Women, Muscle & Sex

Some of you are reading this title thinking….  Really?  Do those go together?  And I say, “Absolutely!”  Care to explore with me?

How constantly are we bombarded with the over-sexualized, skinny-fat 4waif’ish, sized 0-2 masquerading as sexually superior?  The fronts of magazines are plastered with what I like to call “skinny fat chicks” (who often weigh less than 100 lbs. but have about 25+% bodyfat) claiming that they can show us the way to a fit, lean body in less than five weeks.             …Something seems off here.

And how many of us—male or female—look at those tiny little girls and actually FEEL our blood pumping and our sexual appetites inspired?  Okay, there are those of you who do….  But most of us, from what I’ve found, don’t feel a lot–except for the women who compare themselves and simply feel BIG in comparison. (Just a little look at the picture above:  Average height & weight of a VC Model – 5’10” and 110 lbs.  Average age – 21.  Just sayin’)

Women very often look at the images constantly taunting us from magazine covers and digital screens–sometimes more than men –and compare ourselves to these bodies that current Northern-American culture claims are the “hottest” but look as if they might collapse under the weight of… life.

Maybe that’s part of the problem.  We’re granting too much influential power to folks who just can’t handle the weight.

Here is one thing I know about the human body:

If you do not purposefully engage it, intensely; you will not know how to engage others with it, powerfully.

So what does this mean for a woman or girl who has little-to-no muscle?  And what in the world does it mean for her—and her partner’s—sex life?

Let’s think about it for a moment.  No muscle usually means no strength training (and strength training can fall under all sorts models used to purposely strengthen the body’s musculoskeletal system)—often a sign of those folks who are caught in the world of cardio and… um, “toning”—who would become faint if handed a 12 lb. dumbbell and would justify not training with, “Eewww….  I don’t want to get all big and muscle-y.”  NEWSFLASH ladies:  If you’re built like a stick with very little natural muscle, there’s as much chance for you to bulk up as there is the Hulk turning pink!  And believe me, Skinny doesn’t age well.  So take a deep breath and pick up some weights, do some push-ups,

Make friends with your muscles.

skinny-fat2Sometimes skinny is a sign of someone who is “watching her figure” by essentially starving herself.  ….Of course, if she’s not inclined to indulge the sensory pleasure center of her mouth, tongue, and taste buds; will she be any more inclined to indulge sensation in other areas of her body?  (…Something to think about)

Now, clearly I’m putting some bold generalizations out there and exaggerating for effect, though hopefully not pissing anyone off too horribly.  And I struggle with my own desire sometimes to be “thinner.”  Uugghh, I hate even naming that, as it feeds the epidemic.  I also know women who purposely try their damnedest to PUT ON WEIGHT in the form of muscle, and struggle to do so, and I don’t want to add to a story that all skinny women are frail or less-than-sexual-less-than-powerful-beings.  Not the case!

Realistically however, there are far too many people caught in the idea that “skinny” is “sexy” – that smaller is better, that …..ultimately, that “less” is “more.”  And this is simply untrue.

And we need to stop wishing ourselves away. 

I’m clearly not speaking to the woman who trains her ass off, nourishes her body with healthy food and engaging activity.  I’m talking to the women—and men who worship them—who think of a gym as a place to chat with their friends while they do 30-45 minutes on a Stairmaster or in a “Step class,” never really engaging their bodies or muscles, and live on 600 calories a day.  That’s not healthy or sexy!!

Let’s talk about why.  When you think about sex—really think about it—(and I know you do on your own, so I’ll just boldly invite you to fully engage here while you’re reading) …when you think about what it feels like, what your ideal vision or sensory experience is, with legs and arms intertwined; bodies fully engaged and exploring, positions, changing positions, moving in all sorts of wild ways that put your genitals in just that perfect place in relation to your partners genitals …And how they work, and the movements that most stimulate them—and moving your partner, being moved by your partner, holding on, holding down, holding tight, the aliveness that can overtake you at times….  Consider the difference of doing all that WITH muscle (equaling stamina, strength, endurance, flexibility, engagement, and a vast movement repertoire) vs. WITHOUT muscle (equaling… well, someone who looks good draped over a hot car in a bikini).

What do you want to FEEL?  How do you want your partner to engage with you and how do you want to engage with your own body and with your partner?  Or partners??  (Just considering my potential audience).  So….  can we STOP giving the message to women, and particularly to young women and girls, that SKINNY is SEXY?

Let’s just stop!

People sometimes chuckle when I say I’m going to “train” rather than exercise or workout.  And they’ll ask, grin on their faces, “What are you training for?”  I usually simply respond with, “Life!”  Maybe I need to say, “A rockin’ sex life!”

We learn to live through our body’s interaction with others, with our environments, through movement and sensation and touch.  And right now, far too many of us are growing our brain-based-knowledge and losing our body-based-wisdom.

When we know how to tolerate intensity in our bodies, we know how to tolerate intensity in life, in love, and with one another.  And let’s face it, life’s just intense sometimes.  How about we figure out how to move through it rather than shrink away and avoid it?

If you’ve not taught yourself how to train with intensity, your body will have no capacity to engage intensely with another person.

I’d love to hear what some of you find most sexy about your partner’s—real or imagined—bodies and ways of engaging yours.  I think we all might be pleasantly surprised that most often, it’s not the “perfect” whatever…  it’s the way it’s used!

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie

 

 

Sexy

“Mom, do you know what ‘sexy’ means?”  Asks five-year-old Lilly. 

“Well, I know what sexy is to me, honey.  Sexy can be very different for different people.” 

“What does it mean to you, Mom?”

This was the origination of an engaging and thought-provoking dialogue between my daughter and son, Nathaniel, and I, yesterday morning.  They’d heard a song on the radio stating, “I’m sexy and I know it,” and had some great questions!  (My favorite question of Nathaniel’s was, “what’s ‘passion in my pants’ mean?”)  !!!  Oye!

