I recently heard about a great study. Researcher psychologist Bob Rosenthal took a group of average rats and put signs on their cages saying that some of the rats were very smart and some of the rats were dumb. He then assigned people to work with the rats, getting the rats to run a timed maze. So… some of the people believed that they had special smart rats and some believed that their rats were dumb. The effects were intense – the rats assigned to people who believed them to be smart ran the maze nearly twice as fast as the rats who had been labeled dumb.
Rosenthal’s speculation is that the people assigned to the rats touched them differently, more gently if they were proud of their smart little rat, and that affected the rats’ performance. So, if subtleties of our touch can affect rats this drastically – a species with little incentive to care what we think about them -imagine what it might do for our human partners.
What messages are you sending to your partner as you touch them in bed? What expectations can be transmitted through your skin? What patterns have you come to expect, so much so that your body unconsciously reacts in anticipation of them?
As a sex therapist I work with people as they make changes to the way they interact sexually, changing patterns and expectations. Often we have to address the subtle, even unconscious, ways we are reacting to one another. While it is freeing to imagine that anything can happen, that we don’t know what to expect, with longer term partners we rarely have that mindset. And so we co-create a dance, feeling each other’s lead through our bodies and responding, feeling and responding, expecting and responding. People who do partner-dancing know that if the person following begins to anticipate the lead’s move too early, it will throw off the rhythm. Moving together means responding in the moment, not forecasting the moments ahead.
So how can you drop expectation and truly see what you and your partner can co-create sexually? Approach touch and sexual play from a blank slate perspective. Imagine that you can ask for anything. Try not to brace for a YES or a NO. Expect fun and connection and pleasure and see what happens.
And, we know from our maze-running rat friends, that touch which broadcasts loving support, excitement, pride in your partner (what a smart rat, you are!) may bring out the best in them. Touch mindfully.