Would it surprise you to know that as a Sex Therapist I see fewer clients who are selfish lovers and many more that are too selfless? And by that I mean that they are paying attention to a heck of a lot of things, but not so much to themselves.
For most of us, when we learned about sex, we were pretty motivated to “be good” at it. And as we gathered information, in whatever haphazard way that happened for us – porn, schoolyard conversation, uncomfortable sex ed classes – we heard more and more voices telling us how to “be good at sex!”
As we looked further we learned ten ways to drive your man wild, and twelve seductive moves, and three ways to treat a clitoris right. We memorized complex positions and quick release knots to use when the moment was right. We learned to pay minute attention to the way we potentially looked, smelled, and what lighting is supposedly most flattering. We learned a lot. And some of it added to the fun, and some of it did not.
In striving to be good, we thought a lot about what are partner was feeling. We wondered what other people did in this situation, and was it better? We focused on the correct timing of our orgasm and worried if it took too long or not long enough. Is our partner having a good time?
In my therapy office I meet with a lot of people for whom sex has become a running commentary on what they should be doing – but they have lost track of their own pleasure. And this can cause difficulties, because our body wants to follow cues related to our pleasure during sex. Being distracted by thoughts or external cues exclusively can be a factor in limited arousal, erectile concerns, early ejaculation, difficulty reaching orgasm, and sexual pain.
But perhaps most importantly, pleasure is a great gift of sex. And you deserve to revel in it.
Focusing on your pleasure during sex is not selfish. Your partner most likely wants to enjoy sex WITH you, being thrilled together. Even when the focus of attention is on one person’s body, the pleasure their partner takes in touching, tasting, smelling, connecting, is a huge part of the turn on. Intimacy, spontaneity, creativity, rapture, all kinds of things you might want from your sex life are invited and enhanced by you paying attention to yourself.
You can build the awareness skills of both taking in the person you are with and also staying attuned to your own experience. Most of us come into adulthood better equipped to pay attention to external factors, having spent years sitting in chairs while our bodies wanted to move, listening to someone who demanded that we BE QUIET AND PAY ATTENTION to everything but our own impulses. But given a chance, we can all return to our innate ability to feel and listen to our bodies, our feeling states, our present realities.
Try this right now: Look around the room and find something that looks like it would be intriguing to touch, an inanimate object for now. (There might be other intriguing things but let’s keep this simple). Let yourself touch this object with curiosity. What do you feel? Do different parts of your hand feel it differently? Slow down and close your eyes, really focus only on what it is like for you to touch this object. Slower. Is it warm, cool, bumpy, smooth? There is nothing else you need to do right now. Follow your enjoyment. What do you like about it? What might it feel like against the skin of your neck? Or against your lips? Do you want to try?
Can you imagine touching a partner this way? Slowly, fully focused, inspired by your own fascination and sensitivity?
Can you imagine receiving touch this way? Curious, not trying to feel something but opening to possibility, savoring?
We are really talking about mindfulness here. Being present to the moment, to your internal and external sensations, to your reality. It is full participation, but without a goal that must be reached.
I can teach mindfulness skills, and do, but more poignantly, what I find what people need most is permission. It is ok, in fact it is good, to give attention to yourself. You don’t have to deny yourself to be giving to someone else.
As Mary Oliver writes, “You do not have to be good.” But do find what you love, find what delights you, find your embodied authenticity. You can let sex bring you closer to yourself.