Sex with another person can be a gift both given and received. It can nourish us and refill us in multiple ways. At its best partnered sex can be a dance of give and take, pleasure experienced and shared, so that the giving and receiving becomes blurred. Sometimes we stop noting the many ways we give and receive when we are sexual together. As we near the fall solstice when our days and nights are balanced, it is an appropriate time to ask ourselves – how am I doing with balancing giving and receiving for myself?
There is a graciousness in giving that many of us have been taught; we show love by giving. But we can also show love by receiving and there is a graciousness in receiving that may feel less familiar. How do you open yourself to receiving from another person freely? Each of us has our own relationships with these states, and our own limits. Sex is a great window for seeing into our abilities to give and receive and the ways we stop ourselves from doing so.
Everyone of us has probably had times when we gave but were actually being more controlling than generous. And times when we appeared to be receiving but didn’t feel nourished or open at all. In sex we can perform either of these states without taking in the benefits of them. Some of us have guilt about laying back and being pleasured. We may have been told it is degrading to focus on pleasuring your partner without getting something for yourself. We have shared myths about gender and how men are supposed to perform or how women are supposed to perform that get in the way of letting ourselves freely take in or give back. You get to do both, sometimes at the same time.
And that’s the thing, only you will know what giving or receiving looks like or feels like for you. One person may be strictly dominant, only enjoying the active role, not desiring their partner to touch them at all. And that person may still be very much receiving, while also giving to their partner. She may receive empowerment, vicarious joy, her partner’s trust, love, intense sexual excitement and satisfaction…and more. The acts of giving and receiving are not about what sexual behaviors you are participating in or whose mouth is on whom. It is an awareness of the gifts of both states. So check in with yourself. Are you allowing yourself to give in ways that feel good and satisfying to you? Are you allowing yourself to receive in ways that refresh and fulfill you?
Is sex only sacred if it is connected to a religious or spiritual practice? Do I have to believe in transcendent states to have sacred sex? Do I have to light candles and pray? What does God or Goddess have to do with it? Is sacred sex available to me?
The word sacred has most often been used in terms of religious or spiritual value. And forms of sacred sex are often taught in connection with a specific practice, such as Tantra which is from of Hinduism. But the definition of Sacred includes anything that is regarded with reverence and protected. It can also be defined as anything that is approached with dedication and intention. So anything can be made sacred. And anyone can have sex that is sacred to them, without religious or spiritual framework making it so.
How might you make sex sacred for you? *By treating sex as an important and valued part of your life and self *By dedicating time to have sex, excluding outside distractions and interferences and creating space to focus. *By clarifying your intentions for being sexual, whether with yourself or partnered. What is it you seek to offer? What is it you seek to receive? What do you want from sex today? *By keeping your intentions in mind so that you act from them *By being aware, of sensations, feelings, your partner, your desires and giving all of these reverence by allowing them to be fully experienced *By seeing sex as more than a physical act. Perhaps for you it is also a way to learn about yourself, a way to get grounded and relaxed, a way to solidify your bond or express love, a way to express yourself…
Sacred Sex is available to any of us, if that is what you desire. Some sacred sex is seen as a path to enlightenment. But perhaps any of us can be enlightened; the question is what do you want shed light on? What do you want to better understand? Experiencing any element of life in a sacred way is a mindset that has foundations in gratitude, awareness, curiosity, and open discovery. All great things to bring to sexual exploration. See it as sacred or as profane, sexuality has so much to offer us.
There is a poem full of longing by Stanley Kunitz that ends with “Darling, do you remember the man you married? Touch me, remind me who I am.” The poem expresses a moment of exile from the self, those times in our lives when we have changed or are changing in ways uncomfortable and seeded with grief. And then it ends with this hope, the potential of love and touch and sexuality to bring us back to some foundations of who we are and the willingness to let someone else see a side of us that feels elusive.
One of my hobbies is photography and lately I have been inspired by nudes. This has invited me to ask myself, what is it that I am trying to capture with nudes that is different than photos of clothed models? I think some of the answer is in what this poem expresses. When we can shed clothes, we shed expectations of identity, those external cues about who we are supposed to be or cannot be anymore or have become. We become more vulnerable, sure. But there is also a freedom. When I am gifted with the opportunity to work with models who will be nude, I feel like I get to work with a Human Being, rather than with a fixed identity or a part of who they are. Clothes cover but they also limit. Being naked, the person is more of a mystery and I am drawn to pay attention to each gesture, each expression, each interaction to let them show their self to me.
