Viewing all posts on the topic of sex: relaxing into pleasure, both solo and with a partner.
Do you ever feel as though you’re just going through the motions? Perhaps it’s hard to enjoy sex because you’re always stuck in your head, feeling disconnected from your body to the point where it doesn’t even feel like it belongs to you.
It can sometimes feel like a physical block, a complete dissociation from felt sensation, where you enjoy sex and intimacy on an emotional level but can’t connect to the physical enjoyment.
Maybe you struggle to maintain eye contact, feeling a lack of connection to the person you’re with, unable to really tune into what you’re both feeling.
Feeling challenged by staying in your body during sex is a challenge with staying in the present moment. For whatever reason, intimacy feels scary and vulnerable, and so instead of staying with the experience you leave your body, which is where we feel the present moment, and come into your mind instead – and the safety of thinking about the past or the future.
In this way we move from feeling connected to feeling protected. We sacrifice connection in order to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of real, in-the-moment intimacy.
Because of this, the process of learning to stay in your body during sex is a process of helping yourself to feel safe again. When we feel safe, we can be with our whole experience, without needing to escape into the mind.
Here are some tools you can use to do just that.
1. Slow down
Slow everything right down. Give yourself time, without pressure: instead of trying to make sex work last thing at night, or when you know you’ve got something else you need to do soon, make some space for exploring pleasure at a time of day when you’re feeling energised and relaxed.
It can also help to experiment with practices to help you stay in your body outside of the bedroom, so that when you do want to have sex you’re doing so from a place of feeling yourself a little more. This means that when sex is initiated, instead of trying to connect to your body and to pleasure in a short space of time, you might already be halfway there.
2. Release expectations
Feeling the pressure of expectations is a really fast way to create insecurity. Reframing sex as playfully exploring pleasure, instead of needing to reach an outcome, can help here. What happens if you take orgasms off the table as something to be achieved? What happens if you share an intention to follow pleasure, rather than ‘have sex?’ What happens if you experiment with different forms of physical intimacy instead – massage, playfighting, watching each other self-pleasure?
Opening up to different ways of exploring sexuality and pleasure is a great way to begin to find what feels good for you. It might be that your body needs lots of physical closeness with another person in order to really feel safe enough to have sexual contact with them – and that’s ok.
3. Notice your breath
Getting stuck in your head means you may be triggered into a stress response, which is what happens when we feel unsafe. When this happens our breathing usually changes too: perhaps your breath becomes shallow and fast, or constricted. You may notice that you hold your breath on either the inhale or the exhale. This can be a great indicator that you’re not fully present any more, and for some people lengthening and relaxing the breath can help to come back to presence.
(It’s worth mentioning that often orgasms are associated with tension and holding the breath, and this common type of orgasm is also known as a peak orgasm. There are alternatives to this where orgasm can be experienced with relaxation and deeper breathing, but that’s a post for another day.)
4. Pause when you need to
One of my favourite tools is to ask for a pause. This works best when you have the conversation before sex is initiated, and explain that you might like to ask for a pause to come back to your body, so that you can feel connected again. Instead of placing blame or responsibility on the other person, this allows you to ask for what you need. If and when you do need to pause, you can take that moment to ask if you’d like something different: maybe to be held, receive some massage, or to try a different activity. Maybe it’s simply some reassurance.
This means that in those moments when you notice you’re not feeling fully present, you can take a minute to feel into what your body needs to feel safe again.
5. Trust your responses
The responses you have – whether it’s to numb out, escape into your mind, or dissociate from your body – are there for a reason. Chances are that there’s some fear showing up, even if it’s well hidden. Trying to push through or ignore the disconnection doesn’t help – it only serves to reinforce the experience of sex feeling disconnected.
Reframing the responses of numbing out and disconnecting as a protective behaviour is helpful here. What is that protection telling you? What does that protection want you to do, or say, or ask for?
