Most couples remember a time when sex drew them together, made them want to cling hungrily to each other. Making love magnetized them, and so magnetized, they wanted even more sex.
Oh, to spin 'round again in that happy circle!
Is it still possible? Or does monogamy inevitably foster monotony? It sure seems to for many couples. In a response to my article on Corey Allan's Simple Marriage blog, a reader I’ll call Josh wrote:
“My personal weakness is for watching strip teases.... What I find thrilling is seeing a beautiful woman with a great body who is proudly, happily, and excitedly stripping her clothes off for her special viewer. I’m turned on to her excitement and willingness to share her sexiness.
“My wife suffers from very low self-esteem. She thinks her body is ugly, and the thought of doing a strip tease for me terrifies her. I’ll agree, she doesn’t have a model body. But I believe that if she had that confidence, she would be very sexy to me. She used to be addicted to pornography to dull the pain in her very unfortunate teenage life, so she knows the ‘standard of sexiness.’ She won’t allow herself to believe she’s sexy, therefore, until she has a supermodel body. Personally, I get very discouraged because I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. One reason I go to pornography is because I have a need to feel deeply attracted to a woman, and though I love my wife and she’s my best friend, her insecurities prevent her from being deeply attractive to me.
“I am drawn to pornography because I want to feel that thrilling attraction to a young woman. I fantasize that she is my mate, and that she is willing to give me that sexual excitement over and over again because she loves me. However, when my wife finds out about this situation, she is very hurt. She feels that she has been replaced, and becomes frightened that she will be tossed aside and abandoned, confirming that she is worthless. It’s a lose-lose situation.
“Watching pornography also lowers my self-esteem. It makes me feel like an animal. When I’ve been watching it often, I undress women I pass in the street in my mind, then evaluate them based on their sexual excitement potential. I generally tend to have far more passionate sex and more intense orgasms, but that’s because when I’m making love with my wife in the dark, fantasies of making love to the women I saw on the screen send my imagination into overload. Then, I am left feeling depressed that all of those beautiful women are not my mates, that my mate is really not that sexually attractive at all.
“While watching pornography is extremely exciting and a motivating factor pushing my wife to be a sexy partner, I also feel guilt about watching it, it leads me to be dishonest with my wife and my employer, and makes me feel disappointed in my wife and feel regret for marrying her. It also makes me critical of her, which pushes her in the opposite direction of healing from this problem. I am therefore doing everything I can to eliminate pornography by attending a weekly addiction recovery group with other men who have lost their wives and children because of it.
“But that alone is not the answer. I am desperate to figure out what can be done that will help my wife gain the confidence and the emotional security to feel that she can open up with me sexually and be a really fun and enticing sexual partner.”
Josh and Kaitlin are in a downward spiral. Their problem is shared by many couples.
Our sexual sensibilities have been so swayed by pornography, we’re now more focused than ever on appearance and performance. Our porn-saturated minds have been backed into a corner of consciousness during sex. Heightened awareness loops back and forth between the brain and the genitals, what we’re seeing and how we’re doing, but rarely ventures anywhere else. Outside stimulants (pornography or even another human being) are there to be "consumed" as "input" by the brain in order to have the desired effect on the genitals, which hopefully then has the desired effect on the dopamine circuits of the brain, and so on. Our partner becomes little more than "the other body" rattling around within an otherwise vacuous energy system.
To be emotionally on our own during lovemaking is particularly lonely. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that it disconnects a couple when one partner gets lost in the depths of delight at the cusp of orgasm. Neither does stimulating one's own genitals during sex. Rather, the human connection is hindered rather than strengthened when a porn-saturated partner is routinely "out of it" during sex, "lost in their own world," allowing their interest in their own stimulation or performance to eclipse this living, breathing human being who would like to connect with them. Sex, which can so potently attach us to our beloved and electrify the relationship becomes just another mood altering drug. Being another person’s fix can feel pretty empty.
A more deeply personal, emotionally engaged sex life is one of the best reasons to give up porn and one of the greatest rewards for doing so, but it requires a new approach. It's a challenge to practice relationship-oriented sex when auto-eroticism has been the familiar path of least resistance.