So one of the potentials that lies in sexuality with a partner, long term or not, is the chance to shed external rules and roles and to show up naked. How might you allow yourself to have sex in a way that reminded you of who you are at the core? Touch can pull us back into the simplest, and yet profound, information source about our self that we have – our body. With someone who has known and loved you, touch can convey a memory or contain a history of you that is still there for you to draw on. And how could you approach sexual engagement with a partner with the intention to remind them of their incredible humanness? How could you honor their nakedness with you by freeing them from being a certain way or a certain person?
This poem reminds me of the availability of the present moment, of joining with someone else to be human in the midst of all kinds of noise encouraging us to be something more limited. As we face loss and transitions and endings of all kinds, sexuality can be a place to return to our self. Sex itself will change too, sometimes feeling unrecognizable. But if we let our self open to touch maybe we can find relief from our private disappointments and insecurities and doubts for a time. How can we let sex remind us to let go of all the things we don’t have to use to define ourselves? What distractions to our Self can we shed as we shed our clothes? What if sex is a place to celebrate our mystery and also our simplicity?
Do you seek your self when you are having sex? What if you did?
Do you feel like you know yourself, really know the internal workings of who you are and how you engage with world the way you do? How about when it comes to your sexuality? Do you feel like you are aware of the different parts at play inside of you? Are you ever curious about why you desire what you desire or how your fantasies can feed your sexual life? Do you wonder about your body and its responses? Are you ever confused about conflicting beliefs or urges? Do you have things you might like to see change or transform in your sex life?
When was the last time you really explored your sexuality? Often we get an influx of information, usually somewhere around junior high, that we rapidly adapt to, feeling like we have to perform sexual know-how so we don’t look foolish or naïve. We start from a place of feeling like we know nothing, so we stop listening to ourselves. From there we bumble along through our early sexual experiences, searching for external cues and crucial information that will make us acceptable sex partners. Some of us might have looked to magazines, porn, seemingly experienced friends, maybe even some sex-ed videos or classes. We keep trying to find the perfect performance tips, learn to touch spot A, then B, then C, while desperately trying to keep things from becoming routine. Society tells us there is an answer out there, if you just listen to the right person.
But the sexual answers for you aren’t out there. And the external searching for those answers leaves many of us feeling dissatisfied, more confused, and alienated. The place you really need to be looking for sexual answers is inside yourself. Let’s be clear, the longest running sexual relationship you are going to have is with yourself. Shouldn’t you get to know that sexual partner, the one who is present for every sexual experience you have? Can you imagine what might happen if you opened up the possibilities within yourself, if you became fascinated with the sexual person you are, if you became fully awake to this part of yourself? This will feed your sex life more than any external tips or role models.
This is excerpted from The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook, by Melissa Fritchle, Sex Therapist& Educator --to be published in Fall 2014. Almost here...
Don't abstain for Aunt Flo's sake
Put two things that people rarely talk openly about together – sex and menstruation – and what do you get? A lot of myths, exaggerations, unexamined worries, and questions..and a lot of people not talking about what they are doing. Despite old cultural taboos about the nastiness of menstrual blood, a woman having her period is perfectly viable and healthy sexual partner. Some women suffer considerably while menstruating, for others it is a mild annoyance and they would be happy to engage in sex play during their bleeding time. An overview of all studies done on sexual desire and sexual activity levels and menstrual cycles (up to 1980) found mostly variations. Some studies found peaks at mid-cycle, some pre-menstrually, some during menstruation, post menstruation. (Schreiner-Engel, 1980). So once again, everyone is different. If you or your partner are one of the ones who feel desire during her period, not to worry, you get a thumbs up for all kinds of play.
Not only is sex during menstruation not bad for you, it may have some benefits. Orgasm can be a great way to relieve menstrual cramps and headaches, so that can be a good reason to invite a partner to play with you even while bleeding. Of course is you are feeling shy, orgasms from masturbation work just as well. A really interesting study (Meaddough et al, 2002) found that women who had sex and orgasms during their menstruation were less likely to develop endometriosis than women who rarely had sex during their period. This may have something to do with the uterus’ role during orgasm. Uterine contractions that happen during orgasm actually change direction based on the phase of the menstrual cycle. This is amazing to me. Mid-cycle when a woman is most fertile the uterine contractions pull semen up towards the uterus. But during menstruation the contractions serve to expel material out of the vagina. This can also cause your period to last fewer days as the blood gets expelled more quickly. I find this fascinating fact out in Mary Roach’s Bonk.
