So much of what makes sex fulfilling is how we imagine ourselves in the experience and whether or not we are being truly witnessed. Unfortunately, many of us have conditioned our own bodies to respond in specific ways—often under threat of discovery and/or potential punishment. We might have learned to experience pleasure only while hiding which produces a considerable amount of inhibitive, embodied learning early on: don’t make sound, keep your body tight, don’t say what you want because you assume that something is wrong with you or the situation if you have to speak up. Many don’t say NO to someone else or offer suggestions in the moment because of a fear that it might kill “the mood,” etc. This list of formative injunctions against sex goes on and on and is particular to each person’s life circumstances. After all, family, church, and state are considerable forces to overturn, and they present compelling ownership over our bodies until we intentionally address the shackles we have carried.
The question is not, “Am I affected?” Instead, “How have I been affected?”
Our upbringings show up all the time during sex, but we may not realize that our experiences are being shaped so powerfully by our pasts. We might experience a loss of sensation or a tendency to over-think everything. We may remain preoccupied with the appearances of our bodies or the roles that we imagine are the sexiest. Sometimes, it can feel like we don’t know how to connect to literal areas of our physical bodies, or maybe we notice that we are always “watching from the sidelines,” not physically or emotionally present to what is happening in front of us.
To cope with these and other inhibitions or uncomfortable feelings that arise in sex, we sometimes fantasize to bring accessibility to the physical experience: maybe we imagine ourselves and our partners in various characterizations, scenarios, or roles that tend to elicit the specific dynamics—whether enacted or imagined—that bring us closer to stress-free, embodied pleasure. In fantasy, we might change ourselves in some desired way, physically or characteristically, so that we are more deserving of pleasure. We might imagine a power dynamic that really turns us on, but that we struggle to express physically. Essentially, we close whatever gaps exist for us with our fantasies and are then drawn back into the experience at hand. In a sense, it’s wonderful that our brains help us to overturn inhibitions by opening doors where we have imagined there to be impenetrable walls. At the same time, since the majority of us have developed erotically in such restrictive environments, we often feel shame for what our fantasies and erotic imaginations show us and resultantly close off our deepest places that would enliven our sex if freed.
Many times, while two or more people are having sex, each man is in his own mind— journeying into the depths of his psyche alone, because he is unable or unwilling to share with his sex partner(s) about what images and narratives are helping him to feel his own erotic nature. Often we are trying to create shared physical experiences while partitioning away large portions of what’s actually happening for us, the respective prisons of our pasts: in a nutshell, sex-negative body conditioning. For most men, to speak up or ask for help in an erotic moment defies nearly everything about the masculine personas that we have adopted since our days on the playground. So, we often fuck in silence hoping for the right chemistry to “happen,” or we may tirelessly pursue a stockpiled collection of our mental images hoping that, perchance, another person is going to unlock our own bodies for us.
We can learn to sync up our thoughts and our bodies in a more powerful way when we intentionally bridge them. We can learn to feel more comfortable sharing out loud what we are internally experiencing during sex with another. We can bring our sex partners along with us into our inner worlds—the places in which sex takes shape into the requisite conditions that represent liberation from our inner confines.
Here is a fun exercise to try with a boy/girlfriend, fuck-buddy, partner, group, or friend. It can be done in person or virtually; both options offer different aspects of our experience to explore. Often men report feeling a little more emboldened in virtual connections because there is an inherent distance that occurs. Either way, establish permission for yourself to feel vulnerable, as this may be a completely new way of relating to yourself and others.
Begin clothed and facing each other, eye gazing. Allow time for discomfort to pass; acknowledge any awkwardness or giddiness that arises. Often, sustained eye contact will bring up memories, feelings, unfinished business, a “fuck or fight” response, etc. Allow space for each person to soften into steady breathing and deeper comfort. Maybe share with each other what it feels like to slow down and witness each other’s inner process as it takes shape in the actual moment. Name the emotions that are present for you. Start by slowly undressing each other, allowing time for each person involved to warm up to physical contact at a pace that codifies safety and presence into the interaction.
When all parties desire, begin self-pleasuring and/or each other, making a deliberate effort to inquire about and normalize discussion about any desired speed, pressure, or quality of touch. Even if you don’t get a hard-on, this can be a valuable exercise, and you will likely experience more ease with practice; an intentional container such as this game may feel more like an experiment than a familiar sexual script. As a result, you will likely feel freer to employ this kind of attention and focus in subsequent spontaneous experiences as well.
When arousal is rising, begin sharing with each other what images, narratives, dynamics are coming up for you. Take turns letting each other into the scenes you often paint over your physical experiences. If nothing comes to mind organically, maybe select a fantasy that you often visit, and try to jumpstart a fantasy dialogue from this familiar place in yourself. Weave a common thread with each other, and explore a co-created fantasy world; take turns going back and forth, sharing aloud what you want next or would do in your shared vision.
Even if your hard-on comes and goes or never arrives at this moment, this exercise can be so helpful to strengthen the use of your voice: sharing your inner world and making it not only OK, but pleasurable to experience both your thoughts and your body at the same time. When you have completed the exercise, whether ejaculating or not, come to an intentional close while facing each other again. In whatever way feels appropriate, thank your partner(s) for journeying with you into vulnerability.
The more our minds and bodies are aligned, the more we can touch the transcendent realm together. Practicing this exercise repeatedly can help improve our confidence in sharing erotic thoughts and vocal expressions during sex.
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