6. Connect with the present moment
There are some simple, practical things you can use to reconnect to the present moment, too, some of which may be helpful if you have taken a moment to pause. I detail some of these in my free PDF of tools for feeling more secure in relationship.
One of my favourites is to consciously notice the textures you can feel with your hands: what are you touching right now? What can you feel? Texture, temperature, density? Taking in as many details as you can with curiosity is a great way to gently ground yourself back in the moment.
You can do this with all of your senses, too, not only touch. What can you notice in the room around you? What sounds can you hear? Are there any tastes or smells?
7. Ask for help
Finally, it’s most helpful if you can speak with your partner about your desire to feel more connected to your body during sex. Knowing that they’re on side can make those moments when you need to pause easier, and they may be able to help in offering things that can help you feel more safe.
If you’re not in the kind of relationship where you’re able to do this right now, and instead enjoying encounters with less emotional involvement, it can be as simple as letting them know your needs when things begin to escalate:
“Hey, just so you know, I might need to ask for a pause. If I do, it’s because I want to make sure I’m staying present with you, rather than getting lost in my head. Does that feel ok with you?”
Intimacy is often closely associated with sex – to the extent that the words are sometimes interchangeable. But sex and intimacy don’t quite mean the same thing, and one is not a requirement in enjoying the other.
Sex is an easy default when trying to create connection and intimacy. Enjoying sex with a new person is no bad thing, but it can be unhelpful if we’re using it as a way to cover up a need for intimacy which we are unwilling to address.
Why do we rely so easily on sex when we want to feel close to someone new? Do we find it so difficult to connect in other ways, to show our vulnerable selves without assuming sex is what we need to feel close to someone? Are our difficulties in connecting so hidden from us in our shadow that we don’t know how else to find intimacy?
It can be interesting to look into what our real needs are, and question whether we might be covering them up by defaulting to sex as our default way to generate a connection. Perhaps slowing down and feeling more feels good, or sharing play, touch, humour, and wisdom.
Then we have more options open to us: instead of trying to find intimacy through sex, we can create satisfying intimacy first and then use sex as a way to express and deepen that intimacy.
Sex is often such a shame-filled place, whether we realise it or not, that the easiest expression can be the least authentic one. When we feel a need to compete with others, try to imitate media or porn, or simply hide what we really want, our sexuality is not yet our own.
At best this can leave us frustrated and unfulfilled; at worst, not being in touch with our real desires can leave us vulnerable to having our boundaries broken or compromised.
Questioning some of our patterns of behaviour can be a good place to start. Are these things we’re doing because they are really things we enjoy, that really satisfy us, or because we’re following someone else’s script? In those moments, what’s keeping us from expressing ourselves more authentically?
We don’t need to give away our power by taking anything outside of ourselves as any kind of standard or ideal. In meeting ourselves with compassion and honesty, we can begin to learn that our pleasure and happiness must ultimately come from ourselves, and our sexuality can be our own.
Whether you’re into floggers and rope or vanilla as it gets, there’s a lot to be learned about communication, boundaries, and consent from those in the BDSM community. Although these may not be the first things many people think about when asked what makes for the most memorable encounters, they can make sex so much better if we get good at them.
So why is that?
One thing I’ve learned during my own explorations is that relaxation is everything when it comes to pleasure. And in order to relax, we need to feel safe.
If there’s one thing experienced BDSM enthusiasts know about, it’s safety. Knowing how to ensure everyone is as safe as possible is absolutely vital when experimenting with bondage, intense sensation, and other activities which could cause real physical (and emotional) harm.
Here are a handful of ways those in the BDSM scene ensure safety – and therefore also relaxation, and ultimately pleasure.
Talk About What You Want
Responsible BDSM players will only engage with others who are able to clearly speak their wants, needs, boundaries, and limits before they begin a scene. When people’s physical and emotional safety is at hand, it’s vital to be able to know that your partner knows their limits and has communicated them clearly with you.
