Sexual dissatisfaction is one of the top reasons cited when we leave our relationships. It is also one of this life’s most worthy challenges to take on; not only for the meaning and pleasure it can bring to our relationships, but also for the very real health benefits that a satisfying sex life bestows on our well being. I also believe that learning how to satisfy our sex drive and grow our comfort with our erotic selves is a window which reveals our deepest humanity. It is no surprise that a massive consumer market designed to offer a quick fix for our sexual desires has ballooned into a billion dollar industry, but despite the millions of options available, there is no magic pill (even those that manage to sustain erections), toy or DVD of new sexual techniques that is going to bring you the kind of passionate intimate connection that we all long for. There are however some pretty straightforward shifts in focus and attention that will lead you towards more satisfying sexual experiences and a comfort with who you are as an erotic human being. Here are a few ideas, which are not listed in order of potency. Even if you only try one at a time, take note on how your intimate life responds.
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I would bet that for every couple that falls in love each day there are at least two couples who leave each other in deep and hurtful ways. Just this week, I was caring for one of my teenage daughter’s oldest friends whose boyfriend, who had been her friend since elementary school, broke up with her in a text that read“I just don’t have that warm love feeling anymore.”This experience followed one earlier in the week as I listened to a longtime business friend who had recently managed an incredible feat of agility, courage and perseverance to save his business from an investor group gone bad, speak in a hopeless and uninspired tone about losing the feelings required to do the work to revive his 33-year marriage.
“And in the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make…” -The Beatles
I have come to say good bye to my friend as she enters the hospice phase of her cancer journey. During the long 6 hour drive to get her, my memory of our meeting came back to me as though it was 20 days ago and not 20 years. She is an artist and most of my memories over the years with her are punctuated with her work- drawings for our almost card company landed on t-shirts and long narrow canvases with the moon rising, illustrated children’s books and homemade games when our kids were smaller. In the midst of these memories, I welled up in tears, wishing I had been a better friend. I wished that I had looked for another way to reach her when our lives pulled us in different directions. Of all the friends I have known in my life, she is one of the very few who always had nothing but love for me.
For all the years that I have thought and written about love, it is remarkable to me that I only just recently learned how my own thinking has prevented me from seeing the love in my own life for decades. We all create a storyline that our life mirrors and although it is hard to tell whether the events and circumstances of our life create the story or whether the story attracts the events, the story line becomes so deeply ingrained in our personal history that we often don’t witness its operation. For me, as for most of us, this history began in childhood with my emotionally dysfunctional family, which only grew more overtly unhappy as I aged. By the time I was 13 and the divorce escalated the collective pain into impenetrable defense mechanisms my storyline was set and the filter of my experience of life was measured by an ever present sense of being excluded, abandoned and alone. These emotional drivers of my life were powerful forces of attraction, as well, and it took years for me to see the choices I continuously made to keep the filter intact.
I have been studying gratitude as a the open door to a positive life and one of the most profound vehicles to love for some time. As part of my research, we have had an ongoing contest asking our readers to share their own stories of how gratitude has transformed their own lives and relationships. Here is an unforgettable story of gratitude.
I embrace the gift of how my life has developed from birth to now. At an early age, I was very visual. Reading books came easily to me by age 3 and is still one of my first loves. I am an accomplished writer with several books just sitting there for me to finish. By the early teen years of my life, I became very accomplished at sketching. I especially enjoyed observing all the shadings of hands and faces and duplicating what my eyes could see on poster boards, a wall, chalk board or just notebook paper. I have spent countless hours appreciating nature, down to the slightest detail like: how the leaves on a tree swaying in the breeze captures light and seem to sparkle in the sunlight; the perseverance of the ant who carries a crumb all the way across a wide driveway to the ant hill; the personality of birds in the morning with their unique chirps of urgency, joy, fear; the various smells on a country bike trail; the feel of clean flannel sheets in the bitter winter months, the taste of kiwi in season. It seems that my whole life has been a festival of senses that I can have in memory to live over again as I please.
“The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking. Immediately at the moment of perception, you can feel the mind going to work, polling one center of the brain after another for signs of recognition, for old memories and old connection.” – Lewis Thomas
Our sense of smell is ancient; primal as well as the source of our most powerful emotional memories. This is also the sensory pathway which is the key to sexual attraction and compatibility. These facts belie the little attention that our sense of smell evokes- partly this is because we have so little language for scent. Our scent language is often limited to “it smells like…” and our recognition of scents is often clearly delineated between pleasant and unpleasant. But there is a world of scent cognition that goes unrecognized every day and new research into the remarkable olfactory processing of life is demonstrating how seemingly invisible forces actually color what we see and hear as well.
How we spend our time is what our life is made of and our intimate relationships are a clear reflection of the time we invest in them. Relationship growth is a capital investment in time and without it, deep connections wither on the vine. It is easy in this era of instant connectivity to lose sight of what it means to commit to the real face time that love demands. Arguably, making time for making love is a deeply meaningful measure of the health and sustainability of your relationship. This is especially true when you consider the outrageous scheduling demands that we agree to without hesitation for our work lives, our children’s activity calendar or our favorite online social media connections.What makes scheduling the best hours of our intimate life so difficult?
Beauty is one of the essential graces of living a human life on earth. Beauty is around us everywhere and entraining our own capacity to notice and recognize its presence and its power to transform us begins in our heart. Culturally, we are constantly being mis-directed to a specific, and arguably, limited type of beauty, which parades as fashion in youthful perfect silhouettes, airbrushed wide-eyed models with chiseled features and long wavy flows of hair. This commercial beauty is the kind that drives us either to despairing feelings of not measuring up or seduces us into buying this one more thing that will bring us closer to that exclusive experience of beauty. Yet, most people when asked about where they witness beauty rarely mention Glamour’s cover of the month. Instead, what we hear is about how the evening light transforms the trees in their yard, or how the scent of fresh bread wafted around a corner or the remarkable rose light that canvases the skyline before dark.
“When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements which seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens.” -Carl Rogers
Lately, I have had the honor and privilege to create and deliver a workshop on love and positivity for a handful of cancer patients and survivors. Our weekly curriculum is a combination of my years of love contemplation layered with the positivity training about which I have become passionate. It is the most deeply rewarding work I have done in years. I have given up the idea that I have anything to teach anyone, finally understanding that there is no telling anyone anything that they do not wish to know. Instead, I am in awe of the learning that happens within the shared intention of listening deeply both to ourselves and to the sacred intimate connections that emerge without effort, even among strangers when we ask authentic questions about who we are. Increasingly, I am convinced that any idea of planning how things will go is nothing but fiction that I busy my mind with and which ultimately distracts me from the moment at hand.
It’s easy to trust when life is giving us what we want, when our relationships are stable and communication flows. Leaning toward trust when our health is broken, our relationship connections are tattered and we can’t find the words to express our own needs is where trust becomes our capacity for resilience. In the moments when life is falling apart, when our best laid plans are dashed and lying in a heap of disappointment that we have the opportunity to grow more resilient. This deep inner work is one of the highest forms of love. It is the work that transforms us into our most authentic and compassionate selves.
I often tell my kids that life is first a problem solving adventure. Watching as they can easily become overwhelmed with life’s adversity has shown me time and again that the outcome often has less to do with the external life circumstances than what we bring to the challenge from inside. I have tried to teach them by example that what transforms all life challenges into something that makes us more whole is our capacity to not give ourselves away. This is a kind of radical trust, tapping your inner resilience, which keeps you present to the truth about yourself and doesn’t allow you to make the situation worse with a downward spiraling story line of victimization and blame.