A Program For Great Sex
How To Enjoy Good Sex - The Starting Point
Technique Number 1a: Overcoming Anger & Fear
Sensate Focus can be thwarted when a couple has such a build up of resentment that they cannot connect with their bodily feelings and their emotions towards each other.
There are several ways to deal with such anger.
The first is to give physical expression to anger by literally fighting with soft batacas (foam rubber batons) that can do no physical damage, but quickly lead a person to their anger. An alternative is to duel with ping pong balls at ten paces!
(And this, as suggested by Dagmar O'Connor, author of How To Make Love To The Same Person For The Rest Of Your Life - is best done while you and your partner are naked.)
A second, more profound and long-term strategy is to use communication strategies which break down the barriers to intimacy. There are two to focus on in particular. The first is around anger, and the second is around fear of intimacy.
In essence these communication techniques are about exchanging information in an atmosphere of trust and support, where your partner will not make judgements about you, or become defensive, or start to try and explain their actions.
It's important that you have a binding agreement about how the process works between yourselves before you begin: any defensiveness, justification or explanation will take you into thinking rather than feeling. The goal of the exercise is open acceptance of your partner, whatever they have to say, and whatever they are feeling.
This can be very challenging. We are not used to exchanging information about ourselves in this way, but if you try the exercise in the manner described below, what you will very quickly find is that the absence of judgement leads to greater trust.
To ensure the process works in the way it is intended, there are some clear ground rules about what you can and cannot do. Please read these through carefully before you begin.
Exercise one: expressing your fears about sex.
When you feel intimate with your partner, perhaps after using the sensate focus exercises, enjoyed a full body hug when you are both naked.
Sit naked facing each other. Decide who is going to go first: Partner A goes first, and partner B listens in silence while you maintain eye contact with each other. Partner B asks partner A the following question: "Tell me, what are you afraid of in sex?"
A thinks of one sexual fear that they are confident enough to bring up. For example, if the woman is going first she might say: "I fear that my body is not attractive to you." Partner B then encourages partner A to explain what the problem is, perhaps by saying something like: "Tell me what this means to you," or, "And when did this first happen to you?"
He then listens in silence, without judgements, and with full attention to his partner as she explains her fear.
This may involve telling a story that illustrates her experience and how it affected here. It might, for example, be that an ex-boyfriend shamed her because of her body's appearance, and she has carried that shame and fear of further humiliation ever since.
Common fears brought up by a woman: that her partner will not find her attractive, that she will be able to express what she wants sexually, that she won't have an orgasm, that if she masturbates he won't like it, and so on. In the next few minutes partner A continues to talk about whatever emerges after she names her fear about sex.
Her partner continues to listen in silence, but with full attention on her. He does not interrupt, he does not respond, and he does not make any non-verbal expressions that may interrupt her. His job is solely to keep her focused and centred by giving her his attention.
He can help in this by breathing slowly and calmly -- slow deep breaths will help him to remain neutral, an observer who receives what she has to say without judgement, even if it happens to be about his actions.
He may well feel criticised, even if no criticism is intended by his partner, and the urge to defend may be very strong.
But even if he sees things entirely differently to the way his partner is expressing them, he should remain silent, for the purpose of this exercise is not about determining truth and falsehood, or even expressing the facts of the matter, it is simply about allowing one's partner to express his or her fears so that the blocks to sexual enjoyment are removed - this is healing in itself. If there is time, partner B should ask again: "Tell me, what do you fear about sex?" so that partner A can express another fear and talk about it in the same way.
When she has finished, Partner B asks partner A: "Are you willing to imagine yourself going beyond these fears?"
If partner A replies "yes", then partner B tells her to visualise a positive picture in her mind in which she is making love or enjoying sex without any of the fears that she has mentioned. It's important that she enjoys this fully: in other words, she must feel fulfilled, as though this was actually happening in reality.
She may need to repeat this a number of times before it feels like a real experience, but that is the sign that the fears have dissolved. Once again to emphasise the point, partner B must resist any temptation to answer or respond to partner A's story.
The process is not about responding to what they have to say, or defending yourself, or helping, or explaining. It's about focusing on the reality of your partner's experience and allowing them to express it without judgement.
After, say, 10 minutes of this exercise, the roles reverse, and partner B is encouraged by partner A to expresses his fears about sex.
You can also do this exercise about sexual fantasies.
