At a time in the western world, when we often have premarital sex as a given, contraception in hand, and the permission for sexual connection and pleasure at home, desire seems to be flatlining. We don’t know why it is so difficult to sustain desire, and we want to want.
Many of us, when it comes to sexuality, tend to do what we think we should do rather than what we’d like to be doing (and this is not just a statement about women). We get stuck in ruts and disconnect from our imaginations. We would love to experience new things with our partners but we can be afraid to invite ourselves or them. A minor annoyance or a major impasse can both be catalysts for shutting down sexually. Sometimes we’re “not in the mood;” other times we wonder if we’ve lost what once made us desirable to our partners.
We tend to think of these as sexual issues. Really, it’s an erotic dilemma. Contrary to what we are taught, eroticism isn’t purely sexual; it is sexuality transformed and socialized by the human imagination. The imagination creates the plot. Flirtation, longing, and anticipation all play within our mind’s eye. This is where our erotic faculties live. And eroticism is a time machine. It’s activated by the pains and pleasures of our complicated pasts. It breeds hope and possibilities for the future. It makes us feel utterly present.
Don’t know what I mean? Think about a favorite activity. Let’s say, you love to play soccer, tennis, or ping-pong. Last time, you won your game. Thinking about that win gets you excited about the next time you’ll play. At home, you wash your gear. You text your teammates to schedule practice. You check the weather. There’s a whole ritual that builds anticipation.
So why, when it comes to sex, do people seem to think that just saying “do you want to have sex” after doing the dishes is a sufficient warm up?
Play ball, people! Engaging in eroticism enables us to maintain a sense of aliveness, vibrancy, and vitality. As Octavio Paz has implied, eroticism is the poetry of the body the way that poetry is the eroticism of language. Don’t let a difficult phase be a death sentence for your sex life or your relationship. Together, you can come through it. Consider the following five ways to create meaningful connections with your partner.
The erotic landscape is vastly larger, richer, and more intricate than the physiology of sex, or any repertoire of sexual techniques. It’s worth repeating: the central agent of eroticism is our imaginations. The most overlooked erotic organ is our mind. We can anticipate, dream, and give meaning. If sex is a collection of urges and acts, the erotic is a receptacle for our hopes, fears, expectations, and struggles. It’s about the quality of the experience, not frequency and performance. If you want to feel transported, you have to take risks. I’m not talking about danger; I’m talking about vulnerability of exposure and exploration that heightens trust. Deep eroticism is intimate; deep intimacy is erotic.
Playing it safe gets it done, but if you want a sense of renewal and excitement, step outside of your comfort zone. Creating meaningful connection often requires adjusting the context in which intimacy is taking place. Try to:
Couples who are plagued by sexual boredom would be well to explore the hidden fantasies and desires that turn them on. A great way to do this is to engage in sexual play. Here are some ways to initiate:
At this moment, getting it done, being efficient, and our obsession with optimatization creates an anti-erotic culture. Sex is not about the orgasm nor does it end with the orgasm. Stop focusing on the physicality of it. Linger. Take your time. Savor. Let things unfold and not be so goal-orientated. And, by the way, foreplay starts at the end of the previous orgasm.
Tell me how you were loved; I will tell you how you make love. The psychology of our desires often lies buried in the details of our childhood and in our relationships with our caregivers. It didn’t start when we found our partners. What gives us intense pleasure sometimes comes from very dimly-lit places inside of ourselves, and from experiences that were actually quite painful. Our imagination compensates for what was missing, and for what may be missing now. Sexual fantasies reveal our deepest emotional needs. Provided you are in a healthy enough relationship to go there, explore the roots of your sexuality with my free Intimacy Inventory. Within it, you’ll find a series of questions and conversation topics that will give you deeper insights into yourself and each other.
Exploring our physical, mental, and emotional depths enables us to deepen our intimacy. Feeling busy, tired, or stressed notwithstanding, it’s this kind of understanding of ourselves and our partners that will help us overcome the obstacles to our desires and bring home the erotic. Have fun.