I would never deny that certain inborn qualities or skills can make sex a lot better. It’s true that size does, generally, matter. But I really do believe that these things matter a hell of a lot less than open-hearted and open-minded attention to one’s partner. And that’s why I love this quotation from Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart.

The summer vacation of my freshman year in college, I took a random trip by myself around the Horuriku region, ran across a woman eight years older than me who was also traveling alone, and we spent one night together.

… She had a certain charm, which made it hard to figure out why she’d have any interest in someone like me — a quiet, skinny, eighteen-year-old college kid. Still, sitting across from me in the train, she seemed to enjoy our harmless banter. She laughed out loud a lot. And — atypically — I chattered away. We happened to get off at the same station, at Kanazawa. “Do you have a place to stay?” she asked me. No, I replied; I’d never made a hotel reservation in my life. I have a hotel room, she told me. You can stay if you’d like. “Don’t worry about it,” she went on, “it costs the same whether there’s one or two people.”

I was nervous the first time we made love, which made things awkward. I apologized to her.

“Aren’t we polite!” she said. “No need to apologize for every little thing.”

After her shower she threw on a bathrobe, grabbed two cold beers from the fridge, and handed one to me.

“Are you a good driver?” she asked.

“I just got my license, so I wouldn’t say so. Just average.”

She smiled. “Same with me. I think I’m pretty good, but my friends don’t agree. Which makes me average, too, I suppose. You must know a few people who think they’re great drivers, right?”

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

“And there must be some who aren’t very good.”

I nodded. She took a quiet sip of beer and gave it some thought.

“To a certain extent those kinds of things are inborn. Talent, you could call it. Some people are nimble; others are all thumbs …. Some people are quite attentive, and others aren’t. Right?”

Again I nodded.

“OK, consider this. Say you’re going to go on a long trip with someone by car. And the two of you will take turns driving. Which type of person would you choose? One who’s a good driver but inattentive, or an attentive person who’s not such a good driver?”

“Probably the second one,” I said.

“Me too,” she replied. “What we have here is very similar. Good or bad, nimble or clumsy — those aren’t important. What’s important is being attentive. Staying calm, being alert to things around you.”

“Alert?” I asked.

She just smiled and didn’t say anything.

A while later we made love a second time, and this time it was a smooth, congenial ride. Being alert — I think I was starting to get it. For the first time I saw how a woman reacts in the throes of passion.

The next morning after we ate breakfast together, we went our separate ways.