I got to go and see Natalie Goldberg speak recently. She is a teacher and artist who has linked creative writing into a Zen practice. Her guidance has been a gift to writers around the world who need to be reminded to just sit down and write, to release editing and judgment, and to actually observe the world around you and write what is present and real to you.
She said something about the concept of having a “practice” that really struck a bell inside of me. She said the Zen concept of having a practice is not about improving. You actually don’t sit down to practice to get better. It is not about striving to be at the next level. You practice because you committed to practice. She said – and this really shook me – you practice to just feel and be where you are NOW because you believe what you are doing is valuable in itself. I started thinking about all the things I had been encouraged to practice throughout my life and how it always seemed that the reason I was doing it was so that I would get better. And I thought about the pressure of that kind of practice and how it so often stopped me from really appreciating and settling in to what I was doing at the moment.
It is the American way to strive. We are a self-improvement minded (some could say obsessed) nation. We are rarely encouraged to do something just for fun anymore; things almost always have to include a reason why something is good for us. We are a country of people who deeply believe we can and should do better.
What does this have to do with sex? Well, I was thinking about this constant focus on doing better, doing more, reaching the next level and I realized this is something people do to their sexuality as well. If the expectation is that our sex lives – with one partner, multiple partners or ourselves - will get progressively hotter, more intense, with better performances each time, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. Even worse though, if we are focusing on taking it to some new level, we are often missing what is actually happening in the moment. “Practicing” so we can perform better can take us away from pleasure. Sometimes it could be helpful to just have the sex we are actually having in an awake and accepting frame of mind.
We are not taught to think in terms of “good enough” in America. And some of you are probably feeling a bit betrayed for me to even suggest that we not strive for better sex all of the time. To be clear, I think people’s sex lives can get more and more satisfying as we grow and I think we can try new things, learn new skills, and have more fun and more orgasms. I wouldn’t be in the field unless I believed in those things. However, I also believe that a lot of people are dismissing good sexual experiences because they think they should be having some other kind of sexual experience. And a lot of couples feel like they are failing because they haven’t tried something new lately. So how about this as an experiment – What if you approached sex and/or masturbation like a zen-practice just one time? Make a commitment to be present for it, to let go of trying to increase the velocity or intensity, to really try and be aware of where you are at that time. What if you engaged in sex this one time because you believe it is important and valuable, even if it never reaches some new level? What if you believed that the sexual experience, just as you are having it, had something valuable to show you?
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.
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.
Here is a link to a video I did for YourTango's Experts. In it, I talk about who is responsible for getting a partner to orgasm and how sharing the responsibility will make for a happier sexual relationship.
I hope you enjoy the video and share it with online friends !
“I will be arriving in Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t wash” – reportedly written by Napoleon to his lover, Josephine.
Scientists are beginning to believe that humans have sensory receptors in our noses, long recognized in other mammals, that allow us to get information about other people from odors we can’t consciously smell. This ability may affect our sexual choices through the detection of pheromones and other smells associated with health, virility, and more. Fascinating stuff!
We know that scent plays a strong role in influencing our brain. We are born with a strong survival mechanism that causes us to automatically be repelled by unpleasant odors. But our olfactory system sends all kinds of messages to our brain, connecting in large part to the limbic system – primitive structures in our brain that regulate arousal, pleasure and reward, and also long-term memory. If you have ever wondered how you can recognize the smell of your first crush’s laundry detergent on someone years later; this is why - the part of our brain that processes smells is combined with our long term memory storage.
Here’s another interesting aspect of scent’s influence on us, neuroscientists tell us that the sensory experiences of smell skip the thinking and reasoning part of the brain and go straight to the amygdala, which governs our physical responses to excitement and fear. So being exposed to a smell (or for some, just the recalled memory of a smell) can cause a physical response. So it’s true, you can become aroused just by smelling a smell related to a past sexual experience.
Studies focusing on pheromones in human and our sense of smell have found that women near ovulation are drawn to men’s scents who are genetically more compatible with them. Studies by researcher Karl Grammer have found that women find different men’s smells more or less appealing depending on the phase of their menstrual cycle and that men’s testosterone levels increased just by smelling women’s odors during ovulation. Again, remember these are odors that our conscious mind finds nearly undetectable!
For many people, the smell of their partner during sex and on their skin later is a wonderful part of sexual excitement. Maybe for you this is a turn on, maybe not, but it seems clear that your nose is influencing your sexual arousal in ways we are only beginning to understand. Let yourself be interested in what smells appeal to you and which do not. Take notice of smell during your next sexual experience and see if there are any ways you would like smell to be added to your sexual ambiance.
References from Rodgers, Joanne Ellison (2001) Sex : A natural history. Henry Holt and Co, LLC : New York, New York.
Check out my latest video for YourTango Experts on advice for women who worry because they can only orgasm when masturbating. Here is the link
Big news – elderly people still enjoy and want sex. And it is good for them. Last year researchers with Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care, made the long overdue statement in the Journal of Medical Ethics that nursing homes should not discourage residents from having sex. Does it surprise you that researchers need to even make this statement? Did you imagine that once you left your parents house, or the dorms, or got rid of roommates that you wouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to have sex in private? Think again.
