Pink Floyd’s classic song ‘Comfortably Numb’ seems very relevant to a common problem. Many people are out of touch with their bodies. Busy lives keep us in our heads. Feelings are repressed because we don’t want to feel them; pain is numbed out and we ignore our natural body warning system. We cross our own boundaries by going along with something just to fit in.
I know this well. I have travelled this path. I was more comfortable not being aware of what was happening in my body.
When we are children we are told to control our emotions. Pushed to conform and do things we don’t want. We learn that in order to feel loved by our caregivers we must overide our wishes and boundaries to fit in. This subconscious conditioning in our early years has a big effect on the rest of our lives.
Uncomfortable feelings that arise in adulthood, are often caused by our wounded younger parts. Formed when young our protection mechanisms were a way of feeling safe; but they pop up later in life when triggered. Repressed and disowned parts of our personality also push to the surface, looking for recognition. More discomfort. The end result is disembodiment. We get used to distraction and numbing out because we don’t want to feel what’s going on inside. We also tend to blame our pain on external events in our lives, instead of looking inwards.
Numbing out comes in many forms; prescription drugs, illicit drugs, alcohol, television, sex and staying busy, to name but a few. There are many ways to keep ourselves distracted from really feeling. And our conditioning tells us to put on a happy disposition and hide the truth. My main tools were alcohol and staying busy.
The cost of this to our lives is huge. By not feeling the bad stuff we don’t feel the good stuff either. Pleasure, joy, aliveness and orgasm all suffer. In my work as a sexuality coach and bodyworker, I frequently work with people who struggle in their sexual lives. Often the first enquiry will be “I don’t feel pleasure during sex” or “I have difficulty achieving orgasm”. When did sex stop being pleasurable for so many people? The answer lies in staying present and in the body, getting in touch with our inner world again. This also includes acknowledging repressed parts.
When sensation is reduced in the body, more intensity is required to feel anything. This is one reason hard, friction- based sex is considered the norm. This is also the type of sex depicted in most porn available- sadly used as a form of sex education by the younger generation. Desensitisation in the penis is a problem for many men. I know it was for me. Harder, faster friction is required in order to feel sensation-which is a key component in maintaining erection. This type of sex can desensitise the genitals. The body has its own self- defence mechanism. In fact, the term Body armouring is used to describe a process whereby the body shuts down feeling if it perceives physical or emotional trauma. Sort of like turning down the volume in our nerve endings.
Many of the women who seek my help, do so because they rarely orgasm during sex. Not enjoying the quality of sex they are receiving, they don’t know how to ask for something different. Communication is so important especially during intimacy. But we have not learned to speak up. If we over-ride our boundaries, not asking for what we want and not saying no to what we don’t; we become numb and disempowered and feelings of unsafety arise. Some of the keys to more feeling are safety, intimacy and communication. A huge key is what is known as embodiment.
My Tantra training helped me be more in my body and regain sensitivity. This is a key element to more fulfilling sex. If I am in my head in fantasy or numbed out, I need more intensity or friction to orgasm. I also changed my relationship to orgasm. Instead of orgasm being the goal of sex, I learned to surrender to the feeling. Now sex is about the journey, not the destination.
There is a place for hard and fast sex, but it should not be the norm. What wires together fires together. If we always have sex the same way our neural pathways become reinforced. It gets harder to change our habit. As well as helping to re-sensitise our genitals, trying something different reprograms our body’s nervous system to pleasure.
A tantric practice I enjoy with a partner I simply call ‘plugging in’. Entering my partner and simply being in stillness. Maintaining eye contact. I practice keeping my awareness in my body, especially my penis. Over time this practice re-introduces sensitivity to the genitals and is great for building intimacy. On a side note to men; it doesn’t require maintaining erection, taking away pressure to perform and allowing space to practice being instead of doing. It also allows space to feel into each other and our hearts. Often repressed feelings come up. I just allow and stay present to the body, present to my partner. Acknowledging these feelings during intimacy can be very healing.
Another way to reintroduce sensitivity is to work with a qualified sexuality-based bodyworker. Without the dynamics of your partner, it can be easier to stay present and feel your body. We are trained to help you get back in touch with feeling and pleasure. Being held in a safe trusted container can also allow space for unexpressed feelings to surface. It is also an opportunity to practice expressing your boundaries and asking for what you want.
It is important to remember any lack of sensation or feeling can be turned around with practice. Your relationship to pleasure and orgasm is about honouring yourself. Find what works for you and feel empowered to ask for it. It should never be about going along with something just to please your partner, (unless that is mutually pleasurable of course!).
Imagine a world where all men and women felt pleasure and connection through sex.