The past two weeks we have explored David Reed’s model of human sexual response. Stage one covered seduction as the brain’s erection to get us psychologically stimulated. Stage two explored sensation and different layers around what is needed for arousal, including pheromones. Stage three addresses surrender, where we relinquish control and give ourselves over to our orgasmic potential.
Surrender so often means waving the white flag and giving in. Yet when having an orgasm, that is exactly what we are doing. We are allowing ourselves to relinquish control, to step down from the stage, and fall off the cliff as we melt into the satisfying sensations. To win, in this case, means we must surrender.
My friend, Mr. Anonymous (because he prefers to withhold his name when I describe his struggles with sexual function), is an ambitious banker. He is man of business who invests often and invests well. He sets goals and he meets them. Except when it comes to sex.
Mr. Anonymous is 34. He takes Viagra to ensure an erection, even though he medically does not need it. He pressures himself to perform — to have a rockin’ hard-on, a fountain of cum and an earthquake orgasm. In reality, he experiences an uncomfortable four-hour erection, no ejaculation and an ebb and flow of satisfaction and stress … without the orgasm.
Mr. Anonymous is so focused on meeting his goal that he is not able to relax into the pleasure. He is not able to melt into the moment. He is not able to surrender.
While Mr. Anonymous suffers from stage fright — performance anxiety — countless women also struggle with surrendering to the possibility of orgasm.
Like standing at the top of a ski basin looking at the bowl below, it takes a lot of courage to take that jump off the cliff. We let go of any control and hope that the snow is soft and will support our fall as we descend into the delight of fresh powder. But even if we intellectually know that we will land in three feet of supple snow, our body may hold on in fear of falling — of looking silly or stupid or odd as we hit that climactic point. One woman worried that her partner would giggle at her when she had an orgasm. Another woman worried that she might have a loose bladder at the crucial moment.
Maybe there will be some giggling, maybe there will be some urinary accidents, and maybe Mr. Anonymous will lose his erection in the middle of sex. These things sometimes happen. But surrendering to pleasure requires a willingness to be vulnerable and an understanding that sex is more than penetration, and pleasure need not result in an orgasm.
For men like Mr. Anonymous, this may mean learning to use the penis as a tool of pleasure, regardless of how erect or limp it is. If the penis is a paintbrush, then the canvas can be a vulva, a butt, a stomach, a thigh, a breast or the owner’s own hand. A man can stroke his canvas in slow sensual circles, adding rhythm, tempo and pressure as needed. Mr. Anonymous can also use his finger, mouth or other body parts as tools of pleasure. And again, if there is any goal in this activity, it’s to have pleasure.
For women, learning to surrender may mean asking or telling a partner what feels safe during sex. Some women like eye contact, some like their cheeks to be slowly stroked, some like to hear the words “I love you.” And some may need to be thrown up against the shower wall and lustfully licked from neck to knee. In a culture where it is often easier to have sex than to talk about it, asking for what you need or what feels safe may call for a conversation before you get to the bedroom.
If a conversation about sex still feels scary, you may need to build more trust in the relationship. The more we trust ourselves and our partners, the more we are able to give in to that tipping point of sexual pleasure that we often call orgasm.
In the end, winning requires us to resign ourselves to the sexual experience, whether or not it delivers fully firm erections or earth-shattering orgasms. Orgasm is not something we accomplish. It is