Often, the questions we ask of ourselves are what finally carve the shape of our lives. A great question excites us, opens new doors, and invites both compassion and curiosity. I’d like to offer two such questions about sex. Your answers will teach you rich lessons about your sex life—and more.
These two questions are simple. In fact, they are obvious. They are also gentle, yet, like so many gentle things, they have the power to change us deeply. (Perhaps this is why we spend so much time avoiding them!) However, as with any real adventure, the first consideration is safety. Please read the caveats at the end of this post. If any apply to you, consider getting support before doing the deeper work these questions invite.
The first question is this: What turns you on most in sex?
Frequently, our sexual turn-ons just don’t fit our self-image. We might fantasize about being sexually submissive, but feel humiliated by that desire. Or we might fantasize about being sexually dominant, but feel afraid of who that makes us. Perhaps the things which truly excite us are embarassing because they are just so “vanilla;” so uninventive and basic. Whether exotic or not, our deepest erotic sparks are portals to a deeper experience of sex and of self.
Often, these sexual portals illumine parts of ourselves we just don’t know what do with. Few of us have been taught how to handle our most evocative sexual fantasies in a creative, celebratory, non-destructive way. Sometimes, we may judge our most colorful desires as odd, even perverted.
David Schechter, theater director and lyricist for the recent Broadway musical “Soul Doctor,” rescues the word perverse by proposing a lovely twist to it. Schechter asks, "What if perverse means 'per-verse'—or, 'through poetry?"' When we explore our wild side, we play in a landscape of sexual poetry; a world of inner symbolism which may never make conscious sense but which still feels gratifying and meaningful. The majority of us need help in embracing our wild side in sex, and in distinguishing between behaviors which are harmful to us or our partner, and those which are simply—and wonderfully—“per-verse” So, take a moment to think what kinds of sex excites you most. What actions, what body parts, what behaviors—what outfits?
Allow yourself the freedom of play in your reflections. You will probably hit some waves of discomfort as you go. Track them; if they are too disturbing, it may be best to enlist the support of a skilled, credentialed and non-judgmental psychotherapist. If your fantasies just feel embarrassing, surprising, or out of the pale, see if you can imagine embracing them. Whatever they are, I assure you that there are others who share the same turn-ons, and with whom sharing those turn-ons would be an experience of mutual delight. Our partner (or if we are single, our future partner) has hidden desires of his or her own! Following our own deeper turn-ons, including ones we have been timid about exploring, can help deepen and enrich our entire sexual experience.
Here is the second question: What touches you most deeply in sex?
This is a marvelous question, and one that every sexual adult should enjoy, relish and reflect upon. Interestingly,for reasons I describe in greater detail in my new book Deeper Dating: How to Drop The Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy, it often leaves us feeling more vulnerable than the previous one.
Have you ever been emotionally touched during sex in a way that took you by surprise? Have you ever been moved to the point of tears, or felt a sense of love which overtook you? Have you ever had the feeling of lust and love fused together? Has your sex ever left sex far behind? (If you haven’t yet experienced this, just imagine what it would be like.) What happened to create that experience? Try to think back and remember. It will tell you worlds about who you are and your deepest sexual gifts.
Are there parts of your body which, when touched in a certain way, trigger deep emotions? Is there a pacing in sex which touches and moves you deeply? If you are partnered, what touches your partner most deeply in sex?
When Jill and her husband (at that time, her boyfriend) first had sex, he did something which felt odd to her. In the middle of enthusiastic sex, he began to slow down, and then stopped moving altogether. He enwrapped her in his arms as he lay on top of her, and then—he lay perfectly still. She assumed he hadn’t climaxed, so she was bewildered, but she went with the moment. As they lay motionless in their embrace, she felt something begin to shake inside her. Out of nowhere, she began to weep. They clung fiercely together, neither knowing what hit them. This beautiful ritual became a hallmark of many episodes of their sexual expression through the years.
In sex and in life, most us are both more wild and more tender than we feel comfortable with. Both aspects of our sexuality are portals to our deepest self and our richer expression in the world. You can ask yourself these two questions during sex as a way to guide you and your partner to those portals of intimacy: What expressions would touch me and my partner most deeply on a emotional level? How can we follow the trail of our deep turn-ons at this moment?
When we avoid risk by hiding our most vulnerable sexual needs, we diminish the intimacy between us and our partner. When we give up our deep authenticity to keep things safe, sex becomes bland and we start retreating from it. When experimentation dies, Eros dies along with it. As much as you can, bring Eros into the relationship. That means sharing with your partner the things in sex that move you most deeply, that turn you on most intensely. It means listening for the same with your partner, and moving step by step together to the sexual soul of your relationship. Whatever stage you're in, in the continuum from single to committed couple, you can use these questions to deepen your sexuality. You can experiment with these ideas in your sex life, your marriage, or your masturbation fantasies. Bon adventure in your journey to a richer and more emotionally gratifying sex life!
Note: All of the above ideas are predicated upon the foundation of emotional and physical safety. If you are in a relationship which is in any way abusive or if you are at risk of engaging in sexual behaviors which may cause harm to others or yourself; if any of these questions bring up strong feelings of disturbance, or if you are suffering from an untreated psychiatric disorder, please seek the help of a skilled and credentialed psychotherapist/psychiatrist before delving into these exercises.
© 2013 Ken Page, LCSW. All Rights Reserved
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