"And is there anything you would withhold? Some day, all that you have shall be given. The trees give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish."
The first time I heard of slower, non-orgasmic sex as a guided experience rather than the ‘failed’ outcome of intercourse, a delicate light bulb flickered in my mind. On one hand, I imagined how intimacy would flourish if lovers shifted their intention from doing something to simply being together. Still, I had mixed feelings. A part of me resisted the notion of purposefully modifying arousal to keep from having an orgasm. It was just a bit off the wall, even for someone spiritually inclined as myself, even as that same inner soulfulness longed to experience more meaningful sensual connection. Perhaps this resistance is why it took many gentle nudges from the universe to explore the non-orgasmic side of spiritual sexualove.
Giving vs. Receiving
My initial awakening came the first time I experienced what it was like to be fully present to ecstasy. That evening – a magical time shortly after my divorce — can best be summed up in the words of the great mystic poet, Khalil Gibran: “And what greater merit shall there be than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?” On my new lover’s initiative, I did nothing but allow him to pleasure me. Letting go of the mental chatter to receive without restraint, physical, emotional and otherwise, was novel, foreign, and freeing; to relinquish the guilt (I’ll delve more into this notion shortly) many of us carrying around with us is indubitably restorative.
Barbara Carrellas of Urban Tantra (Celestial Arts, 2007) writes about expanding our capacity for rapture beyond our mental constraints: “I’ll bet that this moment happened when you were doing nothing but receiving. You were not trying to give back to the person who was giving to you. You were not planning what you were going to do later to please your lover. You were totally and completing receiving every drop of pleasure you were being offered.”
The conundrum we face, however, is multifold. In our achievement-focused culture, we often struggle with the need to perform, and so what should be our nature — to float gently in the pleasure of each caress, each nibble, each tactile sensation that reminds us of our somatic natures and desirability — instead feels foreign, or even forbidden. One could say that the energies of the boardroom have contaminated the enchantment of the bedroom.
Then there is the simple fact that mindfulness requires we give our attention to one thing at a time. “In the totality of your receiving, you may give your partner a lot of pleasure. In the process of giving, you may get a lot of pleasure. But sex is a lot more satisfying when your intention — either to give or to receive — is clear,” Carrellas writes.
What’s more, we feel guilty if we accept too much joyfulness. Most of us create, subconsciously and through life experience, a narrative that says we are allotted only so much bliss. This extends into the pleasure zones of love as well. “It feels to good to be true,” we think to ourselves; or something even more jarring — “I don’t deserve this” — prevents us from relaxing into ecstasy. When this happens, we actually sabotage our pleasure potential.
Sometimes we do so in obvious, harmful ways, like manufacture conflict in our intimate relationships, or say ‘No’ when we really want to say ‘Yes’. (For more insights, read the classic, How Much Joy Can You Stand by Suzanne Falters).
Less obviously, guilt can sometimes cause us to (can you predict what I’m going to write next?) – turn the tables and give instead. It’s a common response, aided and abetted by good intentions gone silly. “Most people find it much easier to give than to receive,” Carrallas explains. “Most of us seem to carry some sort of automatic guilt alarm that goes off when we are receiving pleasure.”
“The irony of this is that the vast majority of people love giving to a receptive, willing partner who’s truly enjoying her or himself. So in trying to give back while someone is trying to give to us, we are actually depriving out partner of the pleasure of being able to go totally into the experience of giving.” For this reason, she advises: When you are receiving, receive it all, and when you are giving, give freely and everything.
To Come or Not to Come?
In a way, I almost feel as if I’m contradicting what was written in the clitoral compass article, which touts the amazing apparatus of the female body, with one that suggests we consider forgoing orgasms (at least some of the time) as a way to make love sustainable. To clarify, I’m an ardent fan of physical love as a means of building more everlasting soulful bonds; still, I’m struggling to capture the essence of the matter. Orgasm, with all its benefits to the body, heart and soul, is often experienced as a target, rather than a delicious sensation on the continuum of making love. Sometimes, just sometimes, it is not the transcendent experience to which we should be reaching.
That is because, in the pursuit of sexual release, there are those times when we build up that ‘solitary’ tension. That pre-orgasmic state takes us away from being present with our lover. It is wonderful, glorious, meaningful and clarifying — and when we climax, we know our primordial, secret sensual selves. Still, it’s a private place, no matter how many people are in bed with you.
If orgasm comes less readily, we find ourselves focused on coming as a means to an end. Performance anxiety sets in. We try to hard to cross the finish line, and miss the beautiful surroundings that beckon us to slow down, gazing into our lover’s face, and feeling the presence of something greater that reveals itself to us when bodies merge.
Given the commotion of modern living — too heavy on guilt and too light on delight - is it any wonder that couples are drawn to slower or non-orgasmic sexuality as a way to build and sustain their bond?
Body, Mind and Soul
No matter what your thoughts are on the divine (there is a God, there is a Goddess, there is neither, or you abstain from pontificating), your mind and soul circuitry on ecstasy follows certain patterns that science is uncovering, bit by sexy bit. Think of it as our brains on orgasm vs. our brains on attachment behaviors. Bear with me as I explain the connection, body to soul.
Marnia Robinson has written extensively on bonding. The author of Cupid’s Poison Arrow and a regular contributor to PsychologyToday.com, Robinson believes that when you engage in sex that is orgasm-focused, you initiate certain chemical reactions in your brain that diminish your sense of connection and affection in your primary relationship.
Instead, she encourages a specific form of non-orgasmic sex called Karezza (first introduced at the turn of the century, and the focus of a future article). Practitioners remark how much slow sex emphasizes bonding behaviors enhance intimacy. The reason goes back to how our brains respond to them. “These generous behaviors are the way we humans fall in love,” Robinson explains, and include, “affectionate touch, grooming, soothing sounds, eye contact, and so forth.”
“In rare pair-bonding mammals like us, bonding cues serve a secondary function as well (known as an exaptation). They’re part of the reason we stay in love (on average) for long enough for both parents to attach to any kids. Honeymoon neurochemistry also plays a role, but it’s somewhat like a booster shot that wears off. In contrast, bonding behaviors can sustain bonds indefinitely,” she has written on an article about lazy lovemaking.
Why do these gestures support and nurture relationships? “Bonding behaviors, or attachment cues, are subconscious signals that can make emotional ties surprisingly effortless,” Robinson explains, because they activate ancient neural circuitry in the brain, specifically the amygdala, a region that serves as an emotional relay center. Nurturing touch, caring that is genuinely selfless, or holding one another in stillness after a long day, seem to calm the brain down and cascade the brain with the neurochemicals (like oxytocin) that help lovers feel relaxed and loving, she explains.
Karezza is just one way to experience physical intimacy that forgoes climax. However couples choose to explore sexuality, it is my (humble, student of love) opinion that the gentle art of receiving love is the Goddess’ domain, a place where divine femininity is revered and nurtured. If she where to whisper in my ear, this is what I’d now here: Surrender to the pleasure, to the divine, to the cocoon of bliss as a conscious choice. Replacing the idea of sex as a goal with a new notion — intentional delight. Be present in the moment and notice what is going on within you and between you and your beloved. For it is in receiving love that we will sow the seeds of consciousness, orgasmically, or not.