When I posted part of the conversation on Facebook, I received a few, “So….  What is sexy to you?” questions.  And while my answers, I’m certain, are no more interesting than any of yours, I thought it could be a fun dialogue to bring to the digital table.

This is my initial response:

sitting-transperencyHonesty. That’s number one. Without honesty, it’s almost impossible to sink into one’s body and feel an authentic sexual attraction.  Dishonesty puts the body on edge, which can feel like a “charge” initially but ultimately drains our energy–including our sexual energy.  When a person embodies honesty, and we feel ourselves naturally trusting, so much more of our own essence can come to the surface.

Seeking Balance  People – males and female – who are seeking the balance of their emotional and intellectual bodiespurposefully developing themselves physically and emotionally, who are willing to learn and practice new skills in the face of vulnerability–that’s sexy as hell to me!

IntelligenceBut, not at the expense of relationship;sexymind1
meaning, willing to be curious about another’s perspective and ideas, while continuing to validate one’s own innate knowing.  A favorite quote of mine reads, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  — Aristotle

Willingness to be challenged, as well as to challenge others, with groundedness, compassion, and humor.

adults-playPlay!! The embodied freedom to get really silly, to risk, to reach out…  We are hardwired to be playful, and many of us forget that as we get older.  When a person knows how to get playful and can attune to the spirited play of another, we learn to release our grasp on the seriousness of life, and simply BE!

Touch – We require loving touch for our very survival.  And those who do it well more than likely were “touched well” in their touch1families of origin, and so know the language innately.  Touch is really our primary language.  It’s how we initially experience love, safety, trust, and attachment to others.  When we know it, we don’t need to depend on the limits of human language, and we are able to express the nuance of emotion that language simply cannot reach.    

An Ability to apologize is, to me, a pathway that helps my body and mind “yield” into trusting another human being–to know that he is self-reflective and humble, that he is willing to love beyond his fear of being wrong and, in so doing, he assures me that I am enough of a priority for him to risk being vulnerable.

kissing1

Oh, and of course…

A man who knows how to Kiss!  The ability to communicate desire, openness, wanting, lust, playfulness, excitement, curiosity…  a myriad of different intimate emotions through use of mouth, tongue, teeth, lips–speaking this language reflects a deep, innate ability to attach to another person, and to share deep, transformative intimacy.

That was my first hit as I pondered the fantasies of what naturally draws my sexual attention.  And yet there is so much more.

As odd as it may sound, Sexy, to me, is a person who has experienced enough suffering and found the strength to move through it, that he or she can stay present to pain—theirs, mine, or another’s.  Someone who doesn’t disappear—emotionally or physically—at the occurrence of life and all it serves up—who resources their body, mind, and heart because they’ve strengthened each enough to trust their will—that’s sexy!

(Just a note:  I’m generalizing a bit here, for the sake of ease, with hetero-language, even though there are a lot of characteristics that I find sexy in both men and women.  Just a reminder to keep a flexible mind—Ahhh… that’s sexy too!)

Of course I can’t forget Passion:  Passion about SOMETHING—passion-mewhether it be the environment, parenting, travel, astrophysics, the violent sexual habits of the African Bat Bug…  some THING that makes a person’s blood pulse a little more quickly, eyes open just a little wider, and heart reach beyond the familiar.

When we’re passionate, our passion can override fear, at times.  We stretch ourselves into new territory and learn to navigate life and relationships with internal motivation that keeps us wanting, moving, and reaching toward new places and new perspectives.

Those are some of the things that I find Sexy.    How about you?

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

For the Love of Lust: Part Two

(If you missed part one of For the Love of Lust, Click Here)  

We are built for bonding.  There is no doubt.  Whether we ever satisfy our relationship1innate need for deep connection is dependent on countless factors, but suffice it to say, creating meaning through our relationships is a prime motivator for much of what we do in life.

Could it be possible, however, that our desire for intimacy has a shadow to it?  Maybe that the moral laws that govern our fidelity do not coalesce with passion?  Could it also be that through our efforts to increase togetherness in our relationships, we simultaneously create an emotional barrier to eroticism?

Many partners will admit to waning desire that can become a burden to relationships, coming alive only in response to others or conversely deadening one’s spirit of Lust altogether, after significant time has past.  Most will simply describe this process as fact, as natural.  And while sex and eroticism can take dramatic turns over the course of time, to submit to these socialized beliefs can actually cause harm to these unions we’ve worked so diligently to forge.

In Part One of this article, we spoke to the evolutionary advantages of Lust.  We spoke to the health and necessity; to the brain circuitry specifically designed to support it’s expression.  We also acknowledged the complexity of attaining a harmonious balance between Lust and Love.  (Again, if you missed that, click here).

Becoming Friends with Lust—Ours and Our Partners

Esther Perel, PhD, author of Mating In Captivity notes that lust doesn’t always play by the rules of good morals.  In fact, sometimes those rules are actually antithetical to the cultivation of lust and eroticism because, for that circuitry to be activated, humans tend to require a little bit of risk—something that our intimate bonds have a propensity to constrain.

When we consider the closeness that intimacy allows, the stripping away of lifelong emotional layers that lends to the foundation of relational love—the transparency that fosters safety—we have to wonder as to the other side of the coin.  When we have become so open, so able to yield into the transparent dance of togetherness, we leave nothing for our partners to seek out in us.  And our practice of seeking is related to another region of evolved brain circuitry that is necessary for us to thrive as humans.  Seeking feels good to our brains–it provides a sense of purpose and pleasure and forward motion.  When there is nothing left to seek out in our partners, the pleasure that comes from seeking must find another outlet for expression.

