Do you ever wonder if you’re pleasing your partner sexually? Do you ever worry about losing your erection? About lasting long enough? About taking too long or not being able to achieve an orgasm? Is there a desire discrepancy between you and your partner? Has sex been more about making a baby? If you answered “yes” to any of these, you may be experiencing some degree of pressure to perform. This anxiety may be analogous to the feeling of being on stage, with the distractibility that accompanies it, and potentially zapping the pleasure out of your sexual experience with your partner. This performance pressure is not uncommon in new relationships; when you’re struggling with a sexual dysfunction; have little time after juggling multiple roles at work, school, or home; or even in a relationship that has grown distant or stale over time. Perfect sexual performance “on demand” is not realistic, but it’s essentially what’s communicated via the porn industry feeding millions of viewers daily. Implicit in mainstream culture is the message that penetrative intercourse, orgasm, and high frequency of sex equal “good sex” or the “gold standard”. The unintended consequence is we become less aware of the wide range of sexual behaviors, not necessitating penetration or orgasm, that can be quite gratifying and pleasurable. Impacted by these performance mandates, many navigate sexual relationships with a pressure to perform, feeling as if they are “under the microscope”.
I often hear from clients when they are experiencing this perceived pressure that their mind is wandering, distracting them mentally and emotionally from the sexual experience with their partner. They also report a range of feelings; from tense, anxious, and worried, to disappointment, guilt and shame. Many even forget to breathe. They report missing the true pleasure that can be experienced through mindfulness giving and receiving in (and out of) the bedroom. I encourage clients to expand their understanding of sex to include many activities and to shift the focus from pressure to pleasure. By engaging in options that do not always lead to penetration and orgasm, we can ease some of the pressure while heightening the potential for a more sexually intimate and gratifying encounter with our partner.
A key pathway to pleasure, intimacy, and sexual arousal is through touch. Humans inherently need touch, which is an essential way to communicate affection, love, and bonding that starts from birth, and extends to death. For a majority of women throughout their lifespan, and for men more often as they reach midlife and beyond, touch is a critical avenue to sexual arousal. Touching facilitates the release of hormones, Oxytocin and Dopamine, which are associated with feelings of bonding, arousal, and pleasure. These hormones create connections in your brain when you hear your partner’s voice, see their facial gestures and body language, and take in their smell, with feelings of sexual and emotional bonding. Researchers find that as relationships progress and couples become less intimate, this link dissipates or is lost. It becomes essential then to engage in activities that will promote the release of Oxytocin and Dopamine to restore this connection. Incorporating playful, sensual, and erotic gestures like showering together, holding hands, hugging, cuddling, slow dancing, gazing into your partner’s eyes, kissing, caressing, or massaging, may be just a few of the many critical activities toward reestablishing this connection. Indeed, the tools we need are literally at our fingertips… and lips.
So, if your relationship needs a little stimulation or restoration, shift your focus to a “demand less pleasure more” approach. Sensual touch should be considered a valuable stimulus to sexual pleasure and intimacy, while penetration and orgasm are optional, and not required for pleasure. As the fondness and pleasure grow through touching and caring, pressure decreases and desire may increase for a variety of sexual activities that may or may not include intercourse. Creating moments of connection through touch inside and outside of the bedroom can expand your arousal template, increase positive anticipation, and enhance desire and pleasure that can last long after the orgasm has dissolved.
Look for my next blog where I will elaborate on a Touch exercise you can do with your partner.