I had a series of conversations recently with someone who was moving in the direction of feeling more relaxed, confident, and plain old DESIROUS around sexual interactions with their partner. Included in that was an email that I feel is particularly important, so I’ll share it with ya’ll, slightly modified.
Your starting point is learning to complete the stress response cycle so that your body can relax, in the knowledge that there are no lions coming to get you. So when you have the thoughts, for example, about your ex, you practice replacing them with thoughts of running or fighting. This is the skill of noticing what tension/stress/anxiety feels like, accepting it (emotion coaching), and giving yourself permission to finish the stress response so that your body can shift into relaxation. AWARENESS and NON-JUDGMENT are the two key skills here, as you allow your body to finish what it has started. (It’s a central skill in listening, right? You would always allow your partner to finish saying what they needed to say – it’s rude to interrupt, we’re all taught from an early age. So listen to your body with as much respect as you would listen to your partner.)
And be aware of the trap of feeling like you have to “be in control” of your body. Your body is aware of and remembers a lot more things than your mind, and you can only learn from it if you abandon yourself to its wisdom. Geez, does that sound hokey or what? But it’s completely true!
Once your body is able to relax without feeling worried about being relaxed, the second step is practicing being aware of what relaxing feels like. Breathing is central to this, as you’ve probably learned in your experiences with progressive muscle relaxation and other stress management techniques. You may find that relaxing can still trigger anxiety, and that’s fine because you’re practicing META-calm, as well as regular calm; i.e., feeling calm about feeling anxious, feeling calm about feeling stressed, feeling calm about feeling panic, feeling calm about feeling relaxed.
And eventually you move into the body satisfaction realm, which I expect will come pretty naturally when you’ve got the other skills down. Remember that you’re relearning the meta-emotions, how you feel about how you feel. In a meta-coaching framework, we recognize that negative feelings are the normal, healthy response to negative life events, and when we allow ourselves to move all the way through an emotion, we’ll get to the calm that comes at the end of it.
Also, Julia Heiman’s “Becoming Orgasmic” is the book with the series of exercises and writing that helps to untangle to knots more directly related to sexuality.
Increasingly, I find that being a sex educator entails being a worry educator too, helping people learn to turn off their chattering, noisy minds and pay attention to their internal experience. It’s a task sex educators and therapists have been working at for more than 30 years. And the culture just keeps getting noisier and it keeps lying to you about what your body is supposed to do, be, and look like. We’re swimming upstream.
I often say that my job is to teach people to “Be in control of your brain, so that your brain isn’t in control of you.” It’s a challenging skill, made more challenging by the pace of life and our chronic need to fill time with STUFF, noise, flickering images, information from the outside.
What America really needs? To make our sex lives better? Is a culture that values the information you get from your INSIDES as much as information from the outside.
But there’s no profit in that, so. Ya know. Do your best, and welcome the fact that your best won’t be perfect. How’s that for advice?