Friday, September 21, 2012

Sexuality as a Spiritual Practice (plus Five Sex Tips for Men About Women)

From Dr. Marilyn Mitchell's Heart and Soul Healing blog at Psychology Today, here is an article on making sexuality a spiritual experience or practice. As an added bonus, guys, I'm also including Laurie Watson's post on sex tips for men about women, from her Psychology Today blog, Married and Still Doing It.


Sex is a common way that people connect with their spiritual selves

Believe it or not, sex is one of the most common ways that people connect with their spiritual selves. Our deepest desire and motivation as human beings is to connect with our expansive spirit. We long for experiences that are uplifting, pleasurable, expansive, and that bring life force (spirit) into our otherwise mundane existence. We feel most alive when this life force is flowing through us. 

Not only do we enjoy or even crave this connection to life force, it is vital to our health. Every illness, injury, depression, anxiety or health concern stems from a diminishment or blockage of the flow of life in some way. In working with patients, it is important to help them not only on the physical level, but on the mental and energetic/spiritual levels as well in order to have optimal recovery and health.

In our culture we have been taught to identify with our minds, and what they say to us. When we listen to our minds only, we believe that the key to life and happiness is following the rules, working hard, making money, and staying safe. When our minds run the show, we can experience worry, anxiety and boredom, and may block our ability to connect with our spiritual self. Pleasurable and sensual experiences are outside the boundaries of the mind, and are key in connecting with vitality and life force.

We seek this connection to our energy/ spirit/ life force in various ways, healthy and unhealthy. The use of alcohol, drugs, smoking, or even a daily café latte represent attempts to loosen the mind, and have a sensual experience, but don’t lead us to the connection we seek. Many people will directly pursue spiritual practices that connect them with their expanded self. Meditation, yoga, prayer, and energy healing all have the potential to open the door to connection with something greater.

And then there is sex.

During a healthy sexual encounter, the world falls away, thought are suspended, and pleasurable energy connects heart, body, and spirit. Sexual energy provides a complete experience of body/ spirit merger and is possibly the most accessible avenue to spiritual connection for most people.

It is interesting that spiritual practices such as chakra- opening meditations (e.g. Dolphin Breath) and some yoga practices connect life force through the body and energy field in a way that is experienced as orgasmic pleasure. Certain religious ecstatic experiences are experienced as orgasmic.

Identifying sexuality as a spiritual practice tends to run counter to our cultural conditioning. Sex in our culture tends to be a secret matter, and most people carry some baggage with them about sex from conflicting messages they have received. 

Typically, young people who are awakening sexually are viewed as “going through that phase” and we expect that as they mature, the interest and preoccupation with sex will lessen as they put their minds and energies to “more important” life matters. Sexuality does tend to wane through life for most people to the point that in midlife, sexuality becomes a major issue, overt or buried – hardly a source of spiritual connection. 

What if we were to re-identify sex as a healthy, vibrant, important part of life, and celebrate it as an avenue for spiritual practice that can be integrated into our ongoing lives? What would unfold if we were to examine our sexual lives and recreate something that is nurturing and vibrant? Consider opening to sexuality with a new mindset.

* * * * * * *
How to get her interested and keep her coming back for more 
I asked my husband what men would like to hear about. He responded that men wanted to know the bra trick and probably how to get her interested and how to make it good for her—they wanted someone with a manual to share the important secrets. Here are five tips to help.

1. Romance opens her heart and eventually her legs.

When you think about a Thanksgiving feast, you probably think about snitching crisp turkey skin right off the bird straight out the oven, creamy mashed potatoes dripping with gravy, luscious spicy pumpkin pie mounded with whipped cream, and eating so much you have to loosen the belt. 

Chances are your wife has already started to plan that delicious menu. She likes to eat, too. But she’s also thinking about her guest list — how to keep Aunt Suzie from dominating poor nephew Allen. She’s wondering about which single woman she can invite to the growing table that might make a match for her single brother. Pottery Barn catalogs are being poured over as she plans her own table settings. This year’s centerpiece will be the piece de resistance. Candles have already made the shopping list so everything will be perfect. 

