An Excuse to Stroke Each Other Right Now
Tell me what is more romantic than that gazing into each other's eyes, breathing heavily against lips, as you rock your hips together and meld into one?
Slow sex can be wonderful. It can be transcendent. It might also feel a little out of reach right now. Now, when you've been stuck at home for a year, unwashed, possibly surrounded by kids, and so familiar with your partner you accidentally wiped your nose on them last week. Finding the right moment has also been a lot harder lately, with routines thrown out of wack and the pandemic undeniably warping our sense of time. One Groundhog Day drags into another then boom, a year smacks you in the face and you're like, holy crap when was the last time I saw my friends?
It’s not uncommon, in these maddeningly unsexy times, to have a depleted sexual appetite. “Not being interested in sex during a global crisis is completely normal,” says Sociologist and Sexologist Sarah Melancon, “for many people, it is financial stress, which has to do with a type of stress-related to survival.” When survival is a priority, a frenzy of judgemental and critical thoughts flood in to anticipate the perceived threat. Whilst grasping for some semblance of control is only natural in stressful times, relating in this way can do real damage to a relationship. Plus, getting stuck in your head is certainly no way to have mind-altering sex. Even becoming bedfellows with innocent thoughts like, ‘Am I doing this right?’, ‘Should I have come already?’, 'I fancy fried chicken tonight' can signal you're not as connected to the moment as you could be.
Whatever the cause, it can be frustrating not to enjoy sex as much as you once did or want to. Perhaps sex isn't the concern right now and you just want to vibe with your body a bit better. Either way, one method helped me back down from the thought-fortress that turned sex into Director's Commentary and grounded me back in my body.
It’s known as Sensate Focus and it’s a form of sex therapy developed back in the 1960s by Virginia and William Masters. Created to help partners move away from judgemental, goal-oriented thinking and get back into feeling by prioritising sensual touch over sexual. Inviting in all the sensations you naturally feel - without any pressure to respond in a certain way or arouse yourself or your partner - means you get to connect with what you really want, instead of what you think you should! By focusing on sensual, not sexual touch you reap the benefits of feeling close to your partner without floating off into the distance as they go at you from behind. “Incorporating skin-on-skin contact can help regulate your nervous systems and make you feel safer and calmer,” Melancon says. “Even if it’s not sexual touch.” Simply feeling touch can help you relax, whether you’re doing this as an introduction to slow sex or not.
If you’re the kind of person that can’t sit still long enough to meditate, this might all sound extremely boring to you. But consider how small movements can lead to big pay-offs as Sexologist Carol Queen, PhD, explains: “Slower sex and a longer buildup can result in stronger orgasms for many people (a simple comparison is that you're building up a ‘charge’ in your body that releases with climax, and a longer charge can elicit a stronger response).” So, if you're around your partner 24/7 right now that's substantial charging time, even an iPhone could deliver some decent action after that long. So consider this a build-up if you prefer.
Want to try? Below is a short guide to inspired by Sensate Focus:
Disclaimer: Dissociation can be a response to trauma, so take it one step at a time and stop if you need to. Though this exercise might sound simple, it can be emotionally intense. So take care of yourself, and be intentional about setting boundaries you feel comfortable with (it’s also a good way to practise doing this!). Remember, in the slow lane, there is no such thing as too slow.
First, choose a moment when you and your partner feel relaxed and comfortable. Getting naked is good but if you prefer to stay clothed, wear something flexible. Set aside 30-40 minutes to practice. Before you start, clear your mind of any evaluative thoughts or expectations about yourself, your partner, or the exercise itself. Set an intention to be fully present and let it be clear before you start that the following practice is about sensual, not sexual touch. Genitals or intimate areas are strictly off-limits.
Next, take some time to settle in the room and connect with your body before starting. Mindful meditation or belly breathing is a good way to do this. Notice the way breath flows through you and consider syncing breathing with your partner.
Start the exercise by designating a ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’. You will spend around 15 minutes each before swapping roles. The receiver can now communicate boundaries: any parts of the body or forms of touch they do or don’t want to experience. The giver can also describe how they want to touch the receiver so they can consent.
When you are being touched try to focus on the sensations and qualities of touch instead of making judgements about them. Does their hand feel hot or cold? Is it more like a pressing, stroking, or tickling feeling? How do feathery fingertips feel compared to the firm press of a palm? Is your energy rushing to the point of touch or elsewhere? What does it feel like? Is it pulsing? Rippling? Tingling? Expanding? The giver, too, might consider their own experience of pleasure and how the texture of skin varies from the base of the foot to the apple of the cheek. If it feels hard to notice the sensations right away, remember that this takes practice.
If it's difficult to communicate how you like to be touched, try taking hold of your partner's hand, cupping it, running it along the side of your face and guiding it around your body in ways that feel good for you. You can be as flexible with this exercise as you both want - don't feel you must sit with crossed-legs and outstretched hands - you can also play with resting your head against the rise and fall of their chest or using the other body to stretch yours. You might find you just want to be held right now - this is your time. If giving, try to be attentive to supporting your partner's pleasure and notice in what ways that differs or aligns with your own.
Don’t be afraid to communicate anything you don’t like during and after the exercise. But also make sure to express what you do! Whilst being each other's personal zen gardens is great, it's a nice opportunity to get more familiar with vocalizing what you like and building a shared language. Remember, sensual touch begins and ends with your connection to yourself. The more we practice listening to what we want, the more likely we are to get it and have stronger intimate relationships with ourselves and others.
Practice as often as you need before deciding to include more intimate areas in your touch (if you want to). If you do, refrain from kissing just to keep hold of that awareness you've been cultivating, and if orgasm happens, let it, but arousal is not the goal here. Later, you can move into mutual touching and eventually integrate these techniques into sex.
While you might not be able to offer one another much security right now, or plan a future in traditional ways, I hope you decide to offer somebody what Simone Weil calls the rarest generosity of all: your attention.