Fresh menstrual blood is a normal body fluid and is not going to hurt you. It is fine to get it on thighs, penises, hands, etc. It is even fine to engage in oral sex with someone who is menstruating. Of course, if the woman menstruating is carrying an STD or HIV her menstrual blood can transmit this. So practice safer sex, as always. Otherwise, your main concern is messiness. You can shower first, make gently wiping each other down with warm washcloths part of the play, have sex in the shower (use lube!), or just put down towels or old sheets and clean up after. But there is no need to be afraid of your body or your body’s natural cycles. If you feel desire and you want to act on it, go for it.
These muscles could use a workout
I am writing in praise of Kegels, the pelvic floor “exercises” that can improve just about anyone’s sex life. When we think of our sexual body parts, mostly people think of the penis, vagina, vulva. But in actuality our genitals are surrounded and supported by the very important pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles contract as a part of orgasm in both men and women. Strong contractions of these muscles can be felt by partners if you are engaging in penetrative sex and a taut vaginal canal can improve sensation for both people involved. Men who want to have multiple orgasms train themselves to contract their pelvic floor muscles on command. And people say that their orgasms become more intense as they strengthen these muscles.
Like in other areas of the body, muscles that are too tense limit us and limit sensation, muscles that are too weak limit our control and movement and, in the case of pelvic floor muscles, limit our orgasmic ability. If a muscle stays weak for too long it can atrophy. But, again as with other muscles in our body, we can always train the muscles to make them healthier. What we want is a balanced healthy set of muscles that we feel we have some control of and connection to. Note that balance includes being able to relax these muscles as well. Sometimes chronic tension in the pelvic floor muscles can contribute to sexual pain and learning to release the muscles brings relief.
So how do we do Kegels? The great thing is you can do them anytime, anywhere. No one will notice. One way people can get familiar with these muscles is to try and stop your stream of urine. You will instinctually use your pelvic floor muscles to clamp down on the flow. That isn’t am especially fun way to practice, but try it if you feel unsure about how to access these muscles. To practice Kegels, you think about the floor of your pelvis – the area between the vaginal open and the anus or between the scrotum and the anus – and imagine pulling that area upward into your body. It is a small movement. Try doing several small pulses and then hold the contraction for a longer time. As you get more control you can play with contracting more to the front of your body, then more to the back or contracting in time to music. Always remember the release portion too though. And ideally you want to not use your buttocks or thigh muscles to do this, so work on keeping those areas of your body relaxed.
Still wondering if you are doing it right? You can see the muscles contract. Those of you with a vulva will need a handmirror or you can insert a finger and feel the muscles contract if they are strong enough. Those of you with a penis can make the penis twitch, easier to see with an erection, or you can insert a finger into your rectum to feel a contraction. Keep trying, you will get it.
Each time you do a Kegel, contract and release, a rush of blood flows into the tissue. This will keep the tissue healthy and in women it will also increase lubrication, so Kegels are also a great way to warm your body up for sex. Fair warning, doing Kegels will increase your sex drive. They can be a great way to use commuting time but you may arrive at your destination with sex on your mind. Enjoy.
There is a lot available to you at your local sex toy store nowadays. Lots of items that will enhance your self pleasuring time and lots that can be added to play with partners. People imagine that these fun little items will increase physical pleasure, up the naughtiness factor, add a fun fantasy component. But what they don’t often think is that these toys can increase the intimacy factor, but they can do that too.
People who take the risk to add some accessories to their sex play build intimacy with each other because of the newness. Couple’s who take a trip to Pure Pleasure together are suddenly talking about sex more explicitly. They are negotiating, “no way that is way too intimidating!...but this looks fun”. When they bring an item home, they know this is new so they don’t have to be experts about it. Now they may have sexual interaction that includes giggling and needing to stop and re-adjust positions and maybe someone saying, “This isn’t really working for me”. The fact that toys can open up that dialogue is great. The fact that they can be beginner’s again is great.
So I see part of the gift of sex toys to be the gift of awkwardness. I think getting comfortable with awkwardness is great, since learning something new is often awkward. Couples who try to avoid feeling uncomfortable at all costs, often end up feeling bored instead. Intimacy builds from experiences of sharing a moment, however flawed or blissful or vulnerable, not from performing without a hitch. So maybe sex toys aren’t your thing. Can you invite a sense of trying something new to your sex play? Can you embrace a little awkwardness as a sign that things are fresh and growing? What will you use as inspiration?