To destabilize our intimate bonds with behavior that many see as riskyfor example, to rekindle eroticismcan feel as if it opposes the exact behavior that is nourishing our relationship.  So often, our “lust needs” take a back seat to the cultivation of care and closeness

lust5And yet… as is clearly stated in Part One, we are hardwired for lust as well.  So while lust can quiet itself for a time, that particular brain circuitry needs expression and ideally that expression would be practiced in a way that supports our vision for an integral relationship.

Lust, for most people, tends to require a certain amount of risk—these two emotional constructs act very similar in the brain, in fact.  The question in the development of lust in an intimate relationship subsequently becomes, how do we RISK without risking too much?

Neurochemicals of Risk

The nature of risk is related to the emotion excitement, which is essentially a combination of hope and fear.  Excitement, on a physiological level, provokes a state of hyperarousal, where thoughts and body states are pushed to stretch beyond homeostasis—our natural state of equilibrium—to a palpable emotional experience that, while stressful, is also related to positivity.  You see, when we push ourselves just slightly out of our comfort zone, and we experience some resulting pleasure, the reward center in our brains lights up like the 4th of July!

Exciting experiences activate dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain’s rewardDopamine1 system that helps us experience pleasure.  The pleasure and reward center is housed primarily in the frontal lobe of the brain, and provides a “reward value” for experience.

For risk to be related to reward, our brains need healthy doses of dopamine and adrenaline, along with their available receptors.  And the culmination of reciprocated lust ignites serotonin as well—which is related to feelings of happiness and mood regulation.  Top that off with healthy doses of oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids and this neurochemical cocktail—if given to a skilled mixologistis deserving of a worthy name!  No wonder our drive to acquire, and experience, the rewards of lust are so powerful.

The fact is, even a one-night-stand can stir these potent neurochemicals into existence, which is why we can experience incredible closeness—the feeling of, anyway—after even a brief sexual encounter.  And yet, one-night-stands do little for the other driver of our relational circuitry—those connected to Care, Bonding, and Love. 

Cultivating the Sweet Spot

Our brains and bodies have evolved to the point of reaping significant benefits of both intimacy and lust—just rarely collaboratively.  The relationship between the two is complex and clearly non-linear, as we may have previously assumed.  Science has demonstrated that both are necessary to our collective evolution.  And if we are to thrive, individually and collectively, we need to stretch into new possibilities for these constructs not only to co-exist, but also, to inform and enhance one another.

The current marital trends are far from indicating a culture of happy unions.  With over 50% divorce rate (60+% in second marriages) it’s time we take a look at the deeper implications of a society that is known to deny the health of lust.  More importantly, we need to cultivate a more united vision of intimacy and lust working, and playing, side by side.

Practices

There are many practices that have been designed to deepen our awareness and experience of intimacy and sexuality.  I’ll focus on three that I believe, and that are grounded in science, as central to supporting a healthy transition into developing lust within an intimate partnership—whether you’re in one or not.

These practices are for individuals, maybe those who are deeply connected to a partner and looking to enliven a relationship; and also for those who are seeking to explore a new relationship, where lust is alive from the beginning, and remains a central theme in the developing journey of Love.   These practices are simply “some” ways to help reconcile our need for security and adventure, closeness and separateness, stability and risk, predictability and novelty.

1)    Honor Autonomy

autonomy1In our desire for connection, we can often forget that we are primarily individuals seeking togetherness.  We can become essentially “fused”—not knowing where we end and our partners begin.  This feeling can be incredibly soothing and seductive initially, as we can imagine we’ve found our intimate home and that, finally, we are met, deeply recognized, loved unconditionally.  However, becoming over-connected can, in reality, become a hindrance to eroticism.

For deep connection to be possible, separateness is vital.  While this may seem contradictory, the ability to step away from our partners as separate entities, the ability to self-regulate and practice autonomy, are necessary qualities for one to be able to move toward the other.  As Esther Perel states, “When people become fused—when two become one—connection can no longer happen.  There is no one to connect with.  Thus separateness is a precondition for connection:  This is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.”

Find ways to establish—or reestablish—independence, autonomy, and separateness.  Nurture activities and personal interests as a means for strengthening not only your attractiveness and desire-ability to your mate, but your own internalized “attraction to self.”

Also, encourage your partner—or future partners—to do the same.  Honor his or her need, whether stated or not, for separate interests and activities.  When developing closeness, look to the future vision that you would like to create—where there are worlds yet unexplored within the context of your partner’s autonomy.

2)    Cultivate Mystery

It can be difficult to be lustful for someone about whom we know everything. synapse1
If nothing is left to the imagination, our minds become uninterested, lacking the tension necessary for desire to flourish.  And as science of the mind is fairly certain, our sexuality is more related to the space between our ears than the space between our legs!

Nourishing the mystery in our intimate unions can feel somewhat counterintuitive since some of the elements of lust don’t necessarily support the development of a harmonious, transparent relationship.  Clearly, lust and intimacy are on very different trajectories, and when they yearn to coincide, fears of the unknown can destabilize our inner worlds as well as our intimate journeys.

One place where we can always escape the confines of fusion is into our own minds—where imagination can take us anywhere, to anyone.  And when we honor the beauty of our minds, simultaneously soothing the innate fears that may arise, we are cultivating our unique mental wanderings that may inform us of what naturally excites us.

The question becomes, can we tolerate the anxiety provoked by our partner’s developing autonomy—by his or her intrinsic capacity to always escape into the sanctuary of the mind, to where we are quite possibly NOT the center of their attending neural processes?  When we can stand firm in our own sense of self, within the vulnerable “unknowns” of our partner’s inner mental territory, we give space to his or her unique exploration of self, grounded in the safety of an intimate home.

An important distinction to consider with this level of the erotic dance is whether or not we are utilizing our fantasies as fuel for our intimate partnerships, or whether we are escaping into the erotic, only to return to safety and stability with our partners, and leave the fantasy separate.  Part of how fantasy can serve to edify our relationships is to acknowledge and share at least part of what is occurring in that solitary space.  Risk bringing the erotic design of your own mental forays into sexual play with your partner—and be open for him or her to do the same.