Here’s how I responded to Josh:
“To enhance the likelihood that sex will connect rather than detach the two of you as partners, pay attention to the loop of energy and communication that flows back and forth as you express and receive physical affection from Kaitlin.
“As the two of you begin to come together physically, focus on what you feel in your heart when you attend to her. Then, let the touch of your hand on her shoulder blade, the press of of your hips against hers, express that energy. Look into her eyes to see what’s in her heart. Are the signals you’re sending by way of your touch making it all the way down into her soul?
“Perhaps not yet. That’s okay, keep trying. Use your voice. Might your words and your mmm’s and aaahh’s pierce through the fog of separateness and reestablish that precious soul-to-soul link? By way of your voice, convey your feelings. Messages so sent need not stop at the ears or the brain. Let them reverberate more deeply.
“Skin and lips and tongue and even genitals may be the concrete means of communication, but the messages are being sent spirit to spirit.
“Let yourself receive her words, her touch in the same manner. Making love in this way awakens entirely new possibilities and vitality. You’ll rise above the stimulant/brain/genital loop that has isolated you from ‘refreshing’ input from Kaitlin, this real, live, warm, breathing, human other.
“The focus turns from appearance and performance to mindful attunement to what’s real now–two individuals and a dynamic mix of feelings, sights, sound, textures, and smells. Lovemaking as a vehicle to connect soul-to-soul and mingle your very essence with hers brings a new level of excitement and immediacy. Porn, sex toys, and your wildest fantasies can’t hold a candle to what emotional connection does for sex.
“As the two of you are becoming intimate, what if Kaitlin expresses hesitation and self-doubt? Ask her to give you the gift of staying in touch with what is genuinely passing between the two of you instead of reverting to what she thought she saw in the mirror earlier in the day or the sexual trauma that occurred back when she was single. Keep your mind on her when it’s used to wandering to the strip teasing mental mistresses. You may keep the light on so that you can look deep into her eyes in hopes that she will see that you don’t want the dissatisfaction of mutual disconnection anymore. Express your willingness in this way to really be with her here and now.
“Here is another human being giving you the gift of her attention. If she feels insecure and her eyes downcast, she is being emotionally real with you in that moment. Don’t regret that, be with her there, in that feeling. Let it into your heart. Then let your heart respond to that and convey that response by way of touching her cheek, looking at her, embracing her, vocalizing words and soothing sounds. It may be compassion you’re conveying, but also a different view: an appreciation and a hope that she will allow in the esteem you hold for her and your desire for her (and no other woman) to come out from behind her shield and play with you sexually, fully share herself with you. It will require sacrifice to truly be with each other in this way, but what each of you gain will be well worth what you’ll be giving up.”
Because of the discouragement he had expressed, I assumed that Josh and Kaitlin might have a way to go to get to what I was describing. Imagine how delighted was to get this response from him the very next day:
“Thank you very much for the advice. I spent a good while thinking about this, and realized that although we have had erotic lovemaking before, we are not initiating it now. I talked to Kaitlin about this, and we both realized that my fears of being sexually disappointed and frustrated and her fears of being a disappointment were preventing us from initiating erotic lovemaking. We discussed what it took for us. Talking, snuggling, and then stripping is what we came up with. Then, we decided that we would set up specific days of the week to do it, so that with experience our fears will subside and our ability to let go and connect will get stronger. I also believe it will lead us to have a less stressful approach to life as well!
“Thank you for your post. Connecting with her emotionally is something we’ve had difficulty doing, in bed and out, but we found something that really helps. 6 months ago we heard about and tried Harville Hendix’s Imago Dialogue, and it has revolutionized our communication. It used to be our conversations were riddled with fear and pain, but after the dialogue, we’ve both been able to calm our fears and communicate clearly and listen with a open heart and willing mind. I highly recommend it, even though it seems weird at first. I’ve also been encouraging Kaitlin to calm down and ‘feel’ instead of stressing out about ‘performing’ for me. Connecting emotionally as you mentioned is definitely something I will be thinking about.”
Has your lovemaking has become routine? Do you feel cut off from your partner? Get back to heart-to-heart sex. Let us know what you learn in the process.
Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net