Exploring the no-sex orgasm
According to a new book, reconnecting with your sexual self (full-body orgasms without penetration) starts by forgetting everything you think you know about sex. Annie Ridout tests it out
Forget everything you know about sex, Annie Ridout discovers
Having children has changed sex for me. Not only was it all about making children (one aged three and one who’s currently 10 weeks old) for a few years, but pregnancy and birth altered my body. I have fat rolls and stretch marks around my stomach, and a vagina modified by the rigours of childbirth. I’m aware the scars of our lives are meant to be embraced, reminders of what our bodies are capable of, but sometimes I long for my taut, scar-free pre-children body.
There’s also the issue of where to do it. The kitchen worktop and sitting-room carpet are a lot less appealing when you find yourself face-to-face with a pot of Play-doh or on a piece of sharp Lego. And the bedroom means silent sex when there’s a newborn sleeping in his moses basket at the foot of the bed.
I’m not suffering from lack of attraction or desire but, with all these barriers, it’s no wonder our sex life has gone down my priority list. And so, when I was offered an opportunity to try out a new method that promised to re-engage my mind and body in sex – in fact, to increase my ‘erotic intelligence’ – I was game.
Partners in both work and love, psychotherapists Mike Lousada and Louise Mazanti’s debut book Real Sex is a ‘how to’ for reconnecting with your sexual self. They say we all need to strip back our learned ideas about sex, to start again. Because, they say, there’s a lot wrong with 21st-century sex. For one, there’s ‘pornification’, where what’s seen on screen has become normal. And, more controversially, they say we’re constantly told that the object of sex is to climax, but orgasm is not the only possible way to feel sexually satisfied.
Now I’m confused. What is sexual satisfaction if it’s not an orgasm? I email Mike Lousada, who clarifies. “People of all genders are capable of experiencing deep, powerful sexual energies in their bodies without the need for ‘friction sex’ [rubbing genitals, he later tells me]. When we get to know our sexual energy, we can easily generate it into full-body orgasms without any physical stimulation.”
WHOA. THIS IS PRETTY FAR FROM MY EXPERIENCE.
And if we can orgasm without touching, by simply tuning into ‘energies’, couldn’t we ‘have sex’ with every person we found attractive? Lousada responds, that to feel attraction to someone is not to have sex with them. He says it’s about a mutual “exchange of sexual energy”. If I’m honest, I’m still not exactly sure what he means.
Lousada goes on: “To activate our erotic intelligence, we need to sense our body’s sensations, to have developed psychological self-awareness, be in touch with our feelings, have good personal boundaries, a good sense of relational dynamics.” That sounds like quite a list to master.
He says that without erotic intelligence we tend to approach sex from our minds, with a preconceived idea of what it’s supposed to look and feel like. We “take ourselves out of connection with our bodies and out of connection with our partner”. Now that makes more sense: I want to be present when having sex with my husband, to open my body and mind to new possibilities. But then I do yoga
“It is NOT necessarily about ‘having’ SEX, but about nurturing the sexual ENERGY that is always available”
and I meditate, and friends would probably describe me as a bit of a hippie, so it wouldn’t surprise them that this appeals to me. My husband? Nothing hippie about him. He laughs when I explain the concept of energy sex.
In one of the practical exercises in Real Sex, you lie naked with your partner – nudity is important as it’s about returning to our natural state – and allow your genitals to touch, but don’t stimulate each other, or resort to penetrative sex. Instead, you remain locked for half an hour, then stop. Apparently, it’s possible to reach a full-body orgasm this way. I’m not convinced. I’ve also heard you can orgasm during childbirth but my first was a labour more akin to torture.
I decide it’s too advanced to start with the couples’ exercises. And, apparently, you should begin by working out what your sexual ideas are, and where they came from. In a meditation exercise, I’m asked to think back to my parents when I was young. What were they like together; were they affectionate? And at school: what was I told about sex and how did it make me feel? Moving into the teenage years: what, now, were the messages about sexuality and the body? As I work through, it dawns on me that it’s not just that I don’t have body confidence, with my postpartum jelly belly, but a deeply ingrained belief I can’t have good sex or be good at sex when I don’t look the way I think I should.
I ALSO DISCOVER ANOTHER SURPRISE: I have an underlying belief that men are only attracted to women with little or no pubic hair, which explains my time and money spent on Brazilian waxes over the years. But again, I’m in the fourth trimester so I’ve currently got
’70s-style pubes – that my toddler has, on occasion, called “your doggy, Mummy”.
I make a note to stop giving a crap about appearance and instead enjoy the sensuality of sex. But I don’t feel any different. Fortunately, later in the book, another exercise addresses this issue. This time, I’m asked to think of something about my appearance I dislike. I choose my tummy. I have to imagine how my belly feels (gross, neglected) and what it would say if it could talk (ummm… “Please love me”?). I’m told to direct positive messages to it. I start and, actually, feel better. I realise how much self-hate I’ve been dumping on my body. I start letting my belly hang out and, when lifting my top to breastfeed in public, I stop sucking it in. I feel rather liberated.
As I read on, I begin to understand Lousada and Mazanti’s notion of feeling sexy inside. About owning your body, embracing your curves and rolls. It’s about viewing yourself as a sexual goddess who, of course, deserves your partner’s love and desire.
The case studies in Real Sex tend to focus on women for whom sex is just about her male partner’s pleasure. They make me realise that my sex life isn’t based on these things; it feels honest, equal and like we have a good connection. However, I am occasionally left wanting in terms of non-sexual affection – I crave long cuddles on the sofa, spontaneous kissing – and perhaps this is the point? According to Lousada and Mazanti, these are about having my sexual needs met, because being truly connected, sexually, is as much about this as it is about penetration.
But there’s still one seemingly insurmountable issue with our sex life: time. If “spontaneity is one of the keys to ‘real sex’”, as the book says, what is this working mother of a toddler and a very young baby to do? I put this to Mike Lousada. “It is not necessarily about ‘having’ sex, but about nurturing and feeling into the sexual energy that is always available in your body,” he says. I’d counter that for time-poor parents and those who haven’t got time to lie opposite each other naked for hours, seeing penetrative sex as the main event is fairly unavoidable. However, the other stuff – tickling, caressing, showing affection – can be done anywhere, and I want more of it, so I make an effort to do them that night. I notice a positive effect on us both
– it feels more loving. Perhaps this is the ‘exchange of sexual energy’ Lousada’s been trying to explain?
What I’ve found most useful, though, is that I’m simply contemplating sex more. As a new mum, my body is re-adjusting to sex and Real Sex has taught me I should embrace this chapter, while being honest about how I’m feeling physically and emotionally.
I like the idea that we’re still sexually engaging by being physically close in other ways; this feels like a sensitive approach to sex right now. Though I can’t say my husband is as convinced. Real Sex by Mike Lousada and Louise Mazanti PHD (Hay
House UK, £12.99)