By Peter Sholley, LMFT, HoneyColony Original
Nourishing Intimacy And Desire, Part 2
In Part 1 we learned of a few foods that spark sexual vitality from within. In this article we will discuss a few strategies to ensure both desire and intimacy can be well nourished in your relationship. Just like there are many foods that can boost desire, there are activities and principles that can help two people move toward one another with passion and curiosity, even after years of being together.
There are many couples out there who love each other more deeply than ever, but can’t seem to find the time or inclination to get sexy with it. What can be done when two people reach a level of intimacy they both enjoy and then feel like they’ve reached a plateau in terms of passion and desire for one another?
Bringing sexual aliveness back into our relationships is variably a quest, an obsession, or a form of delirium. To make matters worse, we get marketed to a state of numbness with wave after wave of images, products, stories, and new drugs. And there at the center of it all is a fear that we are missing something crucial, something that is our birthright. How can we separate the messages pushed on us from the outside from those clamoring to get out from deep within us?
So you’ve read articles like this before, and now you have done all that you can to eat your way to passion and pursue the best sex of your life, but you still aren’t feeling the fire. You have been told that if you take care of the intimacy, the sex will take care of itself. People just need to feel closer, right? Well, for some this may work: feeling the love can lead to making love. But in a majority of cases, the lived truth is more complicated than that. In the words of Esther Perel, author of the best-selling book Mating in Captivity, “Strengthening mutuality is not necessarily enough to generate desire.” At the heart of her work with couples are these questions: “When you love, how does it feel? And when you desire, how is it different?”
Take a moment with each of these questions. Perel observes that love and intimacy are about security and closeness, and desire is about the unknown and distance. This is the tightrope of relationship, balancing the familiar and familial with the exotic and the adventurous. Here’s the possibility of falling, the thrill of danger, and there’s the safety net. Step one as you walk the tightrope: be present not just to your partner but to yourself. Where does your love live in you? What about your desire? Increase your mindfulness to your own needs, and don’t mistake stifling your needs for loving your partner (in the long-term, that’s a recipe for resentment).
As with nutrition, a life of connection and a life of passion start with mindful steps toward our core essential needs:
- Run it out: We are, after all, bodies in motion. From the beginning, we are shifting and expanding and contracting. Exercising together brings blood and oxygen, and sexual fitness relies on physical fitness. Running, biking, paddle-boarding, dancing, hiking, yoga, whatever your collective fancy… Simply put, moving together and breathing together is hot, and movement primes the pump.
- Take an electronics vacation: Sex is a return to our bodies if we have attempted to flee them. From thumbs on a smartphone or fingers on a keyboard, we are attempting to transcend the reality of our limits. And yet, social media can only do so much to assuage our empty spaces and the nagging sense that we are separate and alone. Sex can be a nourishing relief, a reminder on a body level that we are not so alone after all. Keep electronics out of the bedroom (at least for a period of time), establish a digital curfew of 10pm, say, and make this time more about real connection, not virtual.
- Cultivate desire: connect with thoughts, objects, and places that naturally turn you on. Keep a desire journal. Share notions with your partner.
- Swing: That’s right… But a little more literally. Try taking a trip to a local playground, possibly after hours. Sit in adjacent swings and let the momentum move you. Swinging together and apart can address both the need for closeness and separation. We spend some time swinging parallel, and some time in opposition, and all points between. Paying attention to your aliveness as you pump your legs, catch your partner whooshing past in your periphery, feel hands on the chain that supports the whole of you, can enliven all parts (including the shared ones).
- Back up: This is a simple exercise that is more about stillness and paying attention. Sit with your back touching your partner’s. Relax and lean into each other. Breathe into your partner’s back, then allow your partner to breathe into yours. What is it like to be supported? Feel the boundary between you. Pay attention to what comes up. What happens when you exhale as your partner inhales? What happens when you are both breathing in at the same time? Where is your awareness?
- Look forward: Anticipate time spent together. Everything from far-off vacations to spur-of-the-moment picnics, develop a list of what you most look forward to. These are your existential kegels; that is, the more you flex your imagination around what you are really looking forward to together, the more alive you will feel together.
- Get away: This gets back to the part of us that craves new experiences. New experiences make us feel more alive. A strange bed, a new place, maybe some make-believe… Waking up with new light in a different place can make the now between you new.
- Get reacquainted: What do you do to seduce this person you have known so long, anew? I think of the scene in The Right Stuff where Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard go into a bar separately and pretend not to know each other… Another possibility is to take time to focus on a part of your partner’s body that you don’t usually pay attention to and discover new details, kiss, caress, share what you notice.
- Date yourself: As stated earlier, knowing your own desires is the key to bringing more passion into the relationship. Where your passion meets your partner’s is where sex bumps to the next level. Make time to feed your passion. Do something you love, so you can build your own excitement without depending on your partner’s availability or willingness to accompany you. When you come together again, you can share your experience and bring your excitement into the bedroom. When traveling, take a day or half a day apart and then meet somewhere later to share experiences.
- Lessen the stress: Stress of work, kids, life in general, can bring us to our knees, and not in the sexy way. Learn stress reduction techniques, remember to breathe deeply, and take time to quiet the mind as often as possible.
Finally, don’t be too attached to the past: things that might have turned you or your partner on in the beginning may no longer have the same effect (in the way that foods which gave you comfort may no longer serve you or your health). Stay curious; explore each other; surprise yourselves and one another. Grow into what you most want in a partner and in yourself.
Make sure to read Part 1 of this article, by Thais Harris, N.C., which discusses the role of specific foods and nutrients for sexual vitality.
Peter Sholley is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in San Francisco and Santa Rosa, California. He holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in Somatic Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). In 2012, he and his wife, Thais Harris, NC, began Nourish Together to work with couples to improve health and connection through nutrition, communication, and mindfulness.