what to do with your tension

I’m exhausted from all this bashing my head against the desk of bad sex science in the mainstream. How about we talk about pleasure for a minute?

I was chatting with my sister about some things, and theme was this:


We all carry it. Some of us are great at allowing it to move through us; others hold on to tension, hold on with a desperate grip. Chronic tension sets up camp in our muscles, reshaping our posture over time, locking our throats.

My sister knows what tension does to people’s bodies because she’s a choral conductor. Her job is to embody the musical intention of the composer, show it to the choir, and facilitate their trusting entrainment with that intention. In other words, she feels stuff, and the choir empathizes with what she feels, and that empathy changes the way their bodies resonate, and then when they sing, they sound the way they feel.

I know what tension does to people because students sit in my office, knotted like Christmas lights, and want to know why they struggle with orgasm. They sit in my class, locked up tight in a cage of intellectual critiques, thinking of their body only as a social construction, not as their home, and they wonder why sex hurts. I know they’re in those intellectual cages because their body wanted to keep them safe from the tension inside them. The cage might well be important. But it’s also closing the gate on pleasure.

And then there are the students who sit joyfully, peacefully, living inside their own skin with comfort and grace. They’re curious about orgasm, attentive to sensation, but their foreheads are relaxed, their eye orbicularis oculi lifted.

(There’s a whole conversation to be had about the privilege of relaxation. But not now.)

Brakes and gas, brakes and gas.

The human central nervous system is, from one point of view, a collection of brakes and gas pedals, stop and go, yes and no. Food, water, sleep, heat… attachment, exploration, sex. Liking a thing, or not; wanting a thing, or not. Our motivation systems are constantly at work, responding to the environment – an environment that includes the state of the other motivation systems.

If you’re starving, you aren’t horny. If you can’t breath, you’re not hungry. (There is a hierarchy.)

If you’re tense… well, about 80% of people aren’t horny, and another 10-20% are MORE horny.

For the moment I’m going to talk about the 80% who aren’t; I want to talk about what to do with the tension that’s clogging up your central nervous system, blocking your awareness of and sensitivity to the sexy things in the world.

Can you feel it? Where it live inside you? Is it in your digestive system? Your shoulder muscles, jaw muscles, scalp, face? Your abdominal muscles? Wherever you find it, can you allow yourself to notice it very quietly and calmly? Curiously. Compassionately.

It’s there for a reason. It’s there because your brain thought you might need it later.

Do you need it?

If not, would you try allowing it to move through you, and away?

When you release tension, sometimes it’s bigger than you thought it was and you feel like you want to sigh or cry. That’s cool. Let your body do what it wants to do. These things are physiological cycles, with a beginning, middle, and end; when you allow them to finish, they’re over. Roll credits. Move on.

When you’ve allowed the tension to release and you’re feeling different, you could add a partner if you like, if you have one, and accept a massage, allowing the sensation of a trusted person’s touch to soothe you and fill you with oxytocin and dopamine and opiods.

And when you ease into those brain chemicals, like easing into a hot tub, your brain might well shift into attunement with the sexual world. It might just do that.

But it starts with pleasure. When tension eases, your brain can LIKE pleasure. And when you can LIKE pleasure, you can begin to feel desire.

The tension was there for a reason. Your brain thought you might need it later.

If you don’t… allow it to release. The space it frees up can now be filled with pleasure.