This can be more challenging than expressing fears: we all know we have sexual fears; indeed, feeling anxious about aspects of sex is perfectly normal. But we probably have more inhibitions about our fantasies. This means the exercise is even more likely to produce an emotional response from the listening partner.
For example, suppose that your partner says he or she fantasises about making love to your best friend. You may well feel strong emotional responses to such a statement, and it takes time to realise that this is no different in essence to the fantasies which we all engage in at some level.
Men in particular tend to fantasise about women at work, in the street, at home, and so on....that fantasy has no more or less meaning than a fantasy about a friend.
It's a powerful exercise that helps in moving beyond the limits and boundaries you've placed around your own sexuality. The method is exactly the same as above: partner A sits facing partner B while maintaining eye contact.
Then partner A asks partner B: "Tell me about a sexual fantasy you've had recently." It's then up to the other partner to express this as fully as they feel able to do. It's also important that the other partner ends the process by saying "Thank you for sharing your fantasy with me."
That's all: no judgement, no questions, no explanations. Even if these come later, they can still diminish the level of trust between the couple, so it's worthwhile being sure that you are not threatened by open and honest exchanges of this kind.
By far the most disruptive emotion to sexual intimacy is anger (including resentment, frustration and irritation).
The process of expressing this can be incredibly healing, but once again it must be done an atmosphere of complete trust and support. The partners decide who is A and who is B and partner A goes first.
They sit facing each other comfortably, maintaining eye contact as before, and partner B asks partner A: "Tell me, what I have done that has made you angry?" Partner A then expresses some event, action, deed or word, that has left them with a sense of resentment, no matter how small.
Once again, it's absolutely essential that the receiving partner does receive this in a non-judgemental silence, with complete openness and acceptance. Yes, of course, your view of what happened may be totally different to your partner's; yes, you may or may not be right about that; and no, you are not going to justify, explain, or defend what happened!
Again, this is about acceptance of your partner's reality in a non-judgemental way, no matter what emotions come up for you and your partner. Your objective is solely to maintain a space in which your partner can openly and fearlessly offer you their experience.
These are the things that we do not usually express, and unfortunately these are the things that cause resentment and anger - both of which drive people further away from each other. Loving acceptance of your partner's reality is the way to dissolve these resentments.
Most people do not communicate in this way in their daily life, so exchanging information in this way needs to be done sensitively.
It's quite likely that you may feel very shy with each other when you begin this process. If so, it may be easier if your partner is lying down and you're not in fact looking at each other.
While eye contact does increase the level of intimacy, if one partner is reluctant to engage in this it's probably going to be important that you don't face each other but lie side by side or have one partner sitting and one lying. Remember to adjust your position to accommodate any physical problems which you may have, so that sex is not disrupted by your problems.
If your partner is reluctant to do this, you can provide an example of open and honest communication by modelling to them either the process of expression, or the process of receiving.
And even when your partner has no idea what they need or want to say, or they are too shy to say anything, your receptive and open listening will impact in them, so that over time they will come to trust you more.
Yes, it may take a number of sessions before you have full intimacy and trust between you, and indeed your partner may say nothing that is surprising, revealing or meaningful. The point is that over time they will become better able to express themselves -- and this openness will lead you both to greater intimacy.
If you do wish to discuss what has been said, it's far better to wait until next day to do it. And if you do discuss what happened, you mustn't try to deny or hide the fact that you are upset about it. Avoid judgement, name-calling, accusations, and insults.
These tend in normal everyday life to substitute for the expression of feeling. In other words, the line to take his something like this: "I felt angry when you said that I didn't give you enough cuddles during sex the other night."
Tell your partner that you are angry; this is very different to saying something along the lines of "You're a useless lover and you have no idea how much I need physical contact."
Do you see the difference? Saying how you feel about something is expressing your reality, and doesn't project it onto your partner. In fact, such labels are in any case only a product of your imagination.
And when it comes to discussing your sexual fantasies, don't make a drama out of what your partner says. You are just as likely to have had sexual fantasies they might find bizarre or unacceptable as the other way round. And you're trying to dissolve such feelings and generate trust and acceptance.
We all fantasize; we all enjoy it; we do not, however, all feel guilty about it. But such labels destroy trust; whereas open acceptance and being receptive to them increases trust and intimacy -- and it is by means of this path that you can achieve greater intimacy and a better sex life.