My point is while you may be thinking about eating, your wife is thinking about the whole ritual of the day, the romance of the gathering—connection, beauty, and light. You’ve heard it a million times: be romantic. It's tired advice. Tired but true. But you don’t know why anyone would bother with the trimmings when there’s a feast ahead; doesn’t matter to you if it’s on china or a paper plate.

Women like to feel deeply connected before they turn on sexually. The setting, the build-up, the relationship all work together to make the moment work for her. These things do matter to her.

Women complain to me in therapy that their husbands never call when they’re at work. Right, I tell them as I defend you. That’s because he’s thinking of work. Men compartmentalize to the task at hand. Women think more like the web—everything links to everything. It works against us when the task at hand is sex and we can’t let go of the cares of the day. Compartmentalizing works for you when it comes to sex because you can focus and enjoy, but it works against you when it comes to providing some forethought to the moment.

Flowers sitting on the counter provide relational constancy for a woman. Object constancy is a developmental milestone. When you hide the ball behind your back and your baby remembers and tries to find it; he has achieved object constancy. He remembers the ball when it disappears.  Relational constancy means we feel secure even if our partner is absent or preoccupied. Gifts and flowers are like transitional objects standing in for your presence. You go to work, travel, get busy, and she remembers you still love her. “He does think of me when he’s away from me.” You get points when you’re not even there. Romance proves forethought.   

Romance is like exercise. If you jog in the morning it doesn’t mean you won’t have a heart attack that night. Romance doesn’t mean: I brought you flowers, so I should get sex tonight. Exercise creates a healthy body. Romance creates a healthy romantic backdrop for a woman’s responsiveness. It’s a tactical, practical thing you can do that adds to her feelings of connection.

2. Personalize the ask.

Make it about her, not about being horny. Forget the bump and cup. If she likes to be touched first, start generic. As far as verbal suggestions, “Do you want to have sex?” leaves women cold.  “Mmmm,” they think, “do I want to have sex…uh, no.” It’s the wrong question. If fact, initiation shouldn’t be a question, it should be a statement of what you want. 

Look her in the eyes. Tell her she’s beautiful. Tell her you want to make love to her. It’s so much more personal than, “what about tonight?” or “are you in the mood?” or “wanna do it?” Women can think that all men want is sex. Show her that all you want is her. Be vulnerable instead of nonchalant. 
Maybe this seems like splitting hairs. You think she should know you want her. Seemingly no matter what you do, initiation results in the same answer—no. But all things have to work together. You can’t only concentrate on the turn of your golf swing. You’ve also to have the right grip and keep your eye on the ball. Marshal all these sex tips for a coordinated effort. Think about creating a climate verses an event.

3. She’ll be coming ‘round (or up) the mountain when she comes.

From a dead start (i.e. weeknight sex), women take about 40 minutes to get to the peak sexually.  They take about 20 minutes of very general caressing to change from willing to have sex to wanting to have sex. Then, they take another 20 minutes of genital stimulation to reach orgasm. If you rush her, she’ll conclude it’s not her night and tell you to go ahead. Usually this is unsatisfying to men because they want a responsive partner. Almost every woman I’ve ever talked to thinks she takes too long. Compared to you she takes a very long time. 

Her hormonal funding of testosterone, a hormone in both men and women that governs physiological craving for sex, can be as low as 100th of yours. Think about weightlifting with and without steroids.  You can do everything that your buddy does curl for curl, but if he’s on steroids his rate of build is going to be much higher. A man’s normal testosterone levels are 300-1,000 ng/dL serum blood.  Parents of teenage girls are afraid of the 1,000 level, and at 300, a guy often seeks a sex therapist for low desire. At 300, he won’t have morning erections, he struggles even with Viagra, will think about sex about once a week, and if he has a fight with his wife he won’t want it. A woman’s testosterone level is about 70 ng/dL when she is 18 and half that when she is 40 if she’s lucky. Her experience in her body is markedly different that your experience. While we may process testosterone differently and there are also measurements that are even more sensitive, this is the primary reason you crave sex and she doesn’t. She likes it, she needs it but she only knows that once she’s having it. Testosterone also governs her rate of arousal.

