In our mentoring work with couples we place a high priority on the role sexuality plays in their lives together. If you are experiencing problems in your sex life, or simply wish for deeper passion, our mentoring sessions can be of enormous value. Sexuality is an integral aspect of the committed relationship and we work with a wide range of issues including inhibited sex drive, trauma, infidelity, and compulsions. We also welcome same-sex relationships and have trained same-sex couples as mentors. Below is a brief overview of our description of exceptional sex. Please contact us for further information.
Sexual expression is a profound human longing which can find its home in the committed relationship. Sexuality has the potential to cut through all the myriad ways couples attempt to keep themselves separate from each other and the vibrantly alive energy they are endowed with.
Let’s start by making a distinction between great sex and exceptional sex. Often couples have a notion of what they would describe as great sex. Invariably it involves a loosely defined script which includes heightening arousal, maybe some particular types of sex play, uninhibited sexual contact, powerful orgasms, and mutual afterglow. Great sex is what couples strive for and fantasize about. When it happens it can have a lasting impact on the couple’s level of intimacy. The problem is great sex does not happen as often as most couples would like, and generally it cannot be orchestrated through the use of techniques. There are too many other human factors which confound the ability to achieve regular great sex.
Conversely, exceptional sex takes us in a different direction. In Going All The Way, we said this, “Exceptional sex may not look like the popular notion of pulse-pounding, heart throbbing, high-on-the-Richter Scale, orgasm-centric intercourse. While that scenario may occur, it is not the essence of exceptional sex. When couples have been married for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or more years, sex must evolve along with the relationship.” What we are suggesting, is that exceptional sex is an adventure into a world where anything is possible. In exceptional sex, it is hard to know who will show up. There is room for all the various energies existing within each person – innocence, power, playfulness, insecurity, selfishness, generosity, worry, distraction, over/under arousal, seductiveness, surrender, resistance and much more.
It is sad though, how sexuality has been shackled by the emphasis on performance over spontaneity, and approval-seeking over curiosity. In helping couples to entertain a broader notion of sexuality, we have witnessed a palpable relief as partners learn to let go of internalized expectations. In exceptional sex it is no longer a failure when a man loses an erection, or a woman cannot reach orgasm. These are part of the experience. When couples redouble their efforts to overcome these challenges they only move further away from exceptional sex. Instead, we invite them to make deeper contact with each other in the experience of a flagging penis or frustrated pelvis.
When partners can meet each other in the moment where they might normally cut off or disappear, the sexual encounter continues rather than aborts. To invoke exceptional sex, partners need to eroticize even their frustrations and insecurities. Sexuality goes way beyond a hard penis and a wet vagina. At its essence eroticism is the openness to desiring everything your mate has to offer. What prevents this from occurring often has to do with the ways each individual personalizes the other’s behavior. For many, the narrative “I’m not desirable enough” is never far away and will surface when sex does not go smoothly.
Exceptional sex invites each person into a world where there is no script, and no goal. Eros is the energy that emerges when fear takes a back seat. Thus, in exceptional sex, even what we normally think of as sexual dead ends (anxiety, stress, resentment, and shame) are infused with erotic energy. We invite couples to stay with each other when sex takes a difficult turn. The erotic is in the willingness to remain in contact and to begin to see all responses as a source of deeper intimacy – if the couple just doesn’t give up.
Erotic energy is light, free, stimulating, playful, positively aggressive, creative, innocent and delightful. Much of the work we do with couples is ultimately destined to awaken the eros that is latent in the relationship. Far too many couples shrink back into timid and politically correct forms of sexual expression. Eroticism combines heart and pelvis, love and lust, narcissism and generosity. While couples can have sex without eroticism, it will remain extremely limited and ultimately unrewarding. Many couples operate from the axiom “I’d rather be safe than sorry.” As David Schnarch suggests, “Eroticism is very personal and self-revealing – that’s why partners typically hide their eroticism from each other.” (41) When the only choices available are “safe” or “sorry” eroticism is the greatest casualty.
We mentioned above that in exceptional sex even the struggles, frustrations, and “failures” are eroticized. This means that embedded in every interaction or emotional reaction is the capacity for erotic awakening. When one partner notices that the other has gone away he can roll over in frustration or he can beckon her back. When a spouse asks her mate to go down on her and he hesitates, she can get self-conscious or she can presence her reactions to his hesitance. Such a moment can become erotic when two people stay with what is happening. For her to say, “It’s hard for me to ask you to go down on me. When I sense your reluctance I want to pull away,” opens the way for deeper contact. This then reignites eroticism. His experiencing her vulnerability might open his heart and turn him on. Perhaps it will lead to a more honest discussion about his trouble with oral sex, which may temporarily move the couple away from the sex. But this is a necessary step in finding the way back to the erotic. We work with many couples in their sixties and seventies who still long for the beauty of sexual contact. When they let hormonal decreases become the explanation for the loss of sexual interaction they easily give up. In EMM we like to talk about what we call the “erotic spectrum.” One of the reasons why sexual apathy and inhibition settles in is because couples often have a rigidly defined idea of when sex begins. A couple will be relating to each other from a mostly cognitive, functional place for weeks and then suddenly attempt to awaken their genitals. This compartmentalizing of sexuality is a big problem.
The erotic spectrum informs us that sex doesn’t begin when we take our clothes off, and doesn’t end when we roll over in post-orgasmic slumber. If we begin to embrace the idea that sexual energy can be gradually building over many days. That it waxes like the moon. Then we can avoid the abrupt shift from head to pelvis. Likewise, the post-coital after-glow is one of slowly waning energy, and can last for several days if couples are open to noticing.
We will encourage partners to begin building charge any time they notice one another in a sexual way. There are any number of moments when one partner feels a slight attraction to the other. Most of these fall under the radar in the hub-bub of everyday life. But if a spouse notices, “Hmm, her butt looks nice in those slacks.” Or “I really love his neck,” these are little forays into one’s own sexuality.
So we ask partners to heed these sexual snippets. If, for instance, either partner has difficulty with arousal, they can use these brief attractions to build energy. A mate can consciously begin, in his own mind, to sexually objectify his partner. When he feels an attraction he can allow himself to imagine having sex with her when the weekend arrives. Over the ensuing days he may play with looking at her more sexually, and fantasize about doing things with her that would really turn him on. We might encourage him to point out to her how attractive she looks. They can begin to relate to each other more erotically without any immediate expectation of intercourse.
Eroticizing everyday life is crucial to sexual fulfillment. It is much easier for a couple to have a pleasurable encounter if they have been sexually engaged for days. In addition to noticing each other as sexual objects, we also encourage partners to engage their senses with each other. In our couples workshops we often will blindfold one of the pair and have the partner engage her mate’s senses with aromas, various forms of touch, small bits of fruit or chocolate, and music. We will do this in mentoring sessions also. They are encouraged to meet one another through their senses at home as well.
When a couple does have a sexual encounter that culminates with either orgasm or heightened arousal, we want for them to savor the experience as it continues over the next few days. The erotic spectrum involves a leisurely build of charge and an equivalent release and incremental discharge of erotic energy over a much longer period of time than most couples realize. The reality is that couples can be “having sex” much more of the time then they imagine if they saw this process of arousal and release as being without fixed boundaries.
Brian and Marcia offer sexuality mentoring sessions to couples.