I recently posted this TED talk with Ester Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, on Facebook. She’s talking about how to sustain desire in long term relationships. I really enjoyed the talk because she did such a good job naming the impediments to maintaining a satisfying level of sexual intimacy over time.
Often when I’m working with a couple that is struggling with connecting sexually, I run into what Perel calls “the myth of spontaneity”. So many couples pine for things to be like they were in the beginning—hot, juicy, easy. They remember back when neither of them seemed to have to “work” at sex or desire. There was a fire, an aliveness that was easily accessed. Now, they say, nothing lights up inside when they see their partner, and that leaves them feeling hopeless about ever feeling that passion again.
But… what if it’s not your partner’s job to ignite that spark? I know… I may be being sacrilegious here. What if… your turn on is actually up to you… and you get to find your own internal spark? OR… what if you don’t actually have to feel the spark to move towards desire?
Now, let me be clear. There are MANY reasons that couples find themselves struggling around sexual intimacy… stress, anxiety, health issues, their own relational dynamics and histories… and these are good reasons!
However, even when a relationship is relatively good and there isn’t a lot of historical baggage, health issues or stress, you still need to bring some intentionality to your erotic life… with yourself AND with your partner.
Of course we all have times when we’re not in the mood. That’s normal. It’s also normal for there to be one person in the relationship who has an easier time accessing their sexual desire than the other partner (we’ll call this the higher desire partner, though this is a bit of a misnomer), and one person in the relationship who feels a lower level of access to their sexual desire (we’ll call this the lower desire partner, also a misnomer).
This can happen for a person across many relationships, always being the lower desire partner or always being the higher desire partner. It can also vary, where in one relationship you’re the lower desire partner, and in your next relationship, you’re the higher desire partner. There are many different rhythms that our bodies (and psyches) can get into, and that’s normal and okay.
None of that precludes the possibility of learning how to generate your own erotic energy so that you can have access to being sexual when you choose. I’m not talking 100% of the time. Sometimes you’ll plan a date and it won’t work out for all kinds of reasons: you had a particularly bad day, or there’s some dynamic unfolding between you and your partner that is impacting your ability to connect in the moment, or you just don’t feel like it. All that’s fine.
However, when we locate our ability to experience desire solely in whether we feel the spark with our partners, we actually risk losing out on something much more profound than our sexual connection with them. We actually risk losing out on our connection with our Selves.
When you begin generating your own erotic charge, you’ll begin to find your way into desire more easily, even if that’s not quite where you started. This is probably going to take some practice. It can take time to develop that kind of relationship with your erotic energy. It also takes a willingness to say, “I am committed to having an erotic life… with myself… with my partner… I want that for myself and I am going to learn how to do that.”
When we take on that commitment, there’s a lot that can open up for us. We get to have the fullness of our sensual selves again. I’ve seen it happen, even with folks who were facing health challenges. I’ve known women who entered menopause and experienced a marked change in access to their erotic energy, and then, through a committed erotic practice, were able to regenerate their relationship with sexual desire. I’ve known men who, also, because of aging or other health issues, found themselves struggling to access Eros, and then, through intentional practice, found new access to their bodies and their sexual selves.
Generating your erotic energy requires an expansion of what it means to access Eros. If you’ve operated with a definition of sensuality or sexuality that is very performance driven (e.g. there must be an erection present or there must be an orgasm or there must be these particular signs of sexual pleasure), then it will be harder for you to make use of these practices until you broaden your view of sexual pleasure and health.
As we learn to be the source of our own erotic spark, what we consider erotic and how we understand Eros, changes and evolves. Our perspective gets broader and wider, we start recognizing different signs.
How do you do that? First, open yourself to the possibility that you can cultivate a relationship with Eros regardless of whether you’re feeling turned on in a given moment. Second, practice cultivating ecstasy in your daily life, not just in the bedroom. And third, see what it’s like to engage in sensual play before you feel turned on. Just see what it’s like to enter the erotic dance because you choose to. Make out, offer each other sensual massage, experiment with 101 ways to deliver the perfect kiss, see how turned on you can get with your clothes on… There are so many ways to get started. The opportunity is simply to start somewhere that feels right, and see where it goes from there.