Mar 15, 2015
In my years as a practicing clinician, the same theme continues to present itself in my practice - the lack of feeling “connected” to the act of sex. Initially I took notice of it from couples in long term relationships. Sexuality authors often expound on our need for variety and how familiarity breeds contempt, but my instincts told me something else was going on.
I’ve spent over 20 years in the field of human sexuality, and have had the privilege to speak to a number of people - sex workers in legal brothels, actors in adult films, exotic dancers, street walkers, amsterdam based “window ladies of the night”, sugar babies..the list goes on and on, and encountered the same theme - sex lacked connection.
While all of the individuals reported in essence the same thing, for those in the commercial trade of sex it was particularly pronounced, accompanied by sexual dysfunction and either hypo- or hyper sexuality/compulsive sex outside of sex work.
I’ve spent time with sex “gurus”, tantra teachers, eastern philosophy practitioners, EFT healers, and partook in Orgasmic Meditation gatherings in order to find the answers to what became an ever increasing desire to answer this on going problem that presented itself in my work with others, but found that beyond their own sometimes myopic agenda, the same issue remained.
So I went back to the source - the individuals themselves, and asked 2 very simple question… “What would make you feel more connected to sex?” “How do you define connectedness?”
The first question seemed easier to answer - “Slow down”, “Not so focused on my genitals”, “Make time”, “Talk to me”, “Do something other than sex first”. People seemed to know what elements of connectedness they needed.
The second question drew blank stares, or tears, or sometimes anger - “I don’t know”, was one that I heard quite a lot, others more filled with resentment; “Well not how she/he does it” or even “I dunno Doc, that’s your job to tell me, right?”
The answer lie in the responses I got from question 2; I just hadn’t looked deeply enough.
It was - “I want to feel vulnerable with someone but am too afraid.” Now how about that for a paradox.
What was missing for these individuals was the ability to feel vulnerable with a partner. With my couples, time had simply taken it’s course..somewhere along the lines they got caught up in the little resentments and hurts that had happened along the way and had forgotten (if they ever had been able to was sometimes in question) how to be vulnerable with each other.
With sex workers, this was more pronounced, as vulnerability could spell disaster - sex work is dangerous in most parts of the world. Many sex workers reported needing to separate themselves emotionally to get the job done. Even for those in safe legal brothels or state supported cities, such as those in Europe, the work is more about the client and not about them and their needs. At some point, not all, but many sex workers disconnect from themselves.
So what was the next step in solving this problem? In my practice it was developing tools for my patients to use to give themselves permission to feel vulnerable - *with themselves*. This is often a point where they begin to shy away from therapy, as it brings up untapped pain - shame, guilt, and trauma that has not been dealt with.
For those who press on, they tend to find a great deal of relief in facing these hurts, owning them, and accepting they carry with them previously unknown occurrences of injury. No place are these injuries more frightening that in the realm of sexuality.
Vulnerabilities can be a source of strength, in fact, when we can hold them as our own and share them, with confidence, with an intimate parter. You may ask: “How can I have confidence about something that causes me to feel vulnerable?” That is an easy question to answer. What makes you feel vulnerable also makes you wonderfully, beautifully human. It’s a place where your facade, the one you carry with you to get through the day, is dropped, and the authentic you shines through.
The next step is being able to communicate these vulnerabilities to your parter during, at first, your normal sexual activities. Does his thrusting hurt at times? Have you told him? Do her teeth scrape your penis painfully but you don’t tell her because you don’t want to hurt her feelings? Sometimes gently whispering to your partner how you like to be pleased, or what works for you is a good start to those conversations.
But we need to delve deeper. Have you sat with your partner, quietly, and simply stared into her/his eyes? Can you lie together in stillness and observe each others breathing? Have you tried asking your partner to sit and allow you to run your fingertips over his/her skin, mapping the texture and feel of his/her body? Have you taken the time to observe how his penis grows in arousal, it’s shape, texture, color? Have you allowed your parter to look at your vulva, examine it, appreciate it’s unique folds, moisture and shades?
When I have asked this question, many shivered in discomfort, some grimaced, and some even commented “That’s too intimate, there’s no way I could do that.”
That’s when we get to the core of the issue: Fear. Fear of being wide open and laid bare before our partner. In that state, they have total control over our feelings, our body. Do we trust them with that power?
Whether or not someone is capable of such trust is beyond the scope of this article, and I will address it at a later date. The question I ask here is this: Do you trust yourself enough to be vulnerable and move past the fear of true intimacy?
For those that have moved past fear, I can report this: They describe a level of connectedness during sex that has reinvigorated them both in their relationships and their lives. The become alive again. Filled with a passion for living. Every sense is awakened and, for those who decide to, a lust for life develops, manifesting itself in the act of living every moment erotically.
There are far more intricacies to this than this post allows. I teach a series of classes on this topic from time to time at the Erotic Heritage Museum.
Intimacy, and sexual connectedness, need not be something elusive. Move beyond fear….the rewards are immeasurable.