As the US’s elderly population grows, there will be more and more people faced with the need for caregivers – either moving in with their grown children and families, having in-home care, or moving into residential care facilities. And few of these caregivers are prepared to support an elderly person’s sexuality. Issues of privacy are key. Can the elderly person ask for private time to masturbate? Can they invite a new sexual partner to the home? Do they have freedom to shower or do other self care tasks when they want to, can they ask for help with these tasks on their own schedule? Also issues of access and resources come into play for the elderly. If they can’t drive themselves to the store, who can they ask for help if they need to buy lube or condoms (In fact, the elderly are a growing risk population for HIV and a clear reminder to all of us that safe sex is an ongoing life concern, even when birth control is no longer needed). Even more importantly - would they or their caregivers be comfortable talking about these things with each other?
If you are currently in a young and healthy body, it may be easy to read this and think, “Old people are too tired or sore to want sex, or old people have put sex behind them”. You may be blind to the elderly as sexual beings. I encourage you to think differently about this issue. Sex fulfills many needs in us. Our desire to be desired and to receive physical affection and sexual release outlives many other desires in our life. It is, in many ways, ageless. Someday, if you live long enough, you may reach a point in which your independence starts to wane and you may rely on others for help with your daily living. How do you want to be treated? How do you want your body, your desires, your sexuality to be honored or acknowledged? And thinking of the elderly around you now, how can we do better in honoring them?
Interested in reading more about sex and aging? Follow the link to my article for YourTango on Preparing for a Sexy Old Age. http://www.yourtango.com/experts/melissa-fritchle/preparing-sexy-old-age-start-now
Synonyms for Wildness from online source dictionary,com:
1. undomesticated, untamed, unbroken; ferocious. 4. barbarian, savage. 5. tempestuous, stormy, frenzied, turbulent. 6. boisterous. 7. insane. 9. self-willed, riotous, unrestrained, wayward. 10. uncontrollable. 12. reckless, rash, extravagant, impracticable. 13. grotesque, bizarre, strange, fanciful. 14. unkempt.
I believe we humans have an innate need for wildness. Not the “wildness” associated with drunk 20-somethings taking their tops off for a new reality TV show, but the wildness of freedom from being civilized, the wildness of nature. Our bodies yearn to be unrestrained by stiff chairs, pinching clothes, and polite postures. Our voices fight to let loose yells and yips and deep throated sighs. We want to see things growing without cultivation from unlikely ground. Our senses crave full reign over us, to not have the mind be running the show. Our instincts are saying, let us lead.
But notice the many negative connotations to wildness listed above. There is a fear of what will happen if we are truly connected to wildness – we might become savage, reckless, rash, uncontrollable, even grotesque and strange. Oh dear. This privileging of the civilized has been around a long time now. We literally and figuratively build walls to keep up from the power of the natural world. And it really impacts our sex lives. Wildness is a source for our sexual desire and natural sexual expression. Have you tried having sex without letting yourself get “unkempt” (come on you know you have)? It’s not very fun. Sex doesn’t always have to be sweaty or loud and it certainly doesn’t have to feel uncontrollable, but having those potentials is a part of the aliveness of sex.
What does wildness mean to you? When do you feel most connected with the untamed parts of yourself? How can you let a little bit more of that show up for your sexuality?
What are you going as this Halloween? This time of year many of us experience a new sense of energy and excitement from planning a costume and then the performance of wearing it. Why can this feel like such a confidence booster? And why do we still look forward to it so much?
Costumes can give us a chance to literally try on a new personality. We walk differently, see the world though different eyes (or masks), we approach people differently – Because of this we feel things more intensely. The novelty of playing a new role opens us up to feeling our body in a new way. Maybe being limited by an awkward coat of armor doesn’t seem sexy on the surface but if it allows us to be more aware of how we move and to think more creatively about interacting with the world, that can feel sexy. Even within a giant pumpkin costume, you might be able to move with more freedom or stop worrying about looking stylish, which might open up a new way of being. Getting dressed or applying makeup causes us to look at ourselves with different criteria than we usually judge by and we may find something unexpected to like about ourselves. And most importantly, we interact with other people in new ways, shaking up old patterns that we have fallen into with each other.
Breaking out of our normal role brings an aliveness that feels good and it can awaken our sexuality. Depending on the character you are trying on, you may be more playful, assertive, silly, confidant, secretive or anything else. So how can you bring that energy to your sex life without waiting for a holiday? First I invite you to remember that anything you can do in costume, you can do in the bedroom –so long as your partner is on board. Maybe you already use role play and/or costumes as a part of your sexual play. But even if that doesn’t interest you, you can bring elements of a costume to your sexual self. Use your costumed persona this year as a way to strengthen a part of yourself – play at being more powerful, practice being silly, move like a goddess, act as though you have the power to cast a spell on someone. As you allow these parts to come out one night, you can allow them to come out other nights as well. This isn’t being fake or playing a part, it is expanding who you can be.
Sexuality can thrive on novelty and risk. Don’t reserve your risk taking for one night of the year. Commit to trying out new sides of yourself and to showing up in new ways with your partner often. You may be surprised at how well the risk pays off.