In this series on Dr. Jenni Skyler’s adapted version of applying Masters and Johnson’s human sexual response cycle to a long-term relationship, we have so far covered desireand arousal. Everything in this piece again draws directly from Dr. Skyler’s Glue Talk.
After desire comes arousal and sensation, and next in the cycle is orgasm and surrender. As we have already discussed, desire is the first thing to go in a long-term relationship, but if you are able to tap into your sexual response with physical arousal, you can bypass desire and enter into the cycle.
Once arousal is happening, the obvious next step and the one many people focus on, is orgasm. It is common to focus on orgasm as the motivation for love making, but like life itself, if we make orgasm the goal and solely focus on the destination, we miss the joy of the journey. Don’t bypass the ride of arousal and sensation and connection and communication. As human beings, it is amazing that we get to have sex for pleasure. We are one of the few species to enjoy sex well outside of procreation, yet at the same time we have to be careful not to pursue orgasmic pleasure as the only reason to have sex. If we remove the focus on orgasm, and instead turn our attention to the other pleasurable sensations, sex becomes a practice of exploration, presence, connection, communication and closeness.
Sex and the desire for orgasm are not only hugely important for a relationship, but also a stand-in. People who get married or get involved in long-term relationships shouldn’t do so because they think it is a shortcut to happiness. It doesn’t work that way. People can’t define happiness just as a series of units of pleasure–they have to define it for themselves, along the journey of life. The heart of a relationship is having someone to walk down that road. You’ll find that your desires and happiness intertwine. But the point isn’t to get to happiness–it’s to walk down that road.
It’s the same with sex with a loved one, especially as the relationship progresses. You do have to desire to get to the la petit mort, as they say, but if you make that the only point of the activity, then you are too often two people in the same basic function, but worlds apart. Working together will get you there, but usually only in the context of enjoying each other. In this way, it isn’t any different than day-to-day life, only a lot more fun.
No long-term relationship is immune to challenges. Within any relationship, a buildup of hurts and miscommunications is going to exist, potentially resulting in trust or control issues. Any issue in a marriage or relationship can make it difficult to surrender, and without surrender orgasm is less likely to happen. Dr. Skyler made no bones about the fact that every individual is responsible for their own orgasm. You can’t “make someone” orgasm. Trust and vulnerability and a ‘letting go’ must exist in order to orgasm, and you can’t force someone to experience those feelings, each of us has to have the maturity to know our own emotions and thought patterns and how they are affecting our sexual relationships. We are each responsible for our own orgasm, as well as our emotional health. This is why love-making holds mystery and intrigue even for long-term couples, as it is a window into each other’s souls and emotional states, and can serve as a basis for deeper inquiry and exploration.
We talked about desire happening in the brain and that the brain needs to get “turned on”, and how we can bypass desire and move directly to arousal and physical sensation. The hope is that during arousal, the brain will come back on board, but it is in the surrender and orgasm phase that we must work with our brains. If you are thinking about your to-do list or irritations from the day, chances are you are not present and enjoying the experience, and furthermore may not orgasm. If you are guilty of thinking about the oatmeal you had for breakfast, or looking at the paint chips on the wall, or focusing on the laundry pile, try treating sex as a meditative practice.
Pay attention to your thoughts, and if your brain begins to wander, bring your attention back to your breath and to the sensations happening in your body. Become curious about the depth of your breath and the present moment, let go of other thoughts and tap into that moment.
This practice is surprisingly easier said than done. Each step of this cycle builds on the others, as one strengthens, so does the potential for the others. Try focusing on a particular segment of the cycle for a period of time. This is all about inquiry, both internal and external. So are all relationships. You have to constantly get to know your partner, and yourself, to be happy.
The continued inquiry into your own sexuality, and to that of your partner’s will open up vast potential for an improved sex-life and overall connection to your beloved.
We have two more aspects of the sexual response cycle to work our way through, so stay tuned!
If you’re interested in going deeper as a couple, consider signing up for our upcoming five-week series on sticking together.