Monday, October 22, 2012

Owning Sexual Desire

It is nearly time for Felicia’s Uncovering Desire workshop.  As an introduction to the great work that she does in this workshop I thought I would discuss some of my current thinking about working with sexual desire. 

Here is the basic insight:  By the time we old enough to really feel sexual desire we have been overwhelmed with a decade of sexual propaganda of various sorts and will have adopted a relational style that reflects what we grew up with.  This creates a lens through which we view our budding sexuality.  And so we can’t really know our authentic desire until we do the work of uncovering it.  

How do we know the difference between sexual desire and sexual expectation, wanting to look good, wanting to be bad, wanting to be powerful, wanting to avoid conflict, wanting to be cared for, seen, appreciated, etc.  How can I let go of all of the sexual programs developed when I was growing up and for decades thereafter?

This article discusses how reconnecting with and developing the basic pleasure seeking impulse can be used to establish a differentiated felt sense of what is trustworthy in our inner experience.  Ultimately the distinctions embodied help contain and transmute sexual energy.  

The first thing to understand in working with sexual desire is that it evolves, but the core of it always remains the same.  In its most primitive bodily form, sexual desire is a body’s reaction to the biological urge to procreate.  We see behavior based on the purely biological urge in other animals.  A certain set of circumstances presents itself, chemical and physical reactions happen and animals are drawn into sexual intercourse.  We call this instinct.

In its primitive form sexual desire is not in the least caring about other.  In fact, as can be observed in many other animals (as well as humans), there is a great deal of biting, clawing and general aggressiveness.  

We let go of this primitive aggressive core to our own sexual peril.  When we surrender to it, the intensity of primitive desire offers an experience of electrical aliveness.    

While it is instructive to remember that human sexuality contains that kind of aggressive  procreating energy, it is clear that we humans take sex to other levels.  Sexual desire is not only about procreating, it is also about relationship.

As we mature, and other (emotional and mental) forces blend with our sexual feelings, sexual feelings themselves transmute.  This can take a negative bent if the emotional paradigm within which one is operating is about surviving as an individual (as opposed to embodied interdependence).  But if the emotional paradigm (read “attachment style”) is interdependence, sex can evolve into all of the things that bodily pleasure can lead to — bonding, play, comfort, relaxation, expression of love, spiritual experience, etc.

Sexual desire, and in an analogous way all of our emotions, are developed by being contained.  Awareness, practices of working with the body, principles, and values come into relationship with sexual desire and while desire retains its core connection to creativity and aggression, it integrates and matures into love and spiritual connection.  Some spiritual philosophies articulate this as the belief that sexual desire is actually, at its core, the urge to reconnect with God, and we mistakenly attach it to other people. 

So to be where we want to be with sexual desire we develop (or redevelop) it with practices that begin with the core energy and contain it using awareness, breath, emotional connection to an other, and principled action. 

An important part of working with this concept is coming into relationship with our body at the most core level possible.  In this practice, as we become aware of our “felt-sense”  and give precedence in our awareness to pleasure.  We don’t tune out the unpleasant, but turn toward the pleasant.

One of my first lessons in sex came from a dime store novel that I once found on my mothers bed side table.  “Mandingo,” if I remember the name correctly, was a black slave who seemed to find himself in a variety of sexual situations.  What I remember from the book is that the author called the sex that the slaves had with one another “pleasuring.”  I don’t know if the book had any other redeeming characteristics, but for me this was an important concept.  Having sex is pleasuring each other.

Pleasure, as its related to a desire for a deep connection to life, moves in the body.  By grounding in and following it we can surrender the programs developed in less-than-optimal conditions that for many of us currently guide our desire.

Following distinctions found in Pema Chodron’s book “The Wisdom of No Escape,” we are “precise” with our awareness, giving attention to each element of the movement intrinsic in the desire for pleasure.  We bring “gentleness” and a kind of “surrender” to the movement as well.  

Go slow, beginning with an awareness of the silent core that lies under all awareness.  Lying on the floor if possible, allow yourself to imagine what would be pleasurable to you in that moment.  Not a fantasy of how another could take care of you and not the “pleasure” of being comfortable or moving toward sleep.  

Toward total relaxation, yes, and how your body is interested in moving into pleasure in the moment.  Notice how there might be a desire to stretch and allow your body to open into a blissful moment of release.  

Use your voice to connect your awareness inside your body to the movement of your breath and the pleasure of your body.  Release into that movement letting it ever so slowly have its way with you.   

When you feel you can locate and follow this pleasurable impulse in your body with precision, gentleness and surrender, begin coming into relationship with an other who is in the same practice.  Bring awareness to how this relationship both increases your body pleasure and also tends to invoke many habitual patterns.  Just stay with following the pleasure — into and out of relationship as it is, with no preconceived notion of how it will move.

With experience, we may come to see that our body feels pleasure when it is in right relationship.  We also see how our minds and conditioned tendencies take us out of this wisdom and into calculating possibilities.  We find that we do not have to abandon ourselves to connect with another, but we do need to know what in our feelings is trustworthy.   

In my experience, a diligent practice of following this energy takes one toward an ecstatic core of sexual desire.  The situation that sexual desire arises within may be somewhat different, but the distinctions are the same. 

To find a relatively constant source of generosity, appreciation and creative potential takes practice.  The good news is that practicing is so satisfying.  Won’t you try and let me know how it goes for you?

Perhaps the best place to practice these kinds of distinctions is at a Soul Motion class.    Contact Zuza Engler here ( to explore the possibilities.


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