Self-Surrender: Letting Go for Better Sex

Self Surrender

When you hear the word “surrender,” what goes through your mind?

The idea of surrender usually has negative connotations: losing a battle, being overtaken by someone more powerful, giving up, handing over your power. It’s usually the beleaguered partner who throws up his/her hands and exclaims, “You win, do it your way!” In these instances, surrender reflects an inability to get what you want, a failure to reach your desired goal because a stronger or more persistent other is standing in your way, somehow opposing you, wearing you down with his/her competing agenda.

To surrender is to stop resisting, to give in to what is perceived as an opposing other or force, to allow what is resisted to take over and direct you. Compared to the act of compromise, there is an inherent asymmetry in the power dynamics of surrender: One’s will is (momentarily) subsumed into the will of another. In a previous blog post on sexual surrender, we explored how giving power over to another during sex can be highly erotic for some people. In the example described, one woman was initially resistant to her BDSM-themed fantasies, and as long as she fought against these, her erotic life remained muted and she needed to deny an aspect of herself that yearned for safe expression.

Our Resistance to the Gifts of Letting Go and Sexual Surrender

“The war here was over. We had lost, and therefore we were free.” J.D. Landis, The Taking

You do not have to be into BDSM for surrender to be relevant to your sex life. Sex will always involve some form of surrender: to another; to your body’s reactions; to your fantasies and desires; to the parts of yourself that are fearful of relinquishing control.

We’re often at war with ourselves, internal emotional battles with lines drawn between what is, your convictions about what should be, and the painful realizations of what will never be. Yet despite our proclamations to have our life changed in some way, we resist the very change we demand is our right. Over a hundred years ago one of Freud’s most important insights was that we resist change—while one part of us attempts to reach beyond our self-imposed constrictions, another part of us slaps the reaching hand away. This doesn’t mean you want to exist in a perpetual state of emotional suffering; but it does point to our underlying motivation to stand firmly within the comforting footing of what is known to us, even when the known shackles us.

Sex brings us face-to-face with our self-constricting tendencies, as well as our capacity for self-expansion. To understand this, you need to look beyond the act of sex itself and look at the self-altering potential inherent to sex.

In her book, Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters, psychoanalyst Ethel Spector Person discusses the transformative nature of self-surrender in love, of momentarily dissolving the barriers between ourself and our love. As she describes, “…the lovers experience their separate selves as mingled, enriched without compromise of the essential autonomy and integrity of either. The transcending of ego boundaries enlarges and enhances the self rather than obliterates it.”

Sex, like love, has the same transcending potential—an intermingling of selves and bodies, a temporary merger of two separate beings into a larger orbit of shared self-hood. You might have experienced this already; it occurs when a sexual experience shifts from a deliberate/willful/self-conscious act to one of freedom, expansiveness, and an openness to what is unfolding before you. It’s as if the known you (the person you are comfortably familiar with) is momentarily released, allowing a larger subjectivity to take over. Some describe this as a trance-like, dream-like phenomenon that they enter and exit throughout the process of love-making. In these instances, your typical state of consciousness, the typical you that exists in your day-to-day life, is altered by shared eroticism and love.

Self-Surrender and Transcendent Sex

For this self-altering to occur, for you and your partner to journey into new and more vast psychologically erotic terrain, there must be a surrendering, a letting go and acceptance of the unknown.

This sexual journey involves a self-surrender as well as a surrender to the other. The self-surrender occurs when you let go of your resistance, when you unmoor yourself from the typical ways in which you contain and control your internal world (and life). To be in control during sex, to attempt to micro-manage your experiences as well as your partner’s, is to shut the door on the boundless potential of sex. You must lift the psychological anchor that grounds you in the known, the familiar; a temporary releasing of the recognized you, an experience that may pull you into the currents of uncertainty.

This is, indeed, frightening. It can feel like we are getting lost with no GPS to guide us, a dangerous free-falling that can quickly snap us back into attempts to control/manage ourself and our partner. Do not fret when this occurs, when you find yourself warring against surrender.

Rather, gently observe how you cling to the known out of fear; Observe the form your long-standing self-identifications and convictions take (“This is how I am, I can’t help it”; “I have to be in control, I’m a guy!”; “I don’t like giving up control, besides, it’s a sign of weakness not to be.”); Observe how your resistance to fully let go (emotionally, psychologically, physically) creates distance between you and your partner, keeping you sequestered in a narrow range of allowable experience.

The paradox is that you cannot pressure surrender into existence—attempts to force it will only whither it further. The gifts of surrender occur when we open ourselves up more fully to the presence and experience of the other, to the sensations that radiate through us during sex, and to the feelings/reactions that seek full expression rather than monitoring or containment. Of course, for any of this to occur, there needs to be deep trust of your partner. But just as importantly, there needs to be deep trust of yourself—trust that the you that you are letting go of will remain somewhere, a safe base to reconnect to when needed.

Remember, our identity, the “self” we know, tightly holds onto itself; it grips the familiar and narrows its vision to exclude anything that might disrupt its equilibrium. Because of this, be patient with yourself and your partner if you are attempting to achieve greater self-expression and emotional freedom during sex. Notice and celebrate even small, momentary shifts toward any energies that feel like freedom, even if this energy stirs some anxiety because it is unfamiliar.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Featured [top] image Silhouette of  Man” by Markuso/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)