I have been working at the crossroads of gratitude and sex for most of my adult life. As the years pile on in my marriage, I am not only astounded by the longevity of my intimate life, but literally weep with gratitude for every moment I get with my husband.
Since losing my boy and recently becoming a grandmother, I know better than to take anything for granted. Every time I find myself in the remarkable passion that has sustained my marriage for decades I pray let this not be the last time. What I realized during this last painful year is how our intimate life makes us more resilient and capable in our relationship as a whole. So here are some of my best ideas for building resilience and nourishing your erotic soul. They will work everywhere else in life too, but I hope they provide a door into the magical ways that gratitude comes alive entwined in the arms of the person you love.
1. Be Present
It is only in the present moment – in the instant of here and now – that our experience takes on any real meaning or offers us any truth. So often when it comes to our sex life we squander our attention of regrets from the past or anxiety about our ability to perform in the future.
Letting go of the past in our intimate relationships means that we give up the idea that we can fix what is past and the blaming narratives about what went wrong.
Likewise, replacing useless rumination over future worries with genuine curiosity about how you can be prepared for the present will free you to enjoy it. In this very moment you can allow yourself moments of naked vulnerability and experience how unpredictable and healing human touch can be. In this moment you can feel your nervous system relax enough to receive pleasure.
2. Bear Witness to Physical Anxiety
Anxiety isn’t a state of mind or even an experience that is produced exclusively by the mind. Rather, it’s an energy that lives in the body, and for that matter, in everybody at some point and for many every day. This is especially true when it comes to our relationship to our erotic self. Depending on what study you look at, anywhere between 20 and 40% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of anxiety.
One of the most effective ways to work with anxious energy is through practicing and recognizing the visceral sensations of anxiety. Often just noticing is enough to allow a broader range of sensations in. Slowly but surely we can allow ourselves to experience the gratification of our senses by tasting mouth-watering flavors, inhaling deeply into the night air, or listening to the refrain of a beloved song. By focusing on our exquisite human sensory capacity, we bring our life and relationship into focus because we are touching what is real.
Opening to pleasure that is built into our being is how we say yes to life. Applying this straightforward pleasure principle to our erotic self is a generous gesture and can be a healing balm for our sexual anxiety.
3. Extend Your Exhale
Finding a place to rest inside the discomfort of anxiety is inside the breath. Most of us are not conscious of how our breathing may be cementing our anxious thoughts and giving the body constant erroneous messages of impending emergency. Learning to focus on the exhale and slow it down calms the nervous system instantly.
- Try this technique: Bring attention and agency to fully and slowly exhaling to create instant calm. It is as easy as counting the length of your inhale and extending even by one count your exhale.
This is a great practice to bring to your erotic life as well. Synchronizing your breath with your partner can help you feel attuned and connected. Combine this with touch, and you begin to realize how offering ourselves to someone we love is a sensory extravaganza. Attending to our breath also raises our awareness of scent which is the primary organ of arousal. Using our nose to relax invites us to remember our orgasmic potential.
4. Listen More Deeply
Psychologist Carl Rogers once wrote: “When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements which seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens.”
The truth is that most people can’t distinguish between the experience of being heard and being loved. And the beauty of the sheltered place of being heard is that it is just as powerful when we offer it to ourselves. Especially as pertains to our erotic life, this kind of deep listening asks authentic questions that makes room for all our sensations and holds them lovingly. It is amazing how well our capacity for pleasure responds to our ability to listen and surrender to it.
When we abandon our need to control the outcome, a new dynamic can emerge which is all about receiving loving pleasure. What more is there to be grateful for?