Continuing the discussion of the tenants of a healthy sex life, I want to talk now about enjoying the journey. The Giver/Receiver exercise is particularly useful in helping you stay more present and less goal oriented.
Phase 4 – Enjoying the Journey
Being attached to the outcome is a common problem in sex. A lot of people assume that the goal of sex is orgasm. It’s nice to be able to have an orgasm if you want one but focusing on that as the end goal has its problems.
First, not everyone can have an orgasm, at least not every time. If that’s your goal for either yourself or your partner, you are set up to fail, at least some of the time. Your body changes, and your responsiveness fluctuates, so there’s no way you’re going to bat 1000. And focusing on orgasm often makes it harder to reach one, especially if that’s combined with any worry or self-consciousness about your performance.
Shooting for a goal like that also minimizes the rest of the experience. Anything but that seems “less than.” The rest of the encounter is just used to reach the orgasm, without value by itself. You may not be paying attention to the rest of the experience; you don’t savor or relish all the sensations. You can be so focused on moving forward that you are in the future moment, not the present one. Don’t rush your way through the foreplay to get to the main event. Most of you have an efficient way of having sex; often that’s exactly because you’re doing what moves you toward orgasm the most quickly. If that’s the goal, and especially if you are pressed for time or energy, you tend to want to do only what’s needed to get there and nothing more.
Achieving the goal of orgasm may feel like enough of a payoff to keep you interested in sex, at least for a while. But you or your partner may get bored, even though you reach orgasm. It may not seem much more fulfilling than masturbating, and masturbating may be less trouble. And if you start to struggle to be interested, to get aroused, or to reach orgasm, you will likely start to feel bad about sex.
As I described in a previous post, my take on a healthy view of sex is that it is about pleasure and connection, in varying proportions. Focus on orgasm often makes it difficult to be present in the moment, and it can create pressure and anxiety for one or both partners if sex isn’t a straight line from initiation to arousal to orgasm. Sex is dramatically enhanced when you stop being destination-oriented and start enjoying each step along the journey. It is great fun to play in the space before orgasm: allowing arousal to build, subside, and build again. New possibilities open when you are not driving directly to climax. And if you or your partner struggle with arousal or orgasm, taking the focus off the outcome and learning to enjoy touch and connection allows you to enjoy what you’re doing (and may very well make it easier to reach orgasm later if you want to).
This attitude will serve you well if you ever encounter changes in your life that affect your (or your partner’s) sexual functioning. Whether you have a permanent change at some point or are just faced with a night where you’re too tired to be as responsive as usual, you have more options for pleasure and connection if you enjoy what is without worrying about what may follow.
If you have never had an orgasm or regularly struggle to reach one, it’s worth doing what you can to make that an option, but that still doesn’t mean it should be the focus of your sexual interactions or the marker of success. You may want to work on discovering your way to climax through masturbation or through practice sessions with your partner where that is the focus—but that can be separate from sex where you try not to have a goal. Pull back on the expectations, assume it will not happen right away, and take your time. Then make sure to also have sex where that pressure is off the table.
One reason you may struggle to just enjoy the journey is the concern about what will happen if you want to stop part way through. The fear of disappointing or frustrating your partner can prevent you from even starting to be sexual. To help you address this concern and allow you to relax and enjoy, I encourage you to develop “other endings” that work for both of you in case one of you is really aroused and the other isn’t. At each moment during a sexual encounter, including one that started with a maybe, each of you has the choice to continue or not. You choose whether to turn up the heat or to dial it back. The important part is sharing a sexual moment; it is less important what you do together. At some point, you may find yourself aroused and interested in sex. Great! If not, you can collaborate on other endings that can feel satisfying to you both. Once you both realize that there is more than one outcome that feels like a success, the easier it’s going to be to dive in and see what happens. Creating more opportunity to get aroused will likely lead to more sex, but there will still be times where your motor doesn’t turn over. You need to have a variety of ways to wrap up these encounters and feel good about them.
What can you do if sex, however you have it, does not end up as an option? There are more solutions to that than you can imagine. Some of them may require practice, patience, or personal growth. If you aren’t aroused, but your partner is interested in an orgasm, there are a lot of ways to solve that. You can be as actively involved in their orgasm as you want to be.
● You can bring them to orgasm (through oral sex, manual stimulation, use of a vibrator or any other means).
● They can masturbate, putting in all the effort themselves, while you are present with them.
● You can share the “work” of whatever stimulation it would take for your partner to climax. For instance, you can nibble their ear or nipple while they use their hands on their own genitals. You can both be stroking their genitals together. You can take turns doing the stroking that they find pleasurable. There are innumerable ways to work together on their pleasure.
● You can let arousal naturally fade and not pursue an orgasm. There are tantric practices that feature this kind of energy build-up over days; many people find it enjoyable and invigorating.
Just because you both don’t want to end an encounter with sex (or with two orgasms) doesn’t mean you need to avoid sexual interaction. It is helpful to have a variety of ways to conclude a sexual encounter that work for both of you—even if this takes working through inhibitions. Practicing flexibility by having any number of ways to share sexual interaction reduces a lot of pressure and creates the opportunity for your sexual relationship to thrive.
Using the Giver/Receiver Exercise – Enjoying the Journey
You can use the Giver/Receiver Exercise to practice letting go of expectation and outcome. Because the exercise is time limited, and because you are asked to immerse yourself in the moment and let go of any goal of arousal or orgasm for you and your partner, you have the opportunity to take a new kind of journey together. This becomes a model for how you can approach sex: where you have the option to reach orgasm but don’t have to worry about it ahead of time, where you can linger in the spaces before climax and explore the breadth of sexual experience, where you can still connect with your partner in pleasure even if orgasm, or even arousal, is off the table for one or both of you. It’s also a place to practice those other endings, since sometimes one of you may end up aroused and interested in continued pleasure or orgasm once the exercise is over. I invite you to see what it’s like to let go of the outcome and just enjoy yourselves!
Pitfall: Being Attached to a Goal
You can’t get over the idea that you should get aroused. Or that you want an orgasm (or to give one). Or that you really want to have sex after the exercise is over. It’s hard to just be in the moment without thinking about where it’s going. You’re either driven toward pleasure and can’t slow down to explore other touch or to linger where you are, or you’re feeling bad that you don’t seem to be hitting the goal or expectation. You feel bad that it isn’t working again. You’re either anticipating (or worried about) what happens after the exercise, instead of being in the present with the experience you’re having.
Breakthrough: Letting Go of the Goal
You let go of the idea that anything is supposed to happen for either you or your partner. You are relieved of the burden to perform. If your partner is getting aroused, you can still be in the moment without pushing or driving toward anything else. You don’t worry about what comes next. You don’t get ahead of yourself, anticipating what comes next or what you’ll do after the exercise.