Women commonly complain that they feel estranged not from their husbands but from their desire for them. Love is not at issue—they are still deeply in love with these men, but somewhere during the years of cooking meals and cleaning house and earning livings, the journey from everyday life to erotic fantasy became so cluttered that they could no longer find their way from one to the other. Oh, they want to access that carefree girl who winked and giggled and abandoned herself to physical pleasure so easily. They miss her. But somehow the process of letting everything else go to focus on sex is difficult or impossible. It looks so easy for their men; they are always ready to go, it seems. How do they switch like that, so seamlessly? Sometimes it’s only when we’re off on vacation that we can truly relax enough to find the abandon necessary to really get off—and that’s hardly practical for the majority of us.
And there’s always the sense of pressure to be available, like there’s something wrong with us if we don’t want sex. Is there?
This is an almost universal lament for busy, modern women. We know how to keep many plates spinning simultaneously, to run our houses and our offices and our social circles and to keep them running fluidly. We remember play dates and birthdays and may even be tending to our aging parents while we juggle all the rest. We are good at doing this and take some pride in being able to do it, although at times we feel ragged and weary and perhaps under-appreciated for our efforts.
From the time we wake in the morning, we ‘set’ our day. We review what needs to happen and when it needs to be completed. We pick up the threads of yesterday’s leftovers and weave them into today’s plans. In the background run the reminders of the long-term commitments. Right. We’re ready.
We’re good at this compartmentalization. Some of it is biological. There is a region in the brain called the corpus callosum, a tightly knit bundle of nerves whose function is to communicate between the hemispheres. In women, the corpus callosum tends to be larger, more easily passing data back and forth between the right and left sides of our brains. Consequently, we can manage information about ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ data simultaneously and effortlessly. We can switch from one thought process to another fluidly, like remembering to pick up a card for Aunt Jane’s birthday while running a meeting.
This continual whirlwind that goes on in our minds is comfortable for us most of the time. We need to be able to do it if we are to get everything done in our busy days, but aside from that, it brings us a sense of accomplishment, of pride. Women understand multitasking on a core level. We would be lost without it.
Still, at the end of a long day, when the kids are asleep, the dishes done and the computer turned off, we often struggle to shut down all the engines that fire so efficiently all day. How many of us keep pads of paper nearby to jot down thoughts even as we’re watching TV or sitting quietly talking with our partners? It is hard to turn off this mechanism that we rely on to assure ourselves that all is safe, taken care of, under control.
At last we go to bed, generally exhausted, but still our minds are busy. We go through a process of shutting down the compartment doors until sleep overtakes us, usually a rapid process. We do not luxuriate in relaxation and the enjoyment of peacefulness.
It’s no surprise that at this point, when our lovers reach for us, hoping for closeness and erotic connection, we are not receptive. Our minds are either still racing or trying desperately to shut down. Where are we to store this new information coming in just as we are closing our circuits? Is this yet another task we must perform before sleep can quiet our busy minds? Is there still someone else wanting something else before we can be still?
It wasn’t always this way. We can remember when our blood ran hot with desire and nothing was more important than time spent in our lover’s embrace. No trouble concentrating then. No problem relaxing into our body, enjoying its climb into arousal and eventual orgasm. Remember when sex filled you up instead of emptying you? What happened?
Oh, if we’re honest, we’d have to admit that once the sex has actually begun, it feels good still. After years of practice, most of us have the orgasm thing down pretty well. If we’ve been with the same partner for a long time, we’ve learned how to have efficient sex: doing the things that always work to produce a quick orgasm. Shorthand sex. And orgasms always feel good.
But sexual capacity and sexual desire are different from one another. Even when we know we’ll have a good enough time once we get started, we mourn the loss of desire. Being cajoled into even a good thing is still being cajoled. Eventually we’d just rather be left alone.
We miss the wanting. We’ve forgotten how to get to that place that welcomes sensuality, expectation, vulnerability, abandon, selfishness, and joy. We’re so good at keeping so many balls in the air all the time, why can’t we do this, too?
Welcoming desire requires two things, focus and relaxation. Let’s take these one at a time.
Sex demands concentration, anathema to the multitasker. We really can’t just add “have sex” to the list of other tasks in our day and expect to be fully present for it. We need to honour sex for the powerful force it is and devote our full attention to it. How?
