(Published in Sex Health Expo Magazine Fall issue)
Some of the couples I work with have been having sex that is more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional connection. There is a lot of strategizing, observing, fantasizing, worrying, critiquing, hoping… but not a lot of genuine expressing. I invite them to experiment with sexual play that consciously uses emotion to guide their sexual action, sharing with their partner how they feel in that moment.
In expressive sex, the focus is on using touch and body movements to communicate what you are feeling. The point of this is not actually that your partner reads you correctly, but that you feel more connected to your own experience. It actively makes sex a non-verbal way to connect and show a side of yourself. Approaching sex from this new perspective opens up a lot of potential and can allow a broader range of sexual moods and therefore, creative ways of interacting. Things get less boring and much more dynamic.
Most of us can easily imagine sex expressing love, lust, joy, curiosity, contentment. And yet, many of us hide even these feelings in sex. Maybe we are trying to play it cool or maybe allowing emotions to come through feels vulnerable. And maybe we have been taught that sex is a series of moves, like some vastly improved adult version of Twister, and we are too busy thinking about where to put our hand next, that we forget that we are emotional. But what a powerful medium sex provides to convey just how good you fucking feel! Sex can contain your overwhelm and turn it into ecstasy.
Try this : How might you touch your partner to express how drawn to them you are? Start at their face, use your fingertips as messengers to represent how attractive they are to you. Then bring your lips to their neck and shoulders; whisper secrets about how much you lust after them. Feeling love? Ask your partner to lay back and touch them all over, imagining that your hands are telling the story of all that you have shared together and how much they mean to you.
Positive emotional states are often the places that couples start with when they begin to explore sex as a vehicle for expressing emotion. But you may have also enjoyed sexual impulses that stemmed from pride, power, vulnerability, need, fear, even anger. Are those ok for you to express with your partner? Why or why not? And how about more subtle emotional states, like doubt, loneliness, apathy, regret, irritation? Can you imagine touching sexually in a way that expressed and contained sadness?
Does imagining some of these emotions being included in sex make you uncomfortable? Ask yourself honestly; what range of emotions you have felt with partners? Were there times that you wish you had recognized some emotions as a cue to stop? Many of us have had that experience. Are there some emotions that you would feel ok expressing but would not want a partner to be feeling when they are with you? Why do you think that is?
Thinking and talking about what emotions are welcome in sex for you can be a great practice. It introduces questions about your motivations to have sex and how you want your partners to feel about you when they engage with you sexually. If you want to go there, it can also open up conversations about old wounds and fears and clarify boundaries. Being up front about emotions and choosing to bring them into sex as a way to increase the intensity can also make it easier to manage emotions outside of sex.
Try this : Start with a difficult emotion that is not directed at or inspired by your partner today – For example, frustration from a run-of-the-mill stressful day. Tell your partner you are feeling #)*@! about the day, not them, and you are going to let some of that steam out during sex play. Then see what it is like to hide your face in your partner’s body and growl. Bite gently. Be more forceful, a bit more selfish. Keep connected to your partner; take breaks to ask, “Is this ok?” Breathe deeply and let it all out in a battle cry. Maybe you can ask them to put pressure on your arms or torso so that you can push back or struggle.
Drawing on our more challenging emotions is best done when we feel safe and trusting. It requires that we have emotional reserves and a strong foundation in self-regulation skills. Having in depth conversations about triggering words, moods, or memories is necessary to avoid unintentional pain. People who are informed in the BDSM community may talk about psychological edge play, when someone consciously chooses to set up their sex play in a way that pushes into their emotional edges. This play can be incredibly healing as participants find a way to feel self-efficacy and choice in previously scary scenarios. It is also, by design, risky. I believe that getting support and working on personal insight is key, so consider finding a sex therapist who is kink friendly and understands sexual health and diversity.
To be clear, sometimes it is a relief to separate from emotions and have sex that is clear and transcendent. Sex can provide a spiritual place, like meditation, or a pure physical release, like exercise when you are in the flow. And for many of us, we just want sex to be relaxing, thank you very much. That is totally okay.
But sexuality can also be a potent place to explore our emotions and our ability to share them with others. Expressive sex explicitly opens up creative touch, allows us to be emotional selves, to have moods and variations, to let the energy of feelings blend with the energy of sensations to create something possible new and unique each time you come together.