the experience versus the memory

Nobel prize winner and psychologist extraordinaire Daniel Kahmeman talks about the distinction between the experiencing self versus the remembering self in the context of happiness – happy in your life (experience) versus happy about your life (remembering).

Of course I’m a sexuality person so I wonder how this relates to sexuality. Given the importance of self-reported “distress” in the diagnosis of sexual dysfunction (PDF of paper by Cynthia Graham, my clinical supervisor in grad school and one of my heroes), it’s likely that a difference between the experience and the memory would have significance for the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of sexual dysfunction (and indeed for the social construction of sexuality).

But I think it also has rather more playful implications. Allow me to speculate wildly for just a moment:

What if we had sex for the remembering self, rather than the experiencing self, like having a vacation for the remembering self rather than the experiencing self? Say the idea of having sex in a public bathroom turns you on, but you feel too nervous about someone walking in to get all that turned on while you’re doing it. Maybe the memory of that sex can fuel fantasies and erotic connection with the partner you shared it with, for future pleasure.

“We did that naughty thing together,” you can giggle as you eye your partner from a distance at a party. “We are the hotness.” And good sex that night becomes much more likely, as a consequence of the remembered sex.

Or what if quickies benefited from the bias of the remembering self? The sex that happens during quickies may often be kinda mediocre by some standard measures, given that a decent rule of thumb is that the longer it takes to get to orgasm, the more intense that orgasm will be. If it takes you 5 minutes, it just won’t be as explosive as an orgasm that builds up over hours – and for most women it won’t be enough time to have any orgasm at all unless you’ve spent a great deal of time beforehand getting very riled up indeed. (Not that orgasm is a good measure of the quality of sex, it’s just an example.)

But the remembering self looks back on that quickie remembers not just the experience, but also the context, the cultural meaning, the IDEA of the quickie, and makes it hotter.

How hot was that quickie? How aroused were you? How intense was that orgasm? How long did intercourse last?

This is all speculation. To my knowledge, no one has studied the relationship between the experience and the memory of sex. There are TONS of questions that need to be answered.

I’d ask ya’ll to tell me your experiences with experience v. memory, but of course all you’ve got now is the memory. We need SCIENCE! Get cracking.