It can be difficult to stay present during sex if we’ve been taught that sex should be fun and pleasurable, but the truth is that you and/or your partner are not having a fun, pleasurable moment. This can happen if you have past troubling experiences, either with someone else or with the current partner that haven’t been “digested.” Sometimes we’re able to easily “let it go” but sometimes these experiences are wanting our attention and we need to consciously feel what’s there and express it in some way. Sometimes resolution with the other party isn’t possible, or even necessary or desirable, but we still need to integrate the experience and find a way to be with it without shutting down if you’re not ready to forgive and forget. This can take time.
If we don’t allow ourselves to access and integrate these feelings, we will lose tactile awareness of our bodies and become numb or dissociated. And if we don’t communicate about what’s going on, a partner is likely to feel guilty or responsible even if it’s not about them.
In order to stay present in sex, you have to be willing to feel both the agony and the ecstasy because you can never be sure what will show up. Sometimes we’re afraid of the ecstasy just as much as the painful feelings. There can be a fear of losing control or of looking or sounding unladylike.
If you’ve been taught all your life to repress or ignore your sexual desire, it’s not so easy to turn that around when you are finally given permission — or even required — to be sexual. Our culture begins the process of inhibiting natural sexuality in childhood and continues it even more vigorously in adolescence by trying to prevent young people from exploring sexually. Instead of supporting a safe container for age-appropriate curiosity and desire, instead of teaching young people how to explore safely and responsibly, instead of providing information about how to give and receive pleasure and maintain autonomy, we tell them to “just say no” and leave them to their own devices. If they go along with the culture’s sexual taboos they miss a critical developmental period and may be unable to fully access their sexual potential later in life. They may end up using unrealistic pornography for sex education or get married with little sexual experience and little awareness of their own needs, possibly to an incompatible partner.
Then because we’re encouraged to see our sexual partners as possessions, it’s difficult to discover yourself sexually or heal or satisfy your curiosity by interacting with others later on. Marriage which started out as a way for men to “buy” women in order to acquire a reproductive channel which they themselves lacked, can become a death bed for sexuality, quite the opposite of the romantic ideal people expect.
For thousands of years our culture has essentially been about survival under adverse circumstances, staying alive long enough to pass the DNA to the next generation. If anyone thinks we’re no longer in survival, recently, my female taxi driver in Marin County told me exactly this story when I asked why she’d left her native El Salvador to come to the USA.
Many of us carry a heritage of many generations of desperate struggle which left little time or energy for the luxury of enjoying sexuality and family life. We now know that through epigenetics we are affected by the suffering of our ancestors, even if the circumstances grandma and grandpa or mom and dad had to deal with have changed. Most of us cover the pain of this loss with various addictions.
In the Pelvic Heart Integration workshops I facilitate, we see over and over again the deep grief that both men and women carry over never having seen or felt their parents’ sexual passion and love for each other. Sometimes it was hidden because the parents were taught it would damage their children, but for many it just wasn’t there, especially after the birth of the children. Husbands and wives stayed together out of duty, or survival needs, or habit, or family pressure. Maybe there was love between them, or affection, but rarely was it openly expressed and almost certainly not passionately. As a result, we have to invent ourselves sexually. We have no realistic models.
Another common dynamic for women is that often our mothers were not supportive of our sexuality. Maybe they were trying to protect us, or just passing on their own inhibitions and sense of propriety. It’s especially difficult for women who had to compete with their mothers for their father’s attention. The mother is resentful and jealous of the father’s love for the daughter, even when it’s entirely appropriate. She may resent the daughter’s youthful innocence and radiance because hers has been destroyed. Without the support of the mother, the young woman lacks confidence in herself as a woman and has to try very hard to be a “real” woman.
The girl also needs the support of her father in order to develop a healthy sexuality. She needs to experience the male energy as welcoming, respectful, loving, and empowering. If instead her father was rejecting, critical, abusive, or absent, the woman needs to experience and release this old hurt and anger before she’s able to fully show up sexually. In other words, if the daughter was not unconditionally loved by both parents, it’s hard for her to be fully present sexually until she becomes aware of these dynamics and heals herself. Of course, the same is true for men. And how many of us have been unconditionally loved?
Our parents do the best they can, but if they haven’t experienced unconditional love themselves, how can they offer it? This is the situation we find ourselves in and this is why so many people find it difficult to stay present during sex. Sex brings us face to face with our deepest emotions and desires. It’s an opportunity to push our physical, emotional, and energetic reset buttons, much as sleep and dreams allow us to reset our mental activity. Unlike sleep, a deep sexual release requires us to stay fully present.
For men, an obstacle to staying present can be their fear of women. Many men are afraid of women’s sexuality, their emotions, their anger, their needs, or their power. The little boy who was punished, shamed, controlled, or rejected by Mommy often lives on inside the man. Men with mothers whose sexual and emotional needs were not being met by adult men in their lives and turned to their sons for support are often left feeling resentful and inadequate about their partner’s sexual needs.
Conventional opinion has it that it’s women who want monogamy, who don’t want to share a man and who desire to be with only one special man. Men are seen to be the ones who lust after as many members of the opposite sex as they can get. Our cultural conditioning certainly points us in that direction. In reality, once women overcome their conditioning, they may find they have a stronger sexual appetite than most men. Apart from women lucky enough to be with a man skilled in Tantric lovemaking or other sensual education in how to please a woman, most women don’t have any opportunity to reach the depths of their sexual response.
Our culture doesn’t encourage men to develop themselves as lovers. The usual story is that he finishes just as she’s getting warmed up. Access to more than one partner is a way for women whose partners are not schooled in the art of love to access their full sexual potential. Men can sense this and are intimated by women’s supposedly insatiable sexuality and their own jealousy so they tend to blame the woman for being unresponsive or taking too long. They’ve been taught that the man should be superior in every way. They fear being able to measure up. They can, of course, if they’re prepared to learn but they erroneously believe that they should automatically know what to do, so it’s hard to ask for help.
As a result, it often falls upon women to take the first steps toward a more authentic sexuality. How? Inviting sexuality to flower opens up a new world of possibilities. Some women might find a sensitive lover or an erotic professional who is willing and able to guide her into new experiences. Others might find satisfaction in learning the art of self pleasuring or attending a Tantric Sexuality workshop. It could mean getting more deeply in touch with her body through yoga, Chi Kung, dance, or massage. Or learning to skillfully ask for what she wants with the partner she has. There are many different types of bodywork and breathwork which can help us find a deeper connection with the body and awareness of what the body wants. Personally, I find the Pelvic Heart Integration process developed by the late Dr. Jack Painter to be the most effective because it works on many different levels simultaneously to address the core issues that are keeping us stuck.
This work is important, not only for the pleasure of orgasm, but because it’s a health issue. People whose bodies are too armored to allow a full orgasm are at risk for developing a whole host of diseases. In addition, research is showing that orgasm is a big boost for the immune system, facilitates bonding, and slows down the aging process. As I said earlier, orgasm is a reset button for the nervous system!