A common confession/concern that people share with me at public talks, usually talking in a hushed voice, is this, “I had the most amazing lover but for various reasons we broke up. How do I enjoy sex now after being with someone so good? I feel like the best sex of my life is behind me”. I have a lot of compassion for the yearning and nostalgia in this question. Sexual memories can be incredibly precious and they also make us want more – more of that passion, pleasure, closeness, riskiness, whatever felt magical in that moment.
The sad thing is that we have been taught to think about sex this way, as something that someone does to us or for us. We have been given the idea of the “great lover” who can play our bodies like an instrument and single-handedly (although most likely utilizing both hands, I would guess) creating an amazing sex experience. Now I agree, there are people that have sexual presence, sexual intelligence and, yes, sexual skills. And it can be really fun to share a sexual experience with these people. However, a good sexual experience between two or more people is co-created. We have to give ourselves credit – “wow, I had this amazing sexual relationship and learned new things about my body and pleasure. Now I am sexually on fire and know what I want and desire”.
So how do you enjoy sex now, after the best sex ever? Not by recreating it or giving all the credit to your past lover. You enjoy sex now by owning your part in the pleasure you have. You introduce new partners to your body, saying what you like and what feels good. You let fantasies feed you and you also let yourself be open to new surprises. But most of all, you look to yourself – who were you when you were with that past partner? How did you interact – were you more free, more naughty, more trusting? Did you express yourself in a new way? Did you move differently? Did you stop critiquing and give yourself over to the experience since you believed they would make it good? Do those things now, with new lovers. Practice by yourself by remembering what it was like and focusing on you. Bring that side of you to sex in the future. It may take time to open up to new partners; it may even feel awkward at first. But the best sex you ever had was when you became the person having mindblowing sex. That person is still there. It was your creation, not a past lover’s.
The last week of April (April 29 – May 5 this year) we are being encouraged to honor National Screen-Free Week by turning off the TV and other screens at home or outside of work hours. This is being announced as a healthy choice for children, but the truth is going screen free for even one week may be the healthiest choice you can make for your relationship and your sex life. If nothing else, it will wake you up again to each other and to what it takes to spend time with an actual, alive, in the flesh other person.
It is just too easy to entertain ourselves with immediate constantly available screen content. Playing words with friends, or window shopping on Pinterest, checking online sports stats or stock changes, even posting to Facebook all require less from us in the moment than many other options for filling our time. At the end of a long day, we have learned to crave the anonymity and low stakes of turning to our computers, cell phones, and TVs. But that time spent staring into a screen is unlikely to feature in your end of life memory review. You are probably not going to reminisce with your long-term partner or friends about, “remember the hours we spent together, you beating your high score while I planned imaginary vacations…” Ah those were the days”.
For most of us, it is not that we actually enjoy our online time more than time doing other things. It is that we forget how to spend time more creatively as mindlessly turning to screen-time becomes more and more of a habit. Give yourself one week away from that easy distraction and you will need to engage yourself with the life around your differently. What might you do with several hours together in the evening, instead of the 15 minute you seem to have after catching up on 3 hours of TV? Maybe doing the same things you have been doing sexually and then finding you still have an hour before bedtime may be just the thing you need to try something new. Maybe you will let yourself be interrupted while cooking dinner by kisses or feel inspired to do a spontaneous slow dance after breakfast. Maybe you will just sit in the backyard and realize the tree next door is blooming and let yourself get just a bit bored so that you dig deeper to talk about things you haven’t shared in a long time. Maybe you will go out and strike up a conversation with someone new.
As a couples therapist, the thing most likely to make me feel a couple has little chance of improving their relationship is when they come back each week and tell me they didn’t make any time to be together without distrations. Our minds need time to slow down without outside stimulation to see who we are today. Our hearts need it too. Take next week to go screen-free. Turn your face towards each other, or to your self, rather than towards a screen and see what is there.
