The second of two parts
The paradise of a sexual relationship is one of wordless mutuality. With nothing more verbal than murmurs of “I love you” and “you’re so beautiful” and “yes!”...things just happen, in an unchoreographed perfection, and everyone is happy.
And that’s exactly where things go wrong and the serpent of power enters the picture. Because we don’t want to turn passion into a negotiation or a science experiment, we make assumptions and just go ahead. If needs go unmet, we typically correct by complaint, and rarely in the moment.
Now if I assume that you like X or that you won’t mind if I do Y, that may well be just blindness or ignorance on my part. But it will feel like a power move to you, at the very moment when we’re all least in the mood to start up a discussion of power moves. A porcelain teacup is sturdy as a bulldozer compared to the fragility of a sexy/passionate/intimate moment.
But here’s what happens if you take all the complained about, suffered through, but never really talked about issues that come up in our sex lives and age them in oak. We create monsters. You think I just want this and only want to do that, and I think you never want this other thing and care only about some other thing entirely.
It’s worse than not knowing each other. It’s being profoundly mistaken about each other and then pouring in a few cups of resentment.
If I haven’t had pepperoni pizza in a very long time, I may start talking about wanting pepperoni pizza in a way that’d make anybody think the only food I really care about is pepperoni pizza, making me seem like a pepperoni pizza monster. Especially if I live with someone for whom pepperoni pizza isn’t a top priority. Doubly especially if we never really talk about this.
But suppose we did this exercise, which couples NEVER do on their own. You say to me, “I think you think that pepperoni pizza is the greatest food in the world, and if you could you’d live on pepperoni pizza.”
And I’d likely say to you, “Hell no. Pepperoni pizza isn’t even the only pizza I like. It’s just that I haven’t had it for a really long time and I miss it. What do I want? I’d like, sometimes, to have pepperoni pizza.”
“What do you mean by ‘sometimes’?”
“...Uh...once a month?”
“Oh! Well, we can do that!!”
And there we are. The “I think you think...” exercise is the best clearer-upper in the world, the Windex of relationship confusion.
Now just so you won’t think I think sex is just like pepperoni pizza, here’s how sex is NOT like pepperoni pizza. If I say “pepperoni pizza,” you know what I mean. If I say I like to be touched in a certain way sexually, you can’t know what I mean unless we get naked. When it comes to sex, the notion of a wordless paradise has got to go. Not that it has to be replaced by a nightmare where we try to have sex while talking each other’s heads off. It’s more like...hey, if I’m trying to come in for a landing at a fogged-in airport, I’m gonna need to be in constant, real-time communication with the control tower.
So, yes, the dream of our being sexual mind readers has to die. But it can be replaced by an even better dream. Sex as tuning in and saying yes. And there are lots of ways to do this, almost none of which I’ve invented.
One way that works really well is an exercise I call “Welcome to the Body of Tomorrow.” In this case, you and your partner are, in turn, the Bodies of Tomorrow.
So the two of you are going to make love. Except this time it’ll be just a little different. Let’s say tag, you’re it. So this time you are the Body of Tomorrow. This time you welcome your partner to a place, an experience, they’ve never been to before and know nothing about. Sure, it may look like a human body, and of course it is, but all assumptions have to be thrown out. Your partner is not allowed to think they know how to make love to you.
But you know, because the Body of Tomorrow is your body. You know how everything works. And here’s where you clever bunnies out there may have spotted a flaw in my presentation: “Yes, it’s my body, but I DON’T know how everything about my body works!!”
I understand that. I do. Besides, our sexual bodies aren’t a thing to know the way you can know a basketball. They’re interactive. Their very existence is to some degree interdependent upon the body it’s with.
And that’s the point of this exercise. You are there to discover each other as if for the first time, with no presumption that you know anything beforehand. It’s about learning and mutuality but most of all it’s about getting rid of power and the fear of power. If I’m here for you and you’re here for me, for us both to learn and figure stuff out together, all on the premise of making each other feel safe and accepted and cherished, then power dynamics go away, love takes their place, and the true joy of sex can happen, based on intimate understanding.
Whew. Now I kinda feel I want to prop myself up on my elbow and gaze dreamily into your eyes. I hope this was good for you!
But if you want more... Let me suggest you turn to the sex chapter in Why Couples Fight for more on taking the power dynamics out of your sex life.