Receiving Touch: The Art of Sensuality.
There is no sexy without sensuality.
I define sensuality as noticing and enhancing my body’s sensations, through attention and touch.
Sensuality exists inside and outside of sex, yet good sex can’t exist without sensuality. I find I am my most sensual when dancing, when stroking oil onto my skin after a bath, or when I’m outside, hiking and running my fingers over plants and grasses, leaning into pine trees to smell their sap.
It used to be that I placed my attention outside my sensations during sex. Instead of focusing much on how things felt, I wondered how my belly looked. I did my best to keep my face from contorting into any strange, horrendous O-faces. I made noises of encouragement to boost the overall sexuality of the scene, even if something didn’t feel that great.
In the past few years of conscious sexual practice, my attention has shifted to how sex feels. As I ruminate on sensuality, I realize how it has affected me: it has made sex honest. I don’t deny how I feel inside anymore. If something doesn’t feel good, I don’t do it. I notice, and shift.
I have that right as a human enjoying her body, as we all do.
We hinge a lot of expectation on sex. We obsess over it, whether we have too much desire or too little, by society’s standards. We hope that each encounter will be mind-blowing, that our partners will have massive orgasms, that we will do everything right.
What if we went into sex with a little more of a beginner’s mind?
What if we touched our partner with full presence, like we had all the time in the world, and asked the same from them?
What if we clearly communicated what we like?
Why is it so hard for most women to say, “To the left. A little harder. Nope, not that much pressure. Yes. That! That feels so good.” Are male egos really so fragile that an instruction manual to the ever-changing pussy would cause them to go crawling off into a deep, dark man-cave, never to initiate sex again?
And yes, the pussy changes quite a bit through a woman’s 28-day hormonal cycle, meaning sometimes the touch that felt amazing yesterday feels like nails on a chalkboard today.
Most women can’t ask for what we want because we can’t begin to communicate it.
We’ve been conditioned to be good girls, and good girls don’t ask for things. Take me for example: I’ve been self-pleasuring since I was five years old (once you accidentally discover orgasm by rubbing against the corner of a coffee table, you don’t go back). You would think that I spent my twenties taking the driver’s seat and telling men exactly what I wanted during sex.
Yet I couldn’t figure out how. I would orgasm half the time, and crumple into a frustrated ball the rest of the time. I literally could not find the words to convey what I liked. And if I managed to gain the confidence or understanding to say, “Press a little harder,” I wouldn’t be able to correct my partner now that he was laying 150 pounds of pressure into my clit.
I had already asked once, and that took all my confidence.
As for men’s egos not being able to handle sexual correction: 1) my experience has shown me that’s not true, as long as you’re clear and respectful, and 2) if you run into a partner who becomes dejected and butt-hurt when you ask for what you want, back away from him, put on your clothes, and show him the door.
He probably does sex like he does the rest of his life, and newsflash: sex wasn’t made just for his orgasm. It’s a mutual pleasure-fest.
And another thing: we can’t ask for what we want because we aren’t usually inside our sensuality during sex. We’re in our heads, judging our bodies.
We’ve been taught that our bodies need to look an exact way (through media, social norms, porn, etc.), and when our bellies dare to have a roll when we draw our legs in and up… well, when those fears take center stage, feeling is an afterthought. Instead, again, we are outside our experience, imagining how he might be judging, rather than inside our bodies, feeling and enjoying.
In my case, I was worried that I would look comical or disgusting during orgasm. It’s that moment where we finally lose control, right? And to lose control, the amygdala and hippocampus (which regulate fear) need to shut off. This only happens when we feel safe.
To get in the habit of understanding how to ask and be more present in (instead of outside) your body, I love a practice called receiving touch.
In this exercise, your partner will use his (or her) hands to give you exactly the touch you want, for five minutes.
You’ll set a timer for 5-10 minutes.
Your partner will ask, “How would you like to be touched?” They will focus on the sensation in their hands as they touch you, and treat it as a meditation. As their mind wanders, they will bring it back to the way your skin feels: the texture, the warmth, the suppleness.
You will tell your partner how you would like to be touched. For your first round, I recommend trying a sensual touch rather than a sexual touch.
Your sole goal in this session is to feel into your body, and ask for exactly what you want.
Perhaps it’s gentle scratching up and down your arms. Maybe it’s a deep-tissue back rub, or a butt massage (just throwing in personal favorites).
When my partner and I first started this exercise, I had trouble deciding what I wanted. I worried: was picking the right thing? Here’s a secret: everything is the right thing. As long as your partner consents to giving the touch, and it’s one that you desire, it’s perfect.
All you have to do is focus exactly on your pleasure.
If you’d like the touch to be different, it is your job to let your partner know. Use simple phrases, like, “Can you press a little firmer?” or “Can you slow down a bit?”
Your partner’s job is to ask every minute or two:
“Would you like more pressure? Less?”
“Would you like me to touch faster? Slower?”
“Would you like me to move or stay here?”
When the timer goes off, talk about your experience. Was it hard to receive touch? Easy? Did you feel guilty or ashamed? Name these feelings, and let them pass through.
Next, if you so desire, move on to receiving sexual touch. Use a timer, and use the same rules. You direct the touching, and your partner is simply there to give. No return touch is required or expected. In fact, the more you want to reciprocate, the more I would stay away from it — it’s an ingrained, conditioned response, and this practice is meant to support you in asking for what you need in the moment.
Your partner can get all their touches another time.
During the sexual touch, not only do you have the explicit right to ask for what you desire, but you also have the right to ask your partner to slow down or stop at any time. If any strong feelings come up, ask for what you need. Perhaps you need your partner to stop moving their hands, and keep them on your body. Perhaps you need a full-body snuggle, or for them to step away for a moment.
Respect your needs as they arise. Breathe deeply.
After just a few rounds of receiving touch, I began to notice a difference in how I communicated during sex. I began to find my words, asking for what I desired, without shaming myself. Receiving touch gives you safe experiences of asking for what you like, that you can draw on the next time you’re making love with your partner.
Lynn Wolfbrandt is a writer and intimacy guide who seeks to support people in healing from sexual trauma and shame. She believes that sexuality is Divine, with a capital D. In her writing, nothing goes untouched, no dark corner goes unswept. She believes in integration, whole-ing, exposing shadows, and love. Find more of her at her website. To learn more about standing in your power, sign up for a free guide.