One of those sex myths out there that are holding people back from having better sex is a simple one – the belief that lube is for old people. I get a lot of people, of the younger variety, who look at me blankly when I mention using lube as part of their sex play. I can almost hear their thought process, “Isn’t that for post menopausal women’s sex?” No, adding lube to your sexual tool kit can benefit a lot of people.
Lube is for anyone who wants to have a lot of sex at one time or sex that lasts long time. It is for people who want to have quickies. It is for people who want to have sex when they are feeling a bit stressed and their body may be slower to respond. It is for people who want to use toys as part of their sex play or include parts of their body that don’t self lubricate. Lube is for people who chose to use condoms or other barrier methods for safe sex. Lube is for anyone who wants to have genital sex while using antihistamines, blood pressure medications, or many other varieties of medications people commonly take that impact natural lubrication. Lube is for people who want to add some new flavor to their oral sex. Lube is for people who want to play in wet environments like showers, hot tubs, heavy rain storms. Lube is for anyone who likes the sensation of slippery.
So lube is pretty sexy stuff. And now there are so many types, flavored, organic, kinds that heat up, kinds designed for use with toys or for anal sex… It’s a good thing to have in your night stand. So go to your local sex friendly store and see what is available to you. Soon you may write your own ode to lube.
Ah the forgotten nipple – so important in the early teenage years of sexual exploration but overlooked once penetration comes in to the picture. Don’t let this happen to you. I encourage you to not forget that nipples have serious pleasure potential. Include them in your sexual play.
Nipples may not be the most effusive body part or the most dramatic, but they are often asking for attention. Both men and women’s nipples are sensitive and responsive erogenous zones. Everyone’s nipples are different; actually they are like fingerprints, each unique. So the type of stimulation that feels good will vary a lot. Some people like a gentle touch, some people are excited by fairly rough play with their nipples. Nipples are more sensitive when they are hard, but erect nipples occur for several reasons so they are not necessarily a sign of sexual arousal.
Studies suggest that women’s nipples are more enervated, and therefore more sensitive, than men’s. A 2011 MRI study found that when women’s nipples were self –stimulated it lit up the area of their brain associated with genital sensation, (Komisaruk, B. R., Wise, N., Frangos, E., Liu, W.-C., Allen, K. and Brody, S), giving scientific background for many women’s reports that they orgasm more easily when their nipples are being touched. Many women can achieve orgasm from nipple stimulation alone. Women’s nipple sensitivity is also very affected by hormonal fluctuations throughout the month, so they are great teachers for us in the need to vary the way we approach our partner’s bodies and our own. What feels great today may not do it for you tomorrow, best to have some variety in your approach.
So touch them with a feather, your lips, your tongue, fingers or the tines of a comb. Touch your partners when you are together, touch you own nipples when you masturbate. Just don’t ignore them!
As a kink-friendly therapist I often get clients who come in kind of wide-eyed and shy who say, “I am into something kinky”. The underlying questions often attached to this is, “Does this have to change who I am/how I see myself? Are my relationship going to change? What does this mean about me?” As though we are not all some kind of shade of kinky. But I think we are.
Here’s the thing. It may seem like kinky is some category we slip into when we pass an invisible line in the bedsheets (or the costume store or phone line or backseat of the car…) But really most kinky behaviors have really mild forms that appeal to a lot of people. Where we draw a line and say something has slipped over into kinky now is completely subjective to the point of irrelevance. Who gets to decide where the kink line is? Is it going to be another of those, “kink is anything I don’t want to do” situations?
Have you ever included a blindfold in your sex life? Maybe you are a little bit into sensory deprivation, which is an element of some BDSM. Ever had sex in your car in a dark parking lot for fun? Maybe you are just a little bit into exhibitionism. Ever included whip cream or chocolate syrup in your sexual play? Maybe you are slightly into messy fun. Ever gotten turned on while watching a sex scene in a movie? Maybe you are a tiny bit of a voyeur. These are not scary suggestions. If we imagine kink as a spectrum where there is a range of less extreme and more extreme behaviors, we can see that we are all not so different from each other after all. The roots of these desires are in a lot of us. We each get to decide how far we each want to take it, what is the range of your turn-on before it becomes a turn-off. Kink is not a scary abyss that we fall off of, it is a spectrum of play and possibility. And where you land can mean about you whatever you decide it means.
If kinky is an identity that you want to embrace – go for it. There is a lot of empowerment to be had there and a lot of de-shaming, de-stigmatizing that you can do by claiming kinky as a part of your self. But let’s all be clear on some rules, we are all on the same spectrum and no one gets to set the line for someone else.