You might be looking forward to the New Year as a time for more exciting sex with your partner. Like many, you might think a fun New Year's Eve would create the atmosphere for some good -- maybe even great -- sex and be a great beginning to the year ahead. But like many, you'll feel disappointed when that doesn't happen. And you'll wonder why.
I'm often asked that question by men and women who feel puzzled about why things don't go so well, just when the situation seems ideal. It's ironic, they think, because they've absorbed the flood of advice and prescriptions out there for having super sex. The magazine covers touting "10 new techniques to drive him/her wild"; the online e-zines like Your Tango or Libido for Life. Some of the advice is pretty sound, like that from the respected sociologist of sexual relations, Pepper Schwartz, or the advice on sexual matters that's useful for people of all sexualities from Dan Savage. But there's so much more that's not so good. It touts juvenile-sounding, superficial advice.
In fact, the majority of the advice, strategies and techniques overlook the core of a sustaining, mutually energized sexual connection: an integrated relationship,one that combines transparency in your communications, true mutuality in decision-making, and physical/sexual encounters that heighten erotic energy. If you're not working at all three parts in unison as a couple, your sexual connection will flatline over time, no matter how ideal the setting and environment.
Let's look at what fuels the possibility for an integrated relationship to begin with. It's essentially a thriving spiritual connection between the two partners connecting over your values and outlook about life and your desires and fears in your shared journey through life. That includes your sense of meaning and purpose in the world. As Tolstoy wrote in "Anna Karenina": "Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is meaningless."
Your spiritual core is reflected in the extent to which all of the above are in sync, shared and expressed between yourself and your partner -- or aren't. As a woman said to me about her 11-year marriage, "It's worse than seeing things differently; we see different things!"
The spiritual core of your relationship includes your life and family goals as a couple and how your values and ideals may change and evolve over the years, as separate individuals and as a couple. If this spiritual core grows over time, it fuels the three parts of an integrated, intimate relationship -- the kind of romance that couples desire, as research shows. I call them Radical Transparency, Sharing The Stage, and Good Vibrations. Think of the result as building and sustaining "whole person sex."
Radical Transparency -- This means communicating truthfully and completely to your partner. Yes, that means exposing your vulnerabilities and fears as well as desires and points of view about everything. It can be hard, especially given the hiding out, concealment, secret manipulation or outright lies that couples often engage in with each other. Most people don't really want to hide the truth or be deceptive, but family issues and our larger culture condition us to relate to each other that way in love relationships -- what I called our "adolescent model of love" in a previous post. Radical Transparency means being fully open to hearing your partner's feelings, wishes, desires, and differences and revealing your own to your partner without inhibition or defensiveness. Amy Elias, a yoga teacher and personal growth consultant, described this in The Huffington Post recently, writing that,
The truth is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Say the TRUTH when you feel hurt, sad, distressed, betrayed, abandoned, unrecognized, invisible -- be out with it and be clear in your own heart ... A coming clean refreshes all and allows the real you to emerge.
Or, as a 42-year-old man recently blurted out in frustration - about himself -- to his wife, "No more lies!"
Sharing The Stage - This is behaving with equality and mutuality in the large or small matters of daily life. It means being neither dominating nor submissive in your decisions around areas of conflict. For one person, it might mean working consciously to let go of your tendency to control or dominate your partner. For another, it might be containing your tendency to submit and comply with what your partner wants, subordinating your own "voice" in the process. Shared power is what defines mutuality between partners.
The opportunities for Sharing The Stage exist throughout daily life. Decision-making is one example, especially when there are differences or conflicts between yourself and your partner. In those situations ask yourself, how you can best serve the relationship itself rather than your own desires? When both members of a couple do that, you're drawing on the spiritual core of your relationship. You're contributing to the empathy for each other that's part of that core, and which helps fuel an integrated relationship.
Good Vibrations - A heightened sexual/physical relationship depends on strengthening the other two parts. And that's where so many couples falter. They assume they can enhance and energize their romantic, sexual connection while neglecting the other two. Or they haven't built enough of a spiritual core to begin with. But when you are working towards an integrated relationship, then some attentive, consensual practices and techniques are useful and important.