Conversely, when our own imagination confronts what we assume about ourselves—the principles and experiences within our comfort and moral code—with new stimuli that forces us to question our truest desires, our integrity, and our natural wiring for lust, we have an opportunity to strengthen our sense of self and to share something new and different with our intimate partner.

Through imagination, we maintain a sense of freedom and personal wonder

that can bring new life to our relationships.  

It can feel intimidating to allow our imagination to wander and wonder, to consider what or who, besides our current partner and situation might naturally entice or excite us.  Through our development of safety and closeness, we’ve forgotten that our erotic mind needs to flourish as well.  So allow yourself to re-attune to your innate lustful longings, and then allow them to come alive with your intimate partner.

3)    Practice Mindfulness

a.    In perception

Practice increasing your tolerance to the exploration of space between meditation1you and your lover.  When your partner feels distant, or when you are proactively choosing to strengthen your own autonomy, allow the emotions and the sensations that activate your nervous system to arise.  Welcome them, sit with them, yield into the discomfort of “stretching” your perception and tolerance.  Allow them to inform you of the long-standing patterns of anxiety and fear that tend to surface and cause discord.  Welcome that knowledge like a long-lost friend, here to help you increase both your ability to push the edges of your comfort as well as to strengthen your ability to track your natural sensation that ultimately will lend to deep understanding.

b.    In thought

Practice unconditional acceptance and presence to all of your thoughts from the perspective of an observer.  Practice noticing the thought, and letting it go, over and over and over.   Don’t fall into spiraling thoughts that trigger fear.  Rather, notice the thought arise, and witness it being released with each breath. Notice any impulse to create a story with your thoughts, to give deeper meaning to fear or insecurity.

According to Dr. Brent J. Atkinson, in his article, “Rewiring Neural States in Couples Therapy:  Advances from affective neuroscience,” we can easily “blindly trust” a feeling or thought, because our brains are hardwired for self-protection.  We often automatically attach ourselves to an emotion—as if the emotion is real, and the idea that someone else caused it feels just as real.  In all actuality, the automatic processes of the brain do this naturally.  Our “protective mechanisms” are designed for hypervigilance, first and foremost.  So if we feel fear, for example, we will seek out a source—external to us—that we can attach to the cause, and from which we can then protect ourselves.  This dynamic, while serving us in regard to our survival, can be toxic to our relationships.

Instead, practice simply noticing the thought without attaching it to any external source.  Allow it to exist solely, without spiraling out of control.  Practice being present to all that arises in regard to mental information, just as it is, without trying to dismiss, avoid, or change anything that may ultimately serve to bring awareness.  Simply witness… and let go.

c.    In body

Pay attention, nonjudgmentally, to the subtle signals and sensations of your body.  Reject nothing.  Notice in detail the sensations that are present—especially any tightness or tension that arises or that draws your attention.  Notice any small, seemingly automatic movements that could be related to a deeper emotion.  Allow those sensations to simply “be” without attempting to dismiss them or push them away.  Allow your sensations space to exist, and time to guide you to your body’s internal wisdom.

Also, nurture physical practices that help you touch into your own internalyoga1 resources—your body, your strength, the wisdom that resides in each and every cell of your being, along with your ability to practice new skills.  Experience your body in moments of strength, in times of vulnerability, though practices that stretch and push you beyond what you know.  Our physical selves help to shape our psychological selves, so be present to the shape and flow of your life.

Research has demonstrated that those people who enjoy physical practices, such as strength training, dance, cycling, running, or yoga, experience more excitement in their lives.  And as we practice risk by exploring new physical practices, risk becomes an integral aspect of our natural drive for learning and pleasure.  So the very practice of getting physical opens your neural pathways to experiencing more excitement, more risk, and ultimately more lust.

Embody Your Intention

We have an opportunity, individually and collectively, to transcend the inhibitions and fears ignited by longstanding ideas of lust, as well as our attachment to any historical meaning or power we’ve given over to it.  Lust is a natural, potent, necessary quality of human beings.  Like all other qualities intrinsic to our evolving selves, this specific circuitry in our brains needs to be understood and allowed space to breathe—to find it’s way out of hardwired constraints—in a way that helps us to thrive rather than has us cycling in a spiral of fear.

It is time we transcend the fears that bind our relationships, and allow our bodies the chance to expand their language repertoire—to own and practice our original language and deepen our understanding of the subtext, the nuances, the dialects of our own—and our partners—primary tool of communication.  It is time we work toward becoming fluent in our unique erotic style, allowing ourselves to fully embody the dynamics of seduction, and then share that energy with those whom we love and trust.

Through following the practices of presence, mindfulness, autonomy and mystery, we can begin to lay claim to our birthright for experiencing both the intense nurturance and love of intimacy, along with the fiery and erotic dance of lust—together.

If you’d like more tips for enhancing your intimate partnership, check out my !0 Rules For Intimacy, a free download with lots of juicy and challenging tips for Relationship Transformation.  And keep coming back and joining in the dialogue here!

For the Love of Your Life…

Angie

For the Love of Lust: Part One

lust3Lust resides in the world of intense desire, sexual longing, yearning for intimate contact or erotic anticipation—it’s a powerful force and one that can have undeniable effects on our internal experience and our external behavior.  Time and again, lust exudes more power even than rational thought or strict morals.  In some folks’ estimation lust, acted out, destroys lives and relationships due to it’s oft untethered displays.  For others, lust is a prime driver toward the one thing that gives their life meaning—connection.

People get a little anxious around the topics of lust, flirtation, monogamy, and the lack of concrete rules by which we’re all supposed to abide.  And yet there really are no rules that suit the masses.

Some time back I posed a question via social media, exciting some intense and passionate dialogue regarding these subjects, along with a lot of angst and confusion around the difficult process of negotiating this paradox.  The amount of inbox messages I received was overwhelming!  A topic many people want to discuss… just not out loud!

Responses were filled with difficult scenarios of when lust—either theirs or another’s—lead to the destruction of relationships.  Story after story of relationship gone painfully awry in regard to “expectation vs. reality” filled pages, and spoke of broken and yearning hearts.  These responses also spoke to the confusing terrain of how lust arises and is expressed in—or out—of committed relationships.lust2

If we first take a look at the underpinnings of how relationship often unfolds, we can begin to consider why and how lust, and other aspects of our erotic natures, either are or are not welcome in our partnerships.

Our Fear of Lust

Many people feel untrusting, wounded, unable to completely yield to intimacy and risk the heartbreak of potential betrayal—many because they saw painful scenarios in their families of origin and more who experienced these life-altering betrayals firsthand.

Yet at the same time, our craving for intimacy is undeniable.  The feeling of seeing lust4ourselves reflected in the eyes of an adoring partner offers us an unparalleled bonding experience.  We can become more alive, more capable, and more available to all that life offers. Feeling “met” through intimacy can literally help us to transcend our fundamental aloneness.

So when we imagine opening, transparently, to another—sharing our hearts, our bodies, our lives in the vulnerable acceptance of love—our intimacy can be coupled with increasing fear.  Like it or not, that exact fear is often what drives much of our tight grip on our lovers and, ultimately, it’s that tight grip that can drive our lovers right out of our lives.

The mere idea of our partners wandering eye—or genitalia! —Can cause our relationship security to be rocked to the core.  And when we sense that lust—the automatic, powerful, chemical response—is at play, our internal response systems go into full-on protection mode.

Is Commitment Constraining?

Committing to be with one person for the rest of our lives can be a difficult agreement to maintain, for many.  To completely turn off sexual attraction, heat, desire, fantasy and intimate connection with all others, and still keep the heat up with the significant other is not, for many, the path of least resistance.  Often, we fail miserably.  We, the American society, haven’t quite resolved ourselves to fidelity and lifelong monogamy, even though most of us claim that’s exactly what we want.  So what gives??

When partners are transparent, designing their intimacy in a way that is congruent to both people, relationships can flourish!  They can be enlivened and engaging.  Often, however, one person alone “holds the reins,” so to speak, to the rules of intimacy.  When this is the case, fear, anxiety, and resentment can undermine the nurturance and care we’ve provided to our relationship.

Some may feel the need to “tighten down the hatches”—if we completely control the environment, we’re safe, right?  However, safe may be the exact opposite of what will fulfill the deeper needs of relationship.

Interestingly, science has found that while we imagine monogamy, in itself, to be a high predictor as to the health of a relationship, that is not necessarily the case.  In fact, some relationships which place monogamy at the foundation are the least healthy and least happy.  Certainly that doesn’t mean we should all join the nearest Swingers club.  What it does point to, however, is that our current societal views don’t hold the keys to thriving relationships!

When we look “below” monogamy—to the subtle nuances of fidelity in thought, in imagination, in exploration and flirtation, we see a surprisingly wide range of styles and behaviors that contribute to the health or dysfunction of a relational system.  So how do we construct those internal worlds in a way that helps us feel both safe and alive?

Wired for Lust

We are most definitely a species hardwired for love and connection—for bonding that denotes security and safety.  But not solely—we are also wired for LUST.  One of the primary emotional centers in the brain, in fact, is specifically related to that particular circuitry.  According to a well-known researcher in the field named Jaak Panksepp, there are intrinsic systems in the brain, called Executive Operating Systems that are related to neuro-evolutionary foundations for our emotions and behaviors.  There are seven of these systems.  They’re not emotions, per say, but circuitry that govern the processes of our emotions.  These seven executive operating systems include:  Fear, Rage, Seeking, Care, Play, Panic and Lust

Lust, as researchers are noting, is part of our life force.  It is a necessary aspect of our evolved brain and body, and part of how we are uniquely designed.  And the complex neurochemical processes of lust are not, as we might sometimes like them to be, simple passing moods.  Lust is a brain state that activates a cascade of neurochemicals, which follow a well-groomed path in the brain and body and, when activated, are ultimately overriding most everything else in an effort to achieve a goal.   And maybe because, at some level, we all know the signals of lust, we can feel a little bit powerless in it’s midst.

Lust—An Evolutionary Advantage

In intense human relationships, part of the brain called the Limbic system is highly active in the formation of memories, and in imprinting our brains with patterned recognition, or categories, of “good” and “bad” in regard to relationships—hardwiring us to find certain things, such as physical characteristics, qualities, even smells more or less attractive.  The limbic system is related to our unconscious motivations—driving us forward to an object of desire, at times, based primarily on our brain’s early circuitry of memories that seem “relatable.”

These attractors, which are essentially patterns imprinted on the limbic system, when reflected in the resonant limbic response of another, can serve to regulate aspects of our physiology.  What this means is that when lust is reciprocated, our physiological systems—our bodies, and even our health—can become better regulated and overall, more functional!  Lust clearly has some evolutionary advantages.  Not to mention, science continues to explore how we generally lust after those who would be a positive genetic match for us—supporting our most basic collective need, to procreate!

Can Intimacy and Lust Coexist? 

We do all that we can to develop intimacy, because we yearn to be known, loved, cherished for all that we are.  We crave connection that delivers all sorts of juicy, yummy, feel-good bonding chemicals to our bodies and minds.  We strip away the layers of inhibitions, delving into the bond of creating bliss with another.  But then the very thing that we strive to create brings us to a point where our equally innate yearning for eroticism—for Lust—is often required to go into submission so as to protect the union we’ve created, or acted out in ways that counter our intimacy goals.  Sadly, through the development of intimacy, we’ve let go of mystery.  And to open ourselves to mystery once again, our intimate bond can feel threatened.

NoLust1So often, I hear from clients and friends that they don’t have any sense of lust or eroticism in their committed relationships—and sadly, this is simply equated with a monogamous lifestyle!  Given over to the ideas that lust is snuffed out with age, with family and responsibilities, and ultimately through monogamy, it’s essentially lost it’s “neural-home.”  Sometimes, lust is denied due to not fitting into our moral code or because it has only previously existed in more risqué scenarios—not alongside monogamy.  However, just like other primary emotional centers that are denied—that are not nourished—lust will find it’s way!  Sadly, without mindfulness, that path can be wrought with confusion and heartache.

If you’d like to continue exploring this very potent emotion and how it can become a powerful resource for your intimate relationship, watch for part two of For the Love of Lust as we speak of the actual practices that will help you to cultivate the fruits of Lust! 

Until then…

For the Love (and Lust!) of your life!

Angie 

Challenging the “Experts”

Listening to “experts” is always a fascinating experience—I notice myself being enthralled, not always by what they’re saying but by how well they present themselves!  …Generally speaking anyway.  Such an art form, really, and one I’ve yet to perfect.

I had the opportunity to hear an expert last night—John Gray, author of Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, among many other books.  He was part of a weekend event for couples—their keynote speaker, in fact.  I was scheduled to speak directly after him, integrating some relationship theory and movement practices to increase intimacy into my presentation of “Becoming Embodied with Our Intimate Partners.”

Gray shared some concepts and evidence-based theory that, when I heard it, had a strong impact in my mental circuitry as well as in my gut.  There were things he stated that I agreed with and others that literally made my insides begin to go into hyper-vigilance and scream to the audience members, “Don’t listen to him!  That’s not true!”

One of the first things I want to touch on is the idea that “oxytocin increases cortisol in men,” which John Gray stated as fact, and coupled with the concept that while oxytocin is a bonding hormone for women, it does just the opposite in men, leaving them either fast asleep or anxiety-ridden.

Clarification From the Non-Expert: 

There are three primary types of stress hormones—Adrenaline, norephinephrine, and Cortisol.  Adrenaline is what we might feel when we experience a sudden threat, when the fight or flight response kicks in, and that sense that we need to protect ourselves in the present moment.  It increases our heart rate and helps us focus on what’s most important.

Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline in that it’s an “immediate response” type of hormone.   It supports blood getting to the necessary parts of the body, such as muscles, to support an immediate response to threat.  It also acts as a “back up system” to adrenaline if our adrenals are a little tapped out.

Cortisol, on the other hand, occurs when stress is ongoing…  for hours, days, weeks, or months.  As an evolutionary response, our bodies have learned to create cortisol to counter the effects of long-term stress on the body, by breaking down non-essential organs so as to basically “feed” other more vital tissue.  It’s really a survival mechanism.  Stress does increase cortisol concentrations but not in that, “Oh my God I’m going to die right now!” kind of way.

Here’s another interesting fact:  Oxytocin is also a stress hormone.  You may be asking, why is that?  Why would the hormone necessary for bonding and attachment, for those yummy feelings of connection, to be released during stress?  Well, some theorize that oxytocin is released during stress because we’re simply not wired to deal with stress–or life–alone.  We’re wired to feel connected and held and supported.  Oxytocin is a hormone that will support what we most need–relationship with others.

Gray’s idea that the release of oxytocin would necessitate a cortisol response makes no sense—at least to me.  The release of oxytocin, first of all, would have to take place over time to create the necessary physiological response requiring cortisol to begin breaking down vital organs to maintain blood sugar, and keep a man’s (person’s) body functioning when he’s in survival mode.  Now granted, a post-coital response can certainly trigger a need to go into survival mode (probably more related to adrenaline), for some, due to certain insecure attachment styles and lack of comfort with intimacy, but to negate the overall counter-effects of oxytocin on the entire stress system is simply irresponsible (in my humble opinion).

Ultimately, what we know about oxytocin is that it directly counters the release of other stress hormones, including cortisol—in BOTH genders by moving us toward necessary connection, which ultimately soothes the nervous system.  The more we experience relationally-oriented activities, such as sex with intimate partners, and feel the release of oxytocin; the more we strengthen and even increase oxytocin receptors in the brain.  We literally “build” the neural pathways related to the foundation of what scientists deem LOVE—from a neurochemical perspective anyway.

Oxytocin-image

Oxytocin Neurophsin

Oxytocin is a unique neurochemical that way.  (Here… take a peak.  Pretty huh?)

…So even if an individual struggles with feeling “comfortable” with intimate connection that contributes to oxytocin release, continued practice—yes PRACTICE—will increase, not only that individuals comfort, but actual brain chemistry and “wiring” that allows for the benefits!

To counter Gray:  Some men (or women) may have an increase in adrenaline after climax with a partner, due to insecure attachment and experience of newfound intimacy, and finding themselves beyond their normal comfort zone.  And the simultaneous release of oxytocin can, and most often does, powerfully counter that process.

…and the Research says

Gray referenced that when men were injected with oxytocin, they had an increase in cortisol.  This is confusing as the research states that oxytocin doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier, except in the form of nasal spray.  However, the use of spray on a long-term basis for research caused amnesia, hallucinations, and imbalances in hormones and electrolytes and was, as the research implies, long-term, and so has a more understandable connection to cortisol.  Maybe this is what he’s referring to.  However, this research actually applies to both men and women as well.  I wonder if this might be one of those areas where an “expert” has taken some liberty with research so as to defend his position.

Another scientific theory regarding oxytocin, researched by Dr. Jay Zak, is that those people—primarily men in his research—who were found to be lacking “trust-ability” in their intimate relationships were those same people who had fewer oxytocin receptors than most.  So if men were to buy in to the ideas of John Gray, denying any benefit of oxytocin for themselves and subsequently sinking into a familiar “disconnect” after sex with a partner rather than deepening the bond through increasing one’s tolerance for post-coital intimacy, there’s a possibility that the chance for strengthening and increasing oxytocin receptors in the brain would be inhibited, thus creating further disconnect and ultimately doing nothing to strengthen the bonds of attachment via lovemaking.  Run… on… sen… tance…!

The Journal of Neuroscience reports research done at the University of Bonn, where René Hurlemann and colleagues conducted a study with a group of healthy, heterosexual men; some single and some in committed relationships.  The study found that the presence of (administered) oxytocin actually inhibited closer proximity for the men in committed relationships, with an unknown attractive woman.  Essentially the study purports that men in committed relationships—those with adequate oxytocin due to their relationships—kept a “safer” distance with an attractive woman they didn’t know.  Hence, the research suggests that oxytocin may establish a greater sense of intimacy and attachment, and foster fidelity in committed relationships!  Clearly, this research would counter the ungrounded ideas of John Gray.

Gray also had the ….I’ll just say it, audacity to make the claim that after men have sex with a woman, his drive to be with her further is automatically inhibited by the lack of newness and excitement, therefore he will always be looking toward the next best thing.  Now, clearly we have all experienced this idea, whether from media, movies, our own relationships, or fear of relationship.  And there is science that espouses a dramatically different theory—that when men and women (both) experience climax with one another, and oxytocin is released, those experiences literally lay the foundation for love and a desire for increased intimacy and sexual gratification with that partner.  There are certainly a variety of other relational components that lead people to buy into the idea that men are consistently on the lookout.  But let’s get clear on the facts folks!

This from Wikipedia:

Oxytocin evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security around the mate. Many studies have already shown a correlation of oxytocin with human bonding, increases in trust, and decreases in fear. One study confirmed a positive correlation between oxytocin plasma levels and an anxiety scale measuring the adult romantic attachment. This suggests oxytocin may be important for the inhibition of the brain regions associated with behavioral control, fear, and anxiety, thus allowing orgasm to occur.”

Oxytocin is even thought to promote wound healing, among contributing to other health benefits.  Some research is now looking into the effects of social bonding to increase overall health in men and women.  The preliminary research is being done with rats, of course, so we can’t be certain.  But the results look promising!  And as isolated as many of us are these days, knowing that increases in oxytocin can ameliorate some of the negative effects of social isolation on physical health is yet another reason to get as much as we can!

When our “relational circuitry” feels soothed by the presence of certain neurochemicals such as oxytocin, and this occurs again and again, when we are in the presence of someone we love, we can become more comfortable “in our bodies.”—And with so much of our current lives taking place “from the neck up,” in this fast paced age of information in which we’re living; when we become more embodied with our partners, our ability to regulate our emotions and develop a “learned” secure attachment becomes possible.

Like I said, however, I’m no expert!  So get curious and do some of your own research—both the didactic as well as the embodied kind!  And let me know what you come up with!

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

Orgasms: Part One

Orgasms.  It’s a peculiar word.  It’s one of those words that can make some people cringe slightly, just in hearing it.  Like the word, “Vagina.”  I used to not like the word vagina.  I wanted to change it because I felt uncomfortable saying and hearing it but the older I’ve grown, the more I’ve fallen in love with what my vagina can do—from pre-pubescent clitoral “wow’s!” to birthing babies and everything in between.  Vagina kinda says it all.

And orgasms…  well, that’s a word that can get us flushed, interested, embarrassed that someone might think that we have them. Or don’t.  Or like them.  Or connect us in any way to the actual occurrence of them.  And in that nanosecond of acknowledgment of the word, we admit to the world that we are sexual beings.  Oh my God!!

“Oooohhhhh”

Orgasms are fabulous, aren’t they?  Look at all we do to achieve more and more orgasms!  The person with the most orgasms at the end wins!!

At the same time, though, they can wreak some havoc in our lives.

Chemical Connectors

Orgasms can be a little hard (hmmm…..  difficult?) …to come by, for some–or during certain life phases.  They can cause a lot of stress if they become too infrequent or not as “potent.”  They can create insecurity in relationship, if our partner isn’t having them with us—especially if she’s having them alone!—And the crazy thing that can be both wonderfully intoxicating, or crazy-making, is that they can be the “glue that binds,” so to speak!

Orgasms are most often correlated with a powerful surge of the neurohormones, oxytocin and prolactin, the bonding chemicals that are also released during birth and breastfeeding.  When we orgasm with a particular partner—and we do so often with that person—we develop and deepen a connection that can defy logic.

The How & What of the Big “O”

Orgasms, which are controlled by the involuntary—or autonomic nervous system, don’t just occur in our pelvises.  Of course you all know that!  They occur throughout our entire BodyMinds, in measurable ways.  From brain wave alterations to involuntary muscular contractions and spasms throughout the body—including lovely facial grimaces—to spontaneous vocalizations and sweat glands being intensely activated; high sexual arousal that leads to orgasm is the culmination of a complete mind and body experience that is unparalleled when compared to other bodily sensations.

Wikipedia describes orgasm as the sudden discharge of accumulated sexual tension during the sexual response cycle.  It comes from the Greek word, οργασμός orgasmos, a derivation of the word organ, meaning to swell, or to be excited.

Most often, stimulation of the penis in males and the clitoris in females is the starting point that leads to orgasm.  Whether through self-stimulation, partner stimulation, penetrative or non-penetrative sexual intercourse, genital play, oral sex, a variety of rhythmic types of genital stimulation; or the plethora of other erotic sexual activity, orgasms occur when our bodies are thoroughly engaged and our brains sufficiently relaxed.  And climax becomes imminent as blood rushes to our genitalia, heart rates increase, breathing becomes rapid, genitalia and nipples stand erect, the lower part of the vagina narrows and the penis becomes enlarged (hmmm…  someone was thinking!) …tension, tension, tension….  And somehow, simultaneous relaxation—of the mind anyway—until… our bodies release the build up of sexual energy in waves of complete pleasure.  If all goes well.orgasm1

(Maybe time for a little breather?)

And onward…

Scientists now believe that while men and women have obvious anatomical differences, our subjective experience of orgasm—both physiological and psychological—is actually quite similar.  In fact, in certain studies, researchers have not been able to reliably determine gender when reading descriptions of orgasms with all anatomical references removed.

Our Bodies

The most common descriptor of orgasm, from a physiological perspective, is the rhythmic contractions of the Pubococcygeus (PC) Muscle.  Most men and women describe a building and pleasurable intensity that often begins at the clitoris for women (although different types of orgasms occur in different areas of the genitalia—which we’ll …touch on later) and can spread throughout the pelvic area, abdomen, inner thighs, anal sphincter, rectum and perineum, primarily.  For women, contractions of the uterus and outer third of the vagina occur as well.  A woman’s clitoris and labia will swell during sexual excitement and the inner walls of the vagina will begin to lubricate.  For men, orgasms generally begin as a deep sensation of warmth and pressure in the genitalia, leading to a sharper, intensely pleasurable feeling in the genitals, rectum, anal sphincter and perineum.  And for men, the ejaculatory ducts and the muscles around the penis simultaneously contract.

A common characteristic of orgasm is also a pelvic throbbing or pulsing sensation, rhythmic muscular contractions—especially powerful for men during ejaculatory inevitability, which is the point when ejaculation is unavoidable—not that most men would want to avoid it!   (However, on this point, there are some sexual and spiritual practices that call for just that—another topic that we’ll discuss later).  Finally, for men, a warm rushing of fluid sometimes described as a “shooting” sensation occurs when semen travels through the urethra during ejaculation.  Of course it’s important to note that orgasm and ejaculation are not one in the same—while they most often occur together, a man can have an orgasm without ejaculating.  There are women who also experience a warm rush of fluid—some, even to the point of ejaculating.

Together, these physiological responses constitute the “reflex of orgasm.”  Contractions are the most intense initially, at the point we call “climax,” and occur at about 0.8-second intervals, and then lessen in both intensity and frequency of intervals as orgasm subsides.  While orgasms can differ depending on the person describing them and their unique experiences, these are the most common characteristics.

And Our Minds

For both men and women, orgasm brings forth descriptive words like warmth, blissful, intense, tingly, pleasurable, electric; feelings of suspension followed by intense or even violent pleasure, and then ultimately leading to deep relaxation and release. These words are used not only for feelings in the genitals but throughout at least some portion of the whole body.  And they correlate, as well, with emotional feelings of euphoria, of “losing oneself,” and often a sense of connectedness with a partner—or with oneself, depending on the circumstances of the particular experience.

Multi-Orgasmic Magic

As many of us—men and women—are well aware, it’s far more common for women to be multi-orgasmic, meaning ….well, that we’re really lucky, for one!  It also means that we don’t necessarily go into the phase of orgasm called the “refractory period,” upon climaxing, which men generally do—however, not all men and not every time.  The refractory period is a recovery phase and during that time, further ejaculation is physiologically impossible.  Some men have learned to have orgasms without ejaculating, however, and can therefore become multi-orgasmic.

A Woman’s Orgasm

Now, there is a downside for women as well.  Some surveys have concluded that only 25% of women have orgasms every time they have sex with a partner, as compared to 90% of men having sex.  Seems a little imbalanced, I’d say!  And sadly, about 10% of women have never had an orgasm at all—either via masturbation or sex.  Now this is an issue that needs addressing, in my opinion!

The idea that women are different than men in how, how often, and how quickly we orgasm has set us up for some struggles in the area of feeling empowered sexually, and has set men up for a load of confusion about women’s bodies.  And we are equally responsible for the state of things.

For much of our history, women didn’t speak to their own need for sexual satisfaction—or how that might occur.  The patriarchal society that is at our foundation set men’s sexual needs on a pedestal and essentially left women out in the cold, at times even providing the medical diagnosis of Hysteria—historically a common name given to women who were clearly just sexually frustrated!  And a common cure…?  Genital massage from a doctor until the woman reached “hysterical paroxysm” (Orgasms).  Duh!  (Either that or she was sent to an asylum!)

Currently, women have cum into our own, so to speak.  (These are getting fun!)  Many women are completely comfortable speaking to how we orgasm, what turns us on, what doesn’t; and showing men—or other women (because every woman is different), step by step, our own journey to our bodies deepest treasures.  Yet we’re still not quite there, are we?

I speak to women all the time who are scared to show their partners—mostly men—how to help them reach orgasm, some who simply don’t know how to relax enough with a man to allow their bodies to climax, and some who simply don’t know how to even bring themselves to orgasm.  When women confess to struggling with orgasm with their partners, I’ll ask, “Do you masturbate in front of him?”  The return I often get is one of shock and sometimes statements like, “I wouldn’t even know what to do!”  And that’s when I get concerned.

Many of us were not taught practices of self-love, let alone practices of self-satisfaction!  In fact, many of us were taught that our bodies were not to be touched, “down there.”  And so we grew to feel shame connected to the very beauty of our bodies delicious sexual natures—because our curiosity made others uncomfortable.  So we need to re-teach ourselves.  And for our health—individually, relationally, collectively—it’s time to own our orgasms!

This is Part One of the delicious discussion of Orgasms.  And depending on the questions, comments, and sharing that may ensue; we’ll see how many more “Parts” it will take to dig into the juicy dialogue of all that we can learn about this wonderful, powerful phenomenon! 

 

Thanks for reading!