Jessica, a 36-year-old homemaker, found herself more than occasionally having sexual fantasies about men other than Sam, her husband of seven years. She hated herself for this and felt a deep sense of shame and betrayal. Jessica would tell herself next time it will be different, but for her to reach orgasm, she invariably fantasied about certain coworkers or random people she had seen on television or at the local cafe that she frequented.
Jessica considered Sam her best friend and soul mate and she could not understand how she could have such thoughts. She felt attracted to Sam, but these other men would invariably appear in the bedroom. Jessica worried that her marriage was a sham and that perhaps she didn't really love her husband. With two young children and a future filled with promise she did not know what to do.
She was not acting out sexually outside of the marriage, although she confessed that when Sam went on business trips, she would masturbate while thinking of other men. Over time, Jessica's fantasies blossomed.
I assured Jessica that this was normal and that judging herself harshly for having these thoughts would make matters worse. I thought it would be helpful to better understand Jessica's past, but in the meantime, she needed to learn how to quell her experiencing shame and how to embrace a greater semblance of self-acceptance and compassion. There are no thought police and it is OK to feel whatever feelings and visualize whatever images arise, I reminded Jessica during one of our sessions. Feelings of shame can endure for a lifetime, so it is wise to find a way to manage this painful emotion.
Shame or humiliation is a remarkably common feeling that rears its ugly head in the quiet moments of our lives and in situations where our competency might somehow be challenged. In my work, I have found that discussing the source of shame is important in resolving this complicated emotion. In addition implementing a strategy can diminish the power of this affect.
Strategy for managing the experience of shame:
- Identify the source of your shame. Jessica felt shame over thinking of other men when being intimate with her husband. My guess is that the origins came from an earlier time in her life, but this was a good place to begin dealing with this feeling.
- Analyze your situation, without changing anything. Take an unemotional look at what is going on. Pay attention to other thoughts and feelings that may appear around the shame experience. Take time accumulating data and looking at yourself objectively. In Jessica's situation, she began to understand that since the birth of her last child, Sam had begun traveling more and they were not connecting as they had in the past. Jessica felt more isolated than ever. Her fantasy life brought her some semblance of comfort and excitement.
- Visualize someone else in this situation. How would you advise them? Would you judge them as harshly as you would yourself. Often we are most critical and hard on ourselves for what we perceive as our imperfections. It is not uncommon to have more compassion for our loved ones and even total strangers than ourselves.
- Discuss these feelings with someone you trust. Shame often involves the hiding of this painful emotion. Sometimes by talking openly about the shame with a trusted friend, therapist or clergy member, there is a feeling of relief which can be long-lasting. Holding in the pain can give it more strength than is deserves.
- Devise a plan. Going forward, Jessica needed to work on quieting her feelings of shame and strengthen her experience of self-acceptance and true connection with Sam.
Margot Anand, author of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy: The Path of Sacred Sexuality for Western Lovers, describes a strategy that I knew would help Jessica to create deeper compassion for herself and greater intimacy with Sam. Margot's teachings embodies the practice of creating a higher consciousness about the act of making love. Margot speaks candidly in her book as well as in person about eliciting divine sexual and ecstatic lovemaking experiences.
According to Margot Anand, connection with one's partner and deepened sexual pleasure can be achieved by practicing and integrating the following principles:
Strategies for Greater Sexual Intimacy with Your Partner*
- Communicate with your partner in an open, loving way. Loving kindness will create a fertile ground for the desire to have a sensual experience with your partner.
- Practice some relaxation method. Relax the mind and body and bring yourself into the present moment. Ideally your partner will do the same.
- Breathe through the mouth during sex. This allows for optimal oxygen intake and the building of energy or life force.
- Move the length of the spine up and down. Continue to breathe deeply and keep the flow of energy going through this movement.
- Allow the release of guttural sounds. Releasing sound awakens your primal instincts and allows for greater sexual expression. This might feel forced at first, but with practice, it will feel probably feel natural and rhythmical. Nothing beats practice!
These elements, when combined, create a fertile ground for being present with your partner and deriving optimal, even ecstatic pleasure from the sexual experience.
Jessica practiced this strategy over the course of the next few months with Sam and found that her fantasies quieted way down. She began looking into Sam's eyes during their lovemaking sessions as she focused on her breath, movements and sound. All of this focused her more on Sam and their sex lives became more joyous than ever before in their relationship. Jessica's feelings of shame transformed into a powerful experience of connection. She found herself being more in the moment and present with Sam. He too noticed a profound shift in the way they were being together in and out of the bedroom.
So, while Jessica now appreciated that there was nothing wrong or bad about having an active fantasy life, she found that for the most part, being present and creating deeper intimacy with Sam gratified her more than her fantasy men.
What do you do to create greater intimacy with your partner?
*From The Art of Sexual Ecstasy: The Path of Sacred Sexuality for Western Lovers, by Margot Anand, J.P. Tarcher, 1991.