- Restorative intimacy and sexuality do not require a specific goal or endpoint.
- Restorative sexuality involves connection, a lack of self-consciousness, awe, peace, and acceptance.
- All states of restorative embodied self-awareness require non-doing, presence, and an absence of thinking and judgment.
Dysregulated sexuality, and dysregulated social engagement in general, may include using and abusing others, power plays, dominance, harassment, or inflicting unwanted harm on self and others. On the other hand, in dysregulated sexuality, one can feel “not enough,” or “inadequate,” shame, withdrawal, avoidance, passivity, unwanted submission, or tuning out the other person.
These feelings may lead to avoiding sex, not talking about sex or sexual problems, detachment/dissociation from the body, lack of interest in sex or inability to achieve erection or orgasm, premature ejaculation, or pain during intercourse.
Modulated sexuality can be mutually playful, challenging, arousing, creative, exploratory, or intense, kinky, or edgy. If our thoughts are getting in the way of our felt experience, modulated sexuality can be tinged with uncertainty, vigilance, self-consciousness, mismatched expectations, cycling with moments of talking oneself into letting down one’s guard. Modulated sexuality is often mixed with conversation plus thoughts and speech about sex, body image, sexual fantasies, or anything else.
Restorative sexuality is un-self-conscious, slow, and affectionate. Both during love-making and after, there is a deep state of contentment, oneness, ease of being together, love, and the awe of being so deeply connected to this particular other person. Restorative sexuality is respectful, caring, mutual, and free of pressure to perform or to reach a specific goal.
One example of a method to encourage restorative sexuality is called orgasmic meditation. This is a practice of having a partner of any gender gently stroke a woman’s clitoris for about 15 minutes with no other goal other than to feel, connect, and be present. According to Nicole Daedone, author of Slow Sex:
In Orgasmic Meditation we learn to shift our focus from thinking to feeling, from a goal orientation to an experience orientation. This shift turns all our expectations about sex on their head, exchanging “faster” and “harder” for “slower” and “more connected” (p. 171).
Although this practice was designed for women, it is likely to be helpful for a person of any gender identity in any kind of sexual partnership.
And, there is nothing wrong with “faster and harder” so long as it is consensual and provides mutual pleasure. This would fall into the category of modulated ESA because it involves high sympathetic activation and “doing,” much like engaging in intense sports, music, or dance. Following an intense orgasm, however, restorative ESA is possible if partners settle and rest next to each other, with only the felt sense of warmth, touch, and connection.
If you are thinking about anything during this post-orgasmic period, you cannot feel any of these things and you will miss the bounty of restoration by staying in modulated ESA. See if you can notice that if you are thinking when lying quietly next to your partner, you can no longer feel their shape, their warmth, or your connection with them.
A study on sexuality was done in Israel on a group of nine couples who participated in 12 sessions of dance/movement therapy. Couples later talked about the importance of a sense of security, lack of self-consciousness, and “magical” compatibility that makes sex a restorative experience. In one example from this study:
One participant (in a relationship for 5 years) describes the feeling of delight and letting go: “All the tension is released from my body when I close my eyes, I’m on a high.” Her partner emphasizes that her feeling of security with him allows his body’s relaxation in the encounter with her: “I feel the full weight of your body and your confidence in me to carry you along … the feeling that you can lean and depend on me.”
Restorative sexuality is the most effective path to maintaining sexual intimacy as shown in research in older adults. When couples are willing to accept body changes in erectile function, vaginal lubrication, and loss of movement flexibility, to indulge their desires and listen to each other, then sexual pleasure can continue into old age.
Penetration and intercourse may not be possible for some people. For them, mutual genital touching and masturbation, oral sex, petting, fondling, massaging, and the use of sexual toys, literature, photos, or videos can all be part of maintaining desire, reaching orgasm, and sharing close physical contact without the need to perform or to meet some idealistic notion of what sex “should” be.
This is illustrated by personal accounts of older women, part of a research study done in Australia.
“We care for each other. We sleep together, and we curl up together. We touch each other, all these things, which is basically what intimacy is (age 78).”
“There’s not a lot of sexual intercourse anymore and it doesn’t really worry me. You know masturbation is still perfectly available (age 61).”
Another study done on older men in New Zealand revealed a similar shift with age to more restorative forms of sexuality and intimate connection.
“For many years it was all about was coming … without even really knowing anything about helping your partner to come, but then with the passage of time it’s just the pleasure of being together when you’re having sex with somebody [age 68].”
“… it’s a pity that you’ve taken 40-odd years to learn that hey, it doesn’t have to be rushed to get enjoyment from it … I feel that probably our sex now is some of the best that we’ve ever experienced … because of closeness, taking time, not rushing things [age 66].”
According to research, the adaptations of older couples are similar to when one or both members of the couple are suffering from an impairment that may limit sexual activity. This might include forms of mental illness such as bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorders, Parkinson’s and other neuromotor impairments, breast or prostate cancer, surgeries and injuries that impair sensorimotor function such as erectile dysfunction, stroke and other neurological impairments of felt experience and movement, and during and after gender reassignment surgery. Sex therapies, sexual surrogacy, and embodied self-awareness healing practices can assist people on the broad spectrum of sexual partnerships in finding restorative adaptations to their current conditions.