Set aside some time by yourself to reacquaint yourself with your body. This should take at least a half hour, maybe an hour. Take time to transition from your day, light a candle or take a shower, put on some slow music, take off your clothes and meet your self in bed. Lay back and relax in to the bed – you are going to take some time. Take some deep breaths and allow yourself to shift your focus to physical sensations. Feel the air in the room on your skin, your breath moving your chest and stomach, feel your body pressing into the bed underneath you. Now use your hands to touch yourself. Rather than going straight for your genitals or trying to feel something specific, start at the top of your forehead – yes, your forehead. Use your hands to explore the skin and terrain of your face. Focus on what you feel in your hands for awhile. Then focus on what you feel in your face. Go slowly. Move down to your neck and shoulders. Just slowly open to the sensations in your hands as they touch your body. Take your time. Then move down to your chest…side of your body…stomach. Keep returning your focus to what your skin and the dips and hills of your body feel under your hands. Let yourself experience your body from a new perspective, the perspective of your hands. This is not about how you look, keep your eyes closed so you can stay focused on sensation. Keep moving down your body, explore your hips….pelvis…. notice how your skin feels over your bones. Be curious about what parts of you are warm and what parts are cool. Keep exploring with your hands. Touch your genitals. Again keep the focus on what your hands feel, textures, heat, movement. Don’t stop exploring there, keep moving down your body…your thighs…knees… shins…. feet. Pay attention to each part of your body.
What was it like to approach your body in this way? How might it change your image of yourself if you focused more what your body is like to touch, rather than to look at? What words came to mind about your body when you explored it this way? Can you imagine bringing this kind of focused attention to masturbation or sex with a partner? Do you want to do this again? Great, your body is yours to explore again and again. Enjoy.
The other day I was sitting at a food stand waiting for my lunch, when a little boy came up to show me his superhero outfit. It was quite nice and so I appreciated it, watched him run up and down a ramp superhero fast. He let me know right away however that he was not a superhero, he was just a boy. Followed by, “I am a boy, not a girl”. His mom seemed a bit embarrassed about this and she said, almost apologetically, that she wasn’t sure why but he had been stating this lately – that he is a boy and not a girl.
As someone who has studied developmental psychology, I knew right away why he has been saying this lately and it is not necessarily that he had been getting any external pressure or flack about gender roles. He was probably about 4 or 5, exactly the age when our minds are rapidly figuring out how to be safe and competent in the world around us. One of the first ways it does this is to categorize. Our minds ability to put things into categories quickly is a critical survival mechanism, and one we share with animals although our categories go much wider. We need to remember quickly how to assess edible/not edible, friend/foe, safe/dangerous. As this little guy showed, we also assess for other categories, adult/child, superhero/regular human, girl/boy. So a focus on binary categories at pre-school age is very common. It is not a sign of future discrimination or rigid thinking. It is a way this little human is trying to protect himself, where do I fit in? What is expected of me? What can and can’t I do?
What is not normal or necessary is to expect ourselves to stay in this categorizing mindset. As we grow and develop we are able to expand containers of categories, add new and more complex options, and even to see and think outside these boxes all together. Even at 5 years old, children are able to grasp diversity within people and things. They can understand that the categories don’t always fit neatly, just as they can understand and are actively learning that the rules are different in different settings. They get exposed to people and things that contradict what they learned before and their definitions and options expand. The human mind is able to contain vast diversity, almost unlimited options – just as humanity does. So why are we so often relying on old containers that we could have outgrown in elementary school? Why are we still talking about people as though there are only two options for gender? Why is our language for the way we represent who we are still limited to “I am a boy, I am not a girl”? Why don’t we use the full limits of our minds more often?
So I appreciate the developmental place this little boy (self identified) was in. I see how we need to think this way for a period of time as we grow. But I also look forward to the time when he is able and encouraged to think outside those boxes. When he realizes he can define himself in any number of ways - maybe he needs to make up a new word to fully represent a gender or other aspects of who he is. I look forward to the time we all can do this. Who knows, maybe he will also figure out soon the ways in which he can be a superhero while also just a boy.