Sexual Intimacy and Your Body

Sexual Intimacy and Your Body

(In a recent blog post—5 Blocks to Sexual Gratification—we briefly touched upon the important issue of somatic disconnection. In today’s post, we’ll further explore the issue of why a disconnection to your own body can hurt emotional as well as sexual intimacy. We end with an exercise designed to help you reconnect to your own body.)

Craig was angry way before he realized he was angry. As I sat across from him and his partner Bernadette, I could see and almost feel the signals of frustration and anger that were radiating from his body: Flushing, tone of voice shifts, tightening of his muscles, stiffening of posture, widening of the eyes. His tense energy was palpable, filling the space between all of us. Bernadette could also see what was happening and tried to calmly name it, but Craig couldn’t hear the message. It was only after he verbally exploded that Craig could no longer deny his disavowed anger.

Some people are disconnected from their emotional experiences (sometimes just particular emotions) until the emotions’ reverberations cannot be ignored. And often, by the time a feeling or bodily experience breaks into our awareness and is recognized, the energy of that experience may be so powerful that we are flooded and overwhelmed by its intensity (the self becomes engulfed and pulled under by the experience)–it’s as if we fail to recognize the early momentum of our emotions until they’ve accumulated into a wave that crashes down on us.

Sexual Intimacy is Challenged When You Are Physically Disconnected

Frequently, emotional disconnection rests upon a disconnect from our own bodies; and often it is our lack of attunement to our body’s quieter reactions, the subtle sensations and cues that may contain central information about our experiences, that gets lost.

When we chronically turn away from and ignore our somatic experiences, a gap is created between our conscious self and the life that exists in the body. As this gap expands, the vitality and wisdom that exits within the body has nowhere to go. For some people this disconnect becomes so pronounced that they feel “numb” or “nothing” when asked to share their feelings or check in with what is going on with them emotionally and physically.

As our work together progressed, it become apparent that Craig was disconnected from his body (unaware of a wide range of his physical reactions), and because of his somatic disconnect, an entire world of experiences remained undetectable to his conscious radar. It was as if an inner subterranean world existed that he was estranged from; a world teeming with subtle energy and information that was seldom utilized. This occurred during our session mentioned above: So rather than attuning to the early signs of discomfort that Craig might experience during a challenging discussion with Bernadette, Craig remained separated from what his body was trying to communicate to him (for instance, a recognition of muscular tension might have allowed Craig to voice his discomfort early on and help him identify and communicate that he was feeling unfairly judged by Bernadette).

Your Body Plays a Central Role in All Intimacy (emotional and sexual intimacy)

Our bodily experiences are conduits to our emotional experiences, and the latter are potential conduits to connection, offering us opportunities for a deeper level of sharing and authentic contact with our partner. When we share our feelings (feelings connected to our aspirations and longings as well as feelings evoked by our partner), when we speak from our bodily-based authentic truths, then deep connection with our loved ones becomes possible.

As long as Craig remained disconnected from his inner world, the deeper levels of interpersonal connection both he and Bernadette desired could not be realized.

As Bernadette and Craig shared more about their sex life (over a six-year period their relationship had morphed into a painfully sexless relationship), it seemed that somatic disconnection had also prevented Craig from being fully present and engaged sexually. The body is the seat of sensuality, and it is the awareness of our sensuous, physical experiences that can often awaken sexual desire.

Craig acknowledged that he was frequently oblivious when Bernadette held his hand or touched him. Bernadette joined in, stating, “I’ve noticed that I have to touch him more vigorously to get his attention and turn him on. I just thought he wasn’t interested, now I’m hearing that what I’m doing might not be registering for him. How can he get sexually aroused if he can barely feel what I’m doing?”

At this point Craig shared that “going away” emotionally is how he learned to cope as a child to deal with an abusive family situation. “I was able to leave my body, and I got very good at doing it. Now, whenever I get stressed, it’s like my body is anesthetized and I can’t feel anything. This is probably happening more often then I realize.” While Craig’s somatic disconnection was a coping strategy carried over from a painful childhood, many of use fall into bodily estrangement because we simply fail to give our body the attention and focus it requires. We’re constantly pulled out of ourselves due to the demands of life, and unless we deliberately slow down, refocus, and learn to reconnect to our bodies, our wholeness will be compromised.

To be present sexually means being fully ensconced in the emotional, physical and sensual experiences of physical and sexual intimacy. To remain estranged from the body (which many of us are to some degree) is to remain cut off from the pathways to deeper emotional and sexual intimacy.

Spice Up Your Sex Life Action Step

The sensual awareness exercise: have your partner close his/her eyes and slowly and very gently touch his/her body in different places. When the person being touched is able to feel the sensations of touch, s/he should say so (i.e., “It feels like you are gently tickling my left arm”). When s/he is able to accurately describe the type of touch and location of the touch, move to a different part of his/her body and repeat the exercise until you cover your partner’s entire body, including the erogenous zones.

You may notice that certain areas of your body are more sensitive than others. This is to be expected. The goal of this exercise is to retrain your attention to your body, to become almost hyper-aware of how your body registers (or fails to register) touch. And taking the time to reconnect with that is well worth the effort.

(Featured [top] image Naked Woman” by Stockimages/