Even when you’re not tying each other up or playing with extreme sensation, being able to voice your needs is so valuable. It can feel vulnerable and tough to admit to what you want, especially with those whose opinion matters most. But being able to do this can only make sex better; it’s unfair to assume that our lovers can read our minds and know what we want, or what our limits are.
Being able to be vulnerable and intimate in this way, and showing all of our desires, encourages our lovers to open up to us, too. This is how intimacy begins: by allowing all of ourselves to be seen by those we trust, our desires as well as our limits.
Talk About What you Need
Alongside being able to discuss your wants, you can also think about what you need to feel safe, to be able to relax and enjoy. If you’re negotiating a BDSM scene you might be asked by your partner about what aftercare you may need once it’s over. Do you need contact, cuddles, a particular food or drink? What about a check-in the next day?
This doesn’t only have to apply to experiences that include extreme sensation and power play. Perhaps we would like to request a text from the person the following day, or lots of cuddling afterwards. Maybe you need them to spend the night afterwards.
Being able to identify what you need, and ask for it, helps to remove anxieties over whether our needs will be met. And discussing these in advance also helps to filter out people who cannot meet our needs.
Establish Safe Words
It can be so easy to ‘tolerate’ touch; to allow our lovers to do what they’re doing without correcting them or asking for something different, out of fear of rejection, abandonment, or shame over our true desires.
Sometimes in the moment it’s far too much to specifically ask for something else. Being in this place of noticing you’re not enjoying what’s happening but feeling frozen or stuck and unable to ask for something else can be unpleasant and triggering.
In these moments it can be helpful to have a safe word. Many people who indulge in BDSM use a traffic light system, with red meaning stop and orange meaning a check-in is needed, and that can be helpful here. Or, to make it a little more gentle, I like to adopt the word ‘pause’ (thanks to Rachael Maddox for that one). I explain to my lovers that when I say pause, it means just that: we pause what we’re doing, we cuddle, we give me some space to feel in to what’s not working and figure out what I’d like instead. This might be a massage or a cup of tea.
Safe words are so helpful because they allow us to interrupt whatever pattern is currently playing out. Instead of getting caught up in the stories of what may happen if we ask to stop or ask for something different, we can use a different word to communicate that something needs to change, even if we’re not quite sure what yet.
Sex Can Mean Different Things
In the vanilla, hetero-normative world of sex, the definition of what ‘counts’ is often fairly limited. And if those few activities don’t work for you then it’s easy to feel like the sex you have isn’t valid or good enough.
We can learn from the creativity of the BDSM community. As a well-used saying goes, “Your kink isn’t my kink (but your kink is ok).” People come up with all kinds of ways to enjoy each other’s bodies and minds outside of the conventional narratives, and in doing so liberate themselves and their partners to enjoy sex on their own terms.
If the sex you’re having isn’t working for you, maybe it’s time to question whether you’re only engaging in particular activities because you feel it’s what sex ‘should’ look like. You get to decide what works for you (and it doesn’t have to involve kink).
Learn New Skills
If you want to be able to tie someone up Japanese rope bondage style, and do it safely, then you’re going to have to ask someone to teach you. Likewise, there are countless workshops teaching all kinds of skills in playing with extreme sensation and power dynamics. Within BDSM there are always new ways to learn new skills if that’s what you’re into.
Why should vanilla sex be any different? What skills could help us to make sex better with our lovers? And how could this attitude of wanting to learn help us?
Firstly, a keenness to learn about our partners’ bodies is a great place to start – without going with a fixed script or approaching the exercise with judgement. There are all sorts of other communities too who teach techniques you can use to help develop intimacy with yourself and the other, and relax into feeling more pleasure. Explorations into Taoist methods and neo-tantra can help us to feel more into our sexual energy, for example, and bring us more in tune with both ours and our partner’s needs.
Ultimately, all of these practices we can learn from the BDSM community are in place to keep everyone involved safe. And when we’re feeling safe, we feel more able to relax and open more of ourselves, which is key to deepening intimacy and more fulfilling sex.