I remember being on a massage table with my teacher digging into the incredibly sensitive muscles underneath my scapula. Sharp sensation, tempting to hold my breath, sweat actually breaking out on my face. I learned that for this deep tissue work I liked to place one hand on his arm, tracking him, connecting, not feeling as though I was floating alone in the intense sensation. Knowing that I could squeeze or say stop at any moment and he would stop; I was able to ride the pain using my breath and relaxing other parts of my body without fear. My clinical massage practice, giving and receiving, was not sexual but it did give me insight into sex and intense sensation.
Intensity can be incredibly frightening and overwhelming. It can also be invigorating and rush inducing. Some of us naturally may enjoy it more than others. But I think all of us can learn from moments when intensity is separated from fear. On the massage table for me, I found how important it was to know I had control – not over the quality of the sensation itself but over my own boundaries and edges. I trusted the person touching me to listen to me, to be kind, and to deeply care about my feelings and body. I felt cared for in the midst of saying yes to painful stimulation. And so it wasn’t scary to me; it was intense. And that felt welcome.
I also remember being tossed in river currents after our raft had overturned riding the rapids on the Nile. Coming up sputtering, eyes obscured by water, trying to get my feet up and take a breath while my mouth was above the current. One of our guides expertly paddling his solo kayak about 5 feet away from me, ready to respond if I was scared or rattled. “Are you OK?” Laughing, blowing out water, “Hell, yes!” Exhilarated and trusting, myself, my guide, the river, my capacity to ride it all.
Having someone there to ask, “are you ok?” matters. Being able to be pulled out if necessary matters. Being allowed to be scared or exhausted or simply done matters. Within that container, we can find out own flexibility, how to stretch into those previously unexplored edges, how to breath and open with curiosity to sensation. Riding intensity requires attention, focus, and honesty with our self.
The subtle and tender thing about intensity is that what we find intense is unique for each of us, and changes at different times in our lives. Strong emotions, strong physical sensations, new risks. Only you can assess what is intense for you, and where the line crosses into too much. Even the most sensitive of us cannot fully know from the outside the intensity level for someone else.
For you, at this point in your life, intensity may come from the peaking crest of an orgasm or from looking into the eyes of a partner who sees you. It may come from the bite of nipple clamps or the bone throb of a flogger. It may come from watching a partner leaning in to someone else’s mouth or from being seen naked in the daylight. New intensities may present themselves in humbling moments, as you move hesitantly in case your back seizes up again or you let your partner know an erection is not happening for you tonight.
And sometimes we have more capacity and appetite for intensity, sometimes none at all. There is nothing wrong with allowing yourself to shift. Having a wide range of sensations to play with is a great gift of the body. I invite you to recognize when you are dancing with intensity, whatever the stimulus, so that you can decide what you need to enjoy the ride. The more intensity the more you will need to stay present to yourself, each second unfolding with you aware and responding. Ask your partner to give you the time and space to stay with your own sensation, being responsive as you tenderly and bravely face something powerful and the power it draws up in you.