfortable with, and as a result, over time they all lose their novelty.
When this novelty wears off, you experience it as boredom. Boredom is a natural part of sex, but it doesn’t indicate something wrong. It actually means something is going right (though it doesn’t feel like it at the time).
If we want to have the most satisfying sex of our lives, we need to expand the sexual acts inside the Venn diagram intersection.
In the past, where you’ve limited yourself to stay comfortable, you may need to allow yourself to become uncomfortable in the short-term, so you can, in the end, become very comfortable. 😉
After all, was there predictability when you took your first plunge towards kissing your lover or when you had sex together for the very first time? No, it was likely a bit anxious but also exciting!
Tolerating anxiety is necessary for great sex. And it’s essential to stay in your “zone of genius”.
To have the best sex of our lives, we must transform things we formerly felt were repulsive and offensive into what we now consider the perfect (nay, only) way to make love.
Understanding that people have sex up to their degree of discomfort will help you understand why normal couples struggle with sexual issues like boredom.
Moving ahead is always accompanied by a sense of uncertainty (which can feel very unsettling).
The best way to avoid sexual boredom is to branch out from your usual routine and try something new. The issue isn’t with this suggestion—it’s the fact that following through with this suggestion is a delicate operation.
Take Bec. Bec told Henry that he needed to accept her sexual preferences about oral sex. She wanted to do it! Yet, she was simultaneously insisting that Henry stick within her sexual limitations. Bec was happy to do something Henry was uncomfortable with, but she didn’t want the same treatment.
Said another way, she desired to stay comfortable while Henry was forced out of his comfort zone.
Committed relationships rarely offer you these kinds of choices.
No matter how sympathetic Henry was to Bec’s concerns, there was one thing he couldn’t change: loving connections don’t always make you feel safe and secure.
This flies in the face of many politically correct books about how you need to make your partner feel safe in marriage and sex.
And while there is a subjective experience of “it’s just us in the world” that feels like utter safety, this cannot be required of a sexual encounter. A sense of security is a byproduct of togetherness, not a requirement for it.
To experience what Bec wanted: to give and receive oral sex with Henry, she would need to forgo the requirement for security from Henry and own that this was something she wanted (with or without the guarantee of his approval).
To do this, she could use these four principles.
Bec could learn to be Confident & Unguarded™ while practising Calm-Connected Responding™ in sex and determine to react in an Emotionally Self-Controlled™ way to Henry. Using these three tools in and out of the bedroom while harnessing the “staying power” of Grit & Growth™ would train her to be comfortable with giving oral sex.
What do these tools mean?
✔ Calm-Connected Responding™ is the ability to not over or under-react when things become stressful—but to engage and reply in a productive way to your partner.
✔ Emotionally Self-Controlled™ is the ability to soothe yourself when you feel overwhelmed, blamed or threatened.
✔ Confident & Unguarded™ is the ability to be fully yourself, with others you deeply love and respect, without shrinking, hiding or moulding yourself into a person you think they will be more willing to accept.
✔ Grit & Growth™ is the ability to stay connected with your partner while tolerating the pain that’s part of growing.
You must learn to calm down, soothe your own sentiments, not overreact, and suffer discomfort to progress towards the hottest sex of your life.
The term “novelty” (the opposite of boredom) is about more than just new sexual acts or positions. It’s a chance to map out a distinct aspect of your partner’s sexual thoughts, such as what she finds erotic. And in turn, you’ll expose a previously concealed part of them. It’s about seeing and being seen.
Couples arguing over boredom are actually fighting about whether they should go through the pain of exposing something new of themselves.
It’s a bit like one partner says, “Can you be vulnerable, I don’t want to feel uncomfortable”. And the other retorts, “No, I’d feel more comfortable if you were vulnerable first. “
After all, it’s common for something sexually new to start off in the “Zone of Incompetence” (let’s be real!). This can be unsettling for both partners. And this is understandable. We all want to feel competent, capable and confident—especially while naked with someone we love. And especially while naked and trying to give pleasure to someone we love.
The problem is that if we cling to “always needing to be competent”, the sexual moves that used to be in our “zone of genius” slowly slide into our “zone of competence” with none of the vigour and tantalisation that they used to offer.
To cure boredom, you often have to do the opposite thing to what you expect.
In this case, you have to be okay being incompetent for a while, so you give yourself the opportunity to fly into “zone of genius”, where you discover a new groove of natural talent and honest internal motivation.
This is where my understanding and framework differs from the view Gay Hendricks offers up in his book. He describes the Zone of Genius as your innate talents and abilities (i.e. things effortlessly for you, seemingly from birth).
In contrast, I believe that as we grow, we can make things that were previously difficult or impossible for us effortless.
Bec chose to face up to what she was avoiding. Henry had just got out of the shower, and they had some time before their following commitment. She walked into the bathroom to shower and saw her moment, so she took it.
Moving towards Henry, Bec kissed him on the lips. They did this for a little while. Then, calming herself down as best she could, she started kissing lower and lower. Henry was uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do with himself, but he went with it to his credit.
She had a grounded “I am doing this” energy and used it. Focused and alert, Bec tuned into the power connecting herself and him. It was exciting, and she was proud of herself. They kept going until Henry was on the edge of climaxing.
Even though Bec was barely scrapping into the “Zone of Competence” for her skills giving oral sex, she was able to stick with the process and move into “Zone of Excellence” over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Henry found it hard to receive and was essentially in the “Zone of Incompetence” for receiving oral sex, let alone giving it. But he stuck with the process too. He was happy seeing Bec so delighted, and it encouraged him to surrender to the process more.
Within six months, the couple had used facing their discomforts to transform oral sex from “off-limits” (and offensive) to something that was an integral part of their sex life and was well within their “zone of genius”.
They knew there was more to discover, but luckily, now that they’d overcome one thing, they felt able to continue on this path towards the most delightful, satisfying sex of their lives.
Stephanie Renee Cluff