4. Suggest new techniques, positions, and fantasies when she’s halfway up the mountain.
 If you’re a sexual pursuer, you like to improve things. You probably have fantastic ideas about how to spice sex up. And you’ve probably been shot down a time or two (or hundred). The best time to suggest something new is not on the car ride home but after she is very aroused. At that point her modesty is lower, her inhibition has dropped, and she is the most open to your suggestion. 

You can help by not lording it over her in the morning debrief. Don’t say, “Wow, I knew you’d really like x if I could ever talk you into it.” Instead, be reassuring. Say, “That was fantastic last night.”  Leave the details until the next time she’s halfway up the mountain. For some reason, some women experience shame when their vulnerable experimentation if recounted. You’d be wise to get her to talk about it only when she’s aroused.

Women are often socialized to be the brakes, not the engine, of sexual desire.1 My female clients often tell me about their spouses' ideas. Many of your ideas include acts, positions, or fantasies about things they would be willing to try. Unfortunately, they are afraid that one thing might lead to another—meaning one deviation from the norm might lead to deviancy.

Reassure her of your own boundaries so that she will relax. If you want to tell her your fantasies but know that they will always remain in fantasy only (i.e., they are things you would never do)—say so.  If you know you have fantasies that she would never consent to, prove you know her and say that.  Tell her you respectfully submit the ideas for exploration in fantasy only. The exception to my above advice: don’t push against known sensibilities or moral views at a time when she’s aroused. She will stop trusting to let down her guard and become aroused with you. Those discussions should take place outside the bedroom.

5. Know 20 different touch techniques.

The difference between a professional massage and a husband’s in-front-of-the-TV-back-rub are pretty stark. The masseuse works each side of the back with perfect symmetry. Every muscle is kneaded. Touches are measured and planned to deepen relaxation. There is enough repetition for the recipient to rest and enough change to keep it interesting. 

Similarly, a man needs to know and be able to stimulate a woman’s genitals with knowledge and intention. He should know each part with lights on and with a reach in the dark. Because the woman’s genitals change during arousal, he should know the particulars for those changes: color, engorgement, erectile tissue, lubrication. A good lover has at least 20 different touches to use. The two primary variants are pressure and friction and a combination of the two.

Because 19 of them may not work on a particular night given her menstrual cycle, level or tiredness or alertness, bloating or not—your wife should guide you with lots of feedback about what works and doesn’t. Ask her to give you a number on a scale of one to five rather than “that feels good.” You may find that one touch that took her to the moon one night never works again. Not your fault. You may find that she only wants the same ole' touch over and over. Not your fault. You may find that you are almost out of options. Not your fault. She is the only one who can know what feels good at any given moment. Know only two or three touches or rush the process? Then, the lack of progress might be your fault.

Gentle encouragement to tell you her preferences will help. Don’t think you know what works. You can’t know. You shouldn’t feel criticized if she redirects you. If you have many touches in your repertoire, the odds increase that you can please her even when she is having a tough night relaxing. Do research different touches orally and manually in sex books. Do research live on her with a night set aside for learning. Tell her you want nothing in return that night—only to learn how to please her. Porn is an unrealistic teacher of technique often emphasizing intercourse. As I’ve said in many previous blogs: most women don’t climax from intercourse. Only 15 to 20 percent do; but 100 percent of ambulatory disease-free women can climax from adequate clitoral stimulation (read: at least 20 minutes once aroused) Please do see fellow PT bloggers Michael Castleman’s excellent book Great Sex or Paul Joannides' Guide to Getting It On!

1Deborah Tolman, Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002)

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