Many people want to make changes in their relationship, including their sex lives, but want to make the change privately, to get it “right” and THEN bring their polished new self to the other, or to the bedroom. This feels a lot safer than stumbling into uncharted territory with a partner, especially when conflict, mistrust, resentment or other difficulties have become the norm.
In the following story we’ll see how a couple struggling to achieve deeper sexual expression discovered that trying new things in the moment, though messy, provided opportunities for change that hadn’t been available through planning or negotiation. By courageously pushing through an awkward situation they both managed to get a taste of something they wanted, and even though it wasn’t perfect it became a valuable starting point, opening new doors for personal growth within the relationship.
Sexual surrender / Sexual power
Sex had become a major point of contention for Susan and Marcus, and I had been working with them on this and other related issues for about a year. In these sessions Susan had revealed her desire to experience deep sexual surrender. In his own fantasies, Marcus saw himself in a sexually powerful role, as an erotic healer embodying strength and wisdom.
These two self-images of sexual surrender and sexual power appeared to be quite compatible, and yet this couple had been unable to find their way together, unable to collaboratively manifest these potentially synergistic visions.
Today Susan was working with me alone. She was exploring the idea of sexual empowerment. She wanted to take fuller responsibility for her own sexuality and arousal, to retrieve the sexual power that she believed she had abdicated throughout her life.
Susan had always had an expectation that “the man” should initiate sex, and she was frustrated that Marcus was not fulfilling this function to her liking. She was, however, beginning to examine her part in this, and was becoming curious about how she might change the sexual dynamic between them by changing her own attitudes and behaviours.
Conflict, surrender, and arousal
In our session, Susan described a recent incident when she and Marcus had been fighting. She had ended up exhausted, fully spent in body, mind, and spirit. As she collapsed, figuratively and literally, Marcus told her that he was suddenly feeling very turned on. Susan could see him getting hard through his pants. She felt disturbed by his arousal. Why was it turning him on to see her so wrung out and emotionally spent?
I asked Susan to look back and describe to me in detail her state of being at the time. This was difficult for her. She struggled to make sense of the confusing feelings. She reported that it had been uncomfortable to reach that point of exhaustion through conflict, and yet there was a sense of relief at having no more fight left in her, of not having to try any more, of the struggle being over.
“Sounds like you’re describing a type of surrender,” I offered. There was a pause as Susan considered my words.
We went on to explore how her experience that day matched both her own and Marcus’s fantasies. In her fantasy, Susan certainly had not imagined her surrender being a product of a day-long fight, but nonetheless it was clear that the surrender was real, and that Marcus had responded true to his own fantasy; once Susan had reached a place of surrender, Marcus felt his own power surge.
I suggested that power and surrender might spontaneously arise in relationship to each other, unbidden, in certain situations.
Leading with surrender
Susan had long lamented that she wanted to feel Marcus’s sexual power. She wanted to feel his strength so that she could relax. What Susan hadn’t considered was that her surrender might come first, before Marcus demonstrated his own sexual leadership and authority. She also hadn’t considered that it would feel so raw, so real. Susan had already decided that it was time to take a new kind of responsibility for her part in the sexual dynamic, but she had imagined that this would feel only good, that it would feel clear, simple, and empowering; not at all like it had felt on that day.
I wasn’t surprised that the surrender she craved came in such a surprising and unwelcome way, not because I knew something about Susan that she did not, but because I have become accustomed to witnessing unforeseen, paradoxical, and challenging manifestations of desire. The road we take to meet our own sexuality is long and winding; we can not always see what is around the next bend.
Saying yes opened a door
Reflecting on the experience during therapy, Susan remarked that she had, in a noticeable moment, surprisingly, chosen to say yes to the opportunity for sex. Marcus had then confidently directed Susan to the bedroom. He had her undressed by the time they were through the door.
Despite the conflict between them, which would typically shut her down for days, Susan had noticed herself appreciating Marcus taking the lead. She had often complained of his passivity in the past, and even though these certainly weren’t the circumstances she preferred, she was able to say yes to sex in this moment, without feeling like she was betraying herself or doing something she didn’t want to do.
I suggested that even though the circumstances under which the power/surrender dynamic arose on that day of fighting were not ideal, they had perhaps been necessary.
“You had to become completely spent – physically and emotionally – before you could surrender. That’s just the plain truth of it. And Marcus had to behold you in this state before he could fully access his sexual power. This isn’t exactly how either of you had idealized the experience in your minds, and yet in some ways you were having a version of the thing you wanted. This could be an access point, a door opening. Work with it and it might not always feel so raw and uncomfortable.”
Refining, not rejecting raw experiences
New experiences, especially in the highly charged realm of sexuality, often first emerge clumsily in raw form. If we reject these raw forms, we may lose a valuable opportunity. If we’re willing to work with these raw forms, we might refine them.
Susan was struggling to accept the legitimacy of this type of surrender, and so I offered that she might give herself permission to accept, explore, and potentially enjoy surrender exactly as it presented itself, with the knowledge that she could bring increasingly more consciousness, intention, skillfulness, and choice to the experience.
Many of us want to get everything worked out internally, cleanly, and completely before we dare reveal ourselves, especially sexually. But this isn’t how it actually works. The sexual arena is a messy place. It isn’t just where we express the very best, fully formed perfected versions of ourselves; it’s also where we break down, try new things, fail, and continue to refine and redefine ourselves.
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Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com
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