Good Vibrations build from open communication about your sexual feelings, desires and needs. You need to carve out the time and setting for focusing on each other, physically and sexually --- "adult" time -- without the kids. But making physical connection and affection a part of your every day life is a part of building Good Vibrations sexually, too. You can't do it just in the bedroom.
Couples who work towards an integrated relationship practice letting go of inhibitions and fears throughout their total relationship. They don't use their sexual relationship as a vehicle for unspoken emotional grievances or personal issues. An example of what happens when you do the latter is the conflict a couple in their mid-30s experienced. Julie feared talking openly with her husband, Tom, about what she wanted sexually, but also stifled herself about what she thought and desired in the relationship as a whole. She carried some shame about revealing her sexual desires, as well as her own "voice," generally. She had begun recognizing that her shame originated in her relationship with her mother. And Tom had his own issues, as well, which he wasn't dealing with. So, their efforts to learn new sex techniques didn't go anywhere. In fact, it made their alienation worse.
The practice of Good Vibrations increase and exchange sexual energy within and between your own and your partner's body. Their aim is to elevate and steadily expand pleasure throughout your entire body. That is, to broaden, deepen and sustain arousal and positive tension between you and your partner during your sexual engagement.
The best sexual techniques for building Good Vibrations include a mixture of meditative, breathing and physical movement exercises with your partner, combined with extended foreplay. These practices help you let go of your selfish needs. For example, simply wanting to receive pleasure; or wanting to make your partner experience pleasure that you want him or her to experience. Orgasm isn't the end-state that you're trying to hurry towards. In fact, the practice of Good Vibrations might not even include genital intercourse.
Good Vibrations techniques will build and increase sexual energy exchange and flow, but the quality and level of arousal and pleasure your and your partner experience will depend on the extent to which you're building connection and arousal in the other two parts of your relationship. That is, when you treat each other as equal human beings in daily interactions, and you're transparent about your inner life and emotions, you automatically feel more stimulation and excitement with each other. When you feel connected as equals and yet engage each other as separate, distinct individuals as well, that will generates new energy and enhance the sexual energy between the two of you.
The practices that build Good Vibrations have been described in Tantric practices, and many refer to them as practicing "spiritual sex." But I think that description often mistakenly describes a transcendent, ecstatic physical experience that's disconnected from the relationship as a whole. That will lead to disappointment -- or to a dead-end of soulless, technical expertise. Tantric and similar Eastern practices like Qi gong generate energy flow between partners -- that "ego-less" state that people often long for. But your sexual relationship elevates to that higher plane only when you integrate those practices with energy generated by transparency and equality in your daily behavior with your partner. That's the key.
One of the best descriptions of Good Vibrations that reflect the growth of an integrated, spiritually strong relationship is a passage in Doris Lessing's allegorical novel "The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five." There, the Nobel laureate portrays what that looks like, sexually. In the story, the man was required to be apart from his new wife, during which time he became "ready" to learn equality and transparency. The "zones" in the title symbolize stages of spiritual evolution, and the man's partner had been helping him evolve towards readiness for "whole-person" sex. Now, they meet again and Lessing writes,
He had remembered something entirely blotted from his mind during that enervating month. The light, glancing, inflaming kisses that he had not known how to answer, had gone from his mind. The invitation, the answer and question, the mutual response and counter-response -- none of this had been within the provision of the courtesan Elys, since she had never in her life enjoyed an equal relation with anyone, man or woman.
(His wife) came to him, and began to teach him how to be equal and ready in love. It was quite shocking for him, because it laid him open to pleasures he had certainly not imagined with Elys .. He was laid open not only to physical responses he had not imagined, but worse, to emotions he had no desire at all to feel. He was engulfed in tenderness, in passion, in the wildest intensities that he did not know whether to call pain or delight ... while she, completely at ease, at home in her country, took him further and further every moment, a determined, but quiet companion ...
Couples who aim for a sustaining, "whole person" sexual relationship feel enduring connection and sustained passion. Their relationship becomes more resilient through all of the changes and challenges that everyone faces along the path of life, as recent research shows. Their relationship becomes a gateway into ongoing spiritual evolution, both individually and as a couple.
Here's to your own "evolution" through the New Year!
Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C. You may contact him at dlabier@CenterProgressive.org. To learn more about him, click here.