Marriage Boot Camp - Week 4: Conditioning Your Lovemaking Response In week 4, our expert explains the importance of being open about your sexual self and how it will grow your relationship. BY WENDY STRGAR
Taking control of your own sexuality will be more freeing and fun.
“ The erotic lives we share with our spouse can be intimidating because each time we move into them, the outcome is never certain, never the same and the risks never cease.”
"There is no other physical act at our disposal that carries the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of making love, especially with someone you love." ~Unknown
No one really understands sex, but if you are lucky, you get to spend years coming to grips with your erotic self and learning how to share and enhance the pleasure it brings. A good way to approach the topic is to think of our sexuality as an emergent rather than objective reality. That means we are willing to come to understand our sexuality and its meaning moment by moment and re-inventing it anew each and every time we are sexual. This is also helpful when we face fears of the unpredictable nature of the act itself. There is always the potential to be overwhelmed by the intensity of feelings that accompany it.
The erotic lives we share with our spouse can be intimidating because each time we move into them, the outcome is never certain, never the same and the risks never cease. The desire and simultaneous fear of being consumed in its fire is fertile ground for all kinds of addiction and dysfunction. One of the key places where this plays out for many couples is the initiation dance, which is often responsible for nipping the bud of desire before it has time to bloom. Our erotic selves are more visceral than they are cognitive and all of the negotiating that precedes the interaction, we can easily get cut off from our innate capacity for arousal. The mental unpacking of a sexual experience denies its core sensuality, like dissecting the nutritional elements of an extravagant dish.
Having the courage to let sex educate us about our relationships and ourselves is stepping up to one of the most significant levels of freedom and responsibility that this life can offer. In the privacy of our bedrooms, we are free to move beyond the binding cultural norms and bring our full attention to expressing an intimate world of our own making. This freedom exacts a cost—not only must we accept the reality and consequences of our own choices, but also we must allow our spouse the same freedoms. So much of the dishonesty and judgment about our erotic selves comes from the inability to take responsibility for our own sexuality while allowing our spouse the same freedom.
What is happening to the lovers in the story below? How could they better claim their own erotic selves and move toward the pleasure that they both crave?
A Lesson in Sexuality
It always came back to the question of who wanted it. Sex, instead of a natural expression of love, had become baroque psychological warfare in Grace and Sam’s marriage, now edging into its second decade. Grace, tired from a shift working as an emergency room nurse, would come home, shower, light a candle and try to initiate sex. It was a priority for her. Sam would sometimes say "no" or more often, feel uncomfortable with what she suggested, although he would never admit that. She had always known she was more comfortable with her sexuality than he was, but this question of initiation and avoidance was driving small, sharp thoughts into her head: contemptuous thoughts about him and defensive thoughts about herself. Somehow, a mental tally sheet had formed and when she closed her eyes she recounted each time he had deflected her advances in the bedroom, bailed on driving the girls to soccer practice or tuned out while she was stressing out loud about their mortgage. They lived side-by-side, but she increasingly felt alienated and not just in the bedroom.
In their lives, the most disconcerting thing was the slackness she felt between them in bed. Where there was once a fire, or at least a burning ember of understanding, there seemed to be nothing but ash. The ground beneath her feet seemed to be giving way.
The less they made eye contact in the bedroom, the more they danced around one another like strangers at the breakfast table. It seemed like this question of initiation was exposing a great rift between them. Why had sex become such a destructive tool of power in their relationship? Finally, it was clear to both Grace and Sam that something had to give or their marriage was going to fall apart. They had to rebuild the fire or at least talk about their sexual lives together.
Back to Basics
Consider your own relationship to initiating and responding sexually. Are you more focused on keeping score than exploring and exposing your erotic self with your spouse? How comfortable are you with your erotic self and eroticism in general? Can you—or have you ever—discussed your sexual fears or fantasies with your partner? What is the one thing you could tell yourself and share with your spouse that would expand your ability to experience pleasure?
Feeling Practice: Agree to three 15-30 minute times where you are going to have a physical conversation with your spouse. Borrowing from the popular children’s game, use no words except hot, warm and cold to direct your partner to the places you most enjoy being touched. Simply by turning communication into a game, you increase the suspense and anticipation of play. Be open to the pleasant surprises of the many unexplored erogenous zones you discover along the way. Take turns.
Trust is the basic building block of human sexuality. Allowing the orgasmic reality of the body to take control can only happen when we can fully abandon ourselves to the moment at hand. The trust begins with the ability to witness your own desires and trust your erotic self to someone else. When we get lost in either having to prove or defend something about our own sexuality, it leaves little room to discover the magic of the mating ritual, as unique as it is universal. Cultivating erotic safety in your marriage allows the dance of sexuality to play out with the tension of the mysterious coming together and coming apart as the lead choreographer. Let your erotic self be the teacher, guiding the way to the momentary epiphanies that makes us believe in the force of love as the guiding principle in the universe.
Wendy Strgar, founder and CEO of Good Clean Love, is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love, intimacy and family. In her new book, "Love that Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy," she tackles the challenging issues of sustaining relationships and healthy intimacy with an authentic and disarming style and simple yet innovative advice. It has been called "the essential guide for relationships." The book is available on ebook. Wendy has been married for 27 years to her husband, a psychiatrist, and lives with their four children ages 13-23 in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.