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Pleasure, not performance

April 30, 2015

 

One of the main themes of my work with people is focusing on pleasure in sexual encounters, rather than performance. So many of us show up to sexual encounters with a lot of expectations and pressure about "performing" and "doing it right" or "doing it well." What do we look like? What do we smell like? Are we doing our partner exactly right? Do they want it faster? Slower? Are we hard enough? Wet enough? Turned on enough? Having an orgasm soon enough? Having an orgasm the right way? Making the right sounds?

This sort of performance focus generates a lot of anxiety, as you can imagine. I wonder if this is a particularly American thing. I'd love to do some cross-cultural research. We're such an achievement-oriented society that I wonder if it particularly influences sex as well. Many of us have a lot of self-worth wrapped up in our performance in life -- how much we work, how effective we are, how competent we are at our work, and on and on. We take some of that performance orientation into the bedroom too, to our collective detriment.

Researchers call this performance orientation "self-focus." This is when we're focusing on ourselves and our actions in a way that distracts from the sensory input and pleasure we might otherwise be experiencing. The most distracting type of self-focus is anxious self-focus -- "Am I doing this right?" "Is this good enough?" Questions that a lot of us experience during sex.

So what to do? First let's re-frame sex from a performance situation to a participation situation. Sex is not about two (or however many) people showing up to perform for each other. It's about people showing up to participate in co-creating an experience that is pleasurable for everyone.

But in order to be a good lover, don't you need to check in with yourself sometimes? Great question. Yes, we need to check in with how our actions are resonating with our partner. But rather than stewing about it in our own minds, we can just ask.

Next, we can work on re-focusing attention from internal experiences (like self-focus) to external experiences (like everything else that's happening). For example, if we find ourselves during sex checking to see whether we're adequately aroused and worrying that we're not, we can take a breath and re-focus that attention on what we're doing with our partner. What can we see, smell, taste, hear, and touch right now that are pleasurable? Sometimes just focusing on what's pleasurable is way more arousing than trying to manufacture arousal in our minds.

I realize it can be anxiety-provoking to focus on pleasure rather than performance. What if it makes for bad sex? Well, try it and see! Let me know what you think.

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