Keeping it neat between the sheets

Great sex. If you’ve been sexually active for any period of time beyond your first time, hopefully you’ve had it. Precise definitions vary, but everyone seems to agree that the main qualifier is that you know you’ve had it. The continuum of sex is part of the reason we have so many differing words for it — no one’s going to confuse “making love” with a colorful expletive, are they? That’s not to say, however, that both can’t be utterly fabulous.

Cosmo and its sexploitative ilk love to trumpet the formula to great sex. Books have been written about it, numerous potions, herbs, remedies and machines are on the market to stimulate it, and whole episodes of certain racy HBO comedies have been dedicated to finding it, as if it’s hidden under a manhole cover somewhere in downtown Manhattan. The truth, however, is a bit more subversive.

The “secret” to great sex isn’t something that can bottled and bought off the Internet. It’s not really tangible — and moreover, it’s not even really a secret. Good sex — sex that is enjoyable, hot and satisfying both mentally and physically — is a mindset that you unlock in yourself.

Here are some tips that will work for anyone, anywhere, in any sort of sexual liaison (and if you’re hell- bent on giving away your money, I accept cash, check, and most major credit cards). Call them Steph’s Steps for Stupendous Sex.

1. Love thyself: Victoria’s Secret’s last ad campaign asked “What is sexy?” Answer: You are. And the more you think it, the more your partner will because nothing is hotter than confidence. Clean underwear never hurts, but the more comfortable you are with yourself — from the assets and flaws of your naked body to your boundaries, turn-ons/offs, expectations and experiences — the more likely you are to know what you want from your sex life and how to make it happen.

2. Know your partner: And not just their first name. While some people consider one-night stands to be exhilarating every now and then, I’m hard-pressed to believe that they’d rank consistently on anyone’s top-ten list. It’s just not really possible to communicate — be it about condoms or who’s going to buy breakfast the next morning — with someone you’ve just met. Plus, the risks of getting intimate with a complete (or even semi) stranger should be completely apparent. Don’t you listen to urban legends?

3. Be safe: As if I had to tell you.

4. Lighten up: Sex is serious business — we all know that. That said, sex can be awkward, clumsy and downright humorous. The simple dynamics of two bodies colliding are just not what you see on TV. If it’s your first time with a new partner, definitely come armed with a sense of humor — and don’t think you steadies are exempt. All that stuff that looks so hot in the Kama Sutra tends to translate into arm-and-leg gumbo in actuality — and let’s agree to no longer ignore the fact of life that is funny bodily noises. They happen to everyone. Assuming you’ve already covered your contraceptive bases (and I know you have, right?), you shouldn’t get frantic about sex, because it’s pointless. Relax and have fun.

5. Don’t fixate on “O”: One of society’s biggest sexual fallacies is its fixation on orgasms. Read any smutty bodice-ripper for an example: Two people have spectacular vaginal intercourse (always in the guy-on-top missionary position) and not only does the woman “come” from this, but she achieves it in perfect unison with her studmuffin as they melt in post-coital bliss. Wipe your brow and get a reality check. Try to have a synchronized orgasm. And better yet, try it with no stimulation other than intercourse with someone you’ve never had sex with before. My money says you’ll come up (no pun intended) disappointed. The majority of women need major time and commitment to get off, but I assure you that no one’s having the big one, male or female, if they’re anxious about it. Good sex isn’t a race to the finish line — it’s a meandering course to explore, and it’s the journey — not the conclusion — that counts.