“Wherever you are is the entry point.” -Kabir
Our sexual lives often are held apart from the considerations and habits we maintain around the rest of our health. This is an erroneous view because countless studies have confirmed that an active sex life leads to a longer life, better heart health, a healthier immune response, reduction in chronic pain symptoms, lower rates of depression and even protection against some cancers. Men who have regular sex (twice per week) have half as many heart attacks as men who only have sex once per month. In fact, a regular garden variety sex life has been shown to extend life by as many as ten years; those who engage in a meaningful sex life are less anxious, fearful and inhibited.
And yet breaking out of old sexual ruts may be the most challenging of habits to shift, in part because they are generally laden with so many useless and often untrue beliefs about sex and ourselves that changing our sexual habit begins with changing how we think. For most people, the biggest disconnect to their erotic self happens in their brain not their body. Our libido wakes up in the limbic part of the brain, the same place that processes memory and emotions. So generally, if we come to our sexual lives full of unresolved emotions and anxiety, we inhibit our brain from engaging with the arousal mechanism, which, for most of us takes our full attention.
Simone Weil wrote: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” I would argue that it is the biggest hurdle we have to overcome in creating healthy sexual hygiene habits. Collectively, our attention is split among so many devices, apps and to-do lists that we lose touch not only with each other, but with our ability to feel what is happening in our own body. Essentially, we unwittingly lose our ability to feel, and feelings- both visceral and emotional- are the legs upon which our erotic capacity stands. Take the time to give our fullest attention to the space that lives between you and your partner. Begin by thinking of your intimate life in terms of the smallest details. For example, when thinking of the kiss, take the time to reflect on how lips, tongue and the space between you make the dance of physical communication erotic.
Learning to respect the space between you as a meaningful part of your intimacy brings the idea of the relationship container into focus. One reason that casual hook-ups tend to leave a painful residue is because there is nothing to hold the immensity and depth of our nakedness. This hanging feeling often translates into a steeling oneself in the midst of the most intimate act we can engage in and instead of opening to experiencing the depth of emotions and sensations this generates, we are protecting ourselves from the experience. Sex without feelings is harmful because the feelings don’t just disappear through our suppression, instead they fester and become more demanding the longer we refuse to look at them.
Our feelings are a true barometer for our sense of safety, reflecting the resonance of being seen and valued. Sexual habits that do not allow us to engage our hearts, shuts them down. This is confirmed in those same sexual studies about women; for whom the enjoyment or quality of the sexual experience was more important to their longevity than the frequency. In a related study of 100 women with heart disease, sexual frigidity was present in 65% of the coronary patients compared with the control group. Cutting ourselves off from feeling our hearts experience, especially around our sexual habits is deadly.
Creating healthy sexual habits begins with fully engaging our sexual desire, libido response and our hearts into an interactive and informative dialogue. The mysterious and often shattered links between our capacity for desire and sexual arousal is repaired in these empathetic links. Attentively listening for the soft voice in our hearts when we share our naked desire is where the light literally turns on and heals us.