When we want to have sex, we need to go through an intentional set of steps to clear our minds of all the other distractions we tolerate all the time. The compartments need to be closed one by one until we are ‘clear’. Learn what that means for you. If you can’t possibly get passionate with dirty clothes strewn about the bedroom, clean ‘em up. If your lover starts nibbling your ear while you’re washing the dishes, suggest that he prepare the bedroom (heat the oil, choose the music) while you finish tidying the kitchen and making that necessary call to the office about tomorrow’s meeting. Tell him you’ll meet him there in thirty minutes. That will give you ten minutes to finish up in the kitchen, five minutes for the call, and fifteen minutes in the bathroom brushing your teeth and having a shower, mentally shutting down all the other compartments while warm water soothes you and you concentrate on how good you are going to be feeling soon as you relax into the mutual pleasure of anticipated lovemaking. Touch yourself now. Feel your skin. Remind yourself of your sexual vitality and your inherent appreciation of touch. By the time you get to the bedroom, you are focused on yourself, your lover, and the good time awaiting you.
This focus is necessary for us to appreciate and partake in desire. We need to concentrate on ourselves and our pleasure, the opposite direction of the give, give, give we so often do all day. This is the time to be selfish, to indulge ourselves, to let someone do wonderful things to and for us.
If this were a direction, it would be in, and it needs to happen first. Concentration. Focus.
Let your partner in on the need for this time to get ready. Explain to him about shutting the compartments and coming back to the focused, sensual woman you are under all the burdens of the day. Tell him what would help you in this process, whether it’s his slow hand in the early stages of lovemaking while your body remembers its ability to drink in pleasure or his help with making the kids’ lunches to remove that task from the list. Husbands are generally more than happy to help their wives become amorous, engaged lovers if they know how, but they cannot read our minds. Clear, direct communication helps everyone in this instance.
Whatever it is that you need to do to bring your focus in, do it. It stills your mind and readies you for the kind of lovemaking you’ve been longing to appreciate again.
After that, we need to go in another direction—down.
We are used to being ‘on’ and are comfortable with it. If we start to relax, we fall asleep. We are not very good at breathing deeply, welcoming sensation and enjoying just being in our bodies. Aside from all the messages we get as women to be desirable but not desire, we also labour under the notion that we must always be doing something, giving something to someone. We feel rather guilty about selfishness, idleness, indulgence.
And that is exactly what we need to be exalting in after we shut down all the compartments and get focused. Now we need to relax, to be selfish and slow and take our time to let feelings permeate our skin.
Recent research into women’s arousal patterns , both in Canada and in the United States, verify that women are often physically aroused without being consciously aware of it. Until we can focus (in) and relax (down) we miss the show.
What keeps us from relaxing? Oftentimes, it’s our own foolish expectations that the world will stop spinning if we aren’t vigilant for one minute. Sometimes we’re afraid that if we let someone see our underbelly, they will take advantage of us. If that’s the case, our relationship is in trouble and we need to address it squarely. If we’re afraid of our lover, lack of desire is a symptom of a hurting relationship, not a physiological or psychological lack of preparedness.
But if we are married to our best friend and still can’t slow down sufficiently to enjoy sex, we are likely caught up in the ‘down and in’ conundrum. Once we understand that sex demands and deserves preparation, and approach lovemaking prepared by being focused and relaxed, we find that we actually show up for the event!
Women’s bodies are subtle in registering desire. Unlike erections, our lubrication can go unnoticed until fingers go exploring. When we ask for and encourage the kissing, caressing and fondling we need to ripen our bodies, relaxation follows. We often require the liberal use of fantasy to invite psychic arousal. We must take responsibility for teaching our mates to be languorous, experimental, sensuous. Give them feedback. Make ample time to relax into the sensuousness of your body before gearing up to high velocity sex. You simply cannot rush relaxation.
Once we are there, focused and relaxed, our minds and our bodies respond to an ancient song with ever-changing words. We benefit personally from the quickening of our body systems and the sense of well-being that follows orgasm; our relationship benefits by the cascade of bonding endorphins released. Lying together in post-coital bliss, cooing endearing messages and gazing into the eyes of our mate, life seems simple, beautiful, meaningful. All is well.
Tomorrow, soon enough, we will rise again and open all our well-maintained and managed compartments, and we will produce enough energy to power us through whatever our day requires. But now, tonight, is for us. In and down. Desirable and desiring. Sensual and sensitive. Receptive and rewarded. Sated. Good.