The other day I got a note from a loyal customer who shared the unfortunate story of her husband’s poorly executed penile implant that left him both significantly shorter and with erectile issues. Her request that I address some writing towards sexual healing, particularly aligned with disability issues, has stayed with me. She ended her note saying, “We have been unable to shake the anger and hopelessness and this issue has ruined their lives.”As I thought about the gravity of her experience I remembered one time early in my sex education career when one of the women attending my workshop shared a similar story. Following a problematic hysterectomy, she was unable to have the same kind of orgasms that she had regularly enjoyed throughout her life. I remember her despair also described in the same terms of ruining her life.
Indeed, the association between sexual incapacity and ruin is painfully common. An old friend’s late husband chose to not treat prostate cancer, which ended up killing him, for fear of the resulting sexual incapacity he might experience from treatment. Having worked with cancer patients and survivors, his fear was not unfounded. Cancer and its accompanying treatments are joined by many other illnesses and their treatments, which wreak havoc on our sexual desire, libido and capacity for pleasure. And while physical ailments are generally considered deal breakers for our sex lives, even more frequently all varieties of emotional estrangement and disappointed relational expectations also prevent many of us from exposing our most intimate vulnerability and exploring our capacity for pleasure.
There are some that believe that the cure to this situation lies in questioning our expectations of how often we can rightly look forward to having great sex. Maybe we should be willing to conclude that a handful of profoundly erotic exchanges should be a fair limit for our sexual ambitions in a life time. Many others would encourage taking up sex education akin to training for a sport. Learning the correct poses, taking the right supplements, studying the latest science and purchasing the right accessories are all commonly suggested fixes to the sexual ailments of our time. There is probably some truth to be found in both schools of thought, and yet for too many of us, healing our sexuality remains elusive. We struggle to choose among the plethora of options and wait half- heartedly for some miraculous result that usually doesn’t materialize.
Culturally, we are trained to look outwards for the solutions to our problems so we often miss our own abilities to transform our experience. Our attention is at once the most powerful force of transformation we hold as well as the most underutilized. Yet, when we employ the power of our focus, the truth that we are all profoundly sensuous beings directly correlates to our attention on sensuality. All too often we take for granted the moments of sensual beauty within our daily experiences, which are literally the primer for our limbic brain, the control center of our libido response. Consider some of these small moments of visceral pleasure that some of my cancer patients listed when we started looking at how their attention towards beauty and the senses could forge a path to sexuality- stepping into the steam of a hot shower, soaking in the scented water of a hot bath, slipping between the freshly scented clean sheets, following your nose to the open door of the bakery, rubbing your hand down the back of a loved one covered in a soft sweater, the intoxicating scent of an opening flower to your nose, the taste of warm toast and peanut butter, the smell of warm hot chocolate or hot coffee before it hits your lips. These daily sensory experiences are the stepping stones to an erotic life that most of us don’t ever witness, let alone perceive in the same context as a healthy sexual appetite.
Once we recognize how we miss much of the flavor and visceral enjoyment, which life offers us perpetually. We have a good place to start examining how we prevent ourselves from experiencing the sexual pleasure that is available to us regardless of physical disability or emotional discomfort. I keep coming back to the woman at my Elephant Pharmacy workshop years ago, whose life was ruined because she couldn’t orgasm the way she always had. She was open to learning something new, so when I suggested that as long as she keeps focusing on what she knew before, there was little room left for her to discover what she didn’t yet know about her sexual response.
To the degree that we settle into loss and grief as a lifestyle, we eliminate the curiosity and wonder that could evolve your present situation into one of pleasure. We have to be able to let go of what was, to be present to the possibility of life that is in this moment. This is the most profound key to healing sex- the present moment is where we create the interior space to discover what pleasure is here now. Mind you, this is not just a sexual problem, yet one that I believe is associated with most sexual problems. We are afraid if we let go of how it was, nothing erotic will be left to replace it. Not so. As long as you are living in a human body, it will seek for, experience, and evolve pleasure if you let it.
For my friend who started all this with her husband’s shortened length and intermittent erections, consider that the sex and pleasure you shared before has prepared you to discover the kind of sex that is waiting for you two right now. I hear no mention of oral sex in your note, which statistically has the highest rates of orgasmic release, or the fun of trying a strap on, which would simulate what you had before, while also giving you both a chance to try what it feels like to penetrate. These are just a few ideas that come to mind, but first, of course, you have to grieve what is lost and decide whether you can release what is gone. I hope you can, because your body wants you to live in pleasure and is waiting for your expectations to match your capacity to feel. For the record, I am convinced that we are all capable of way more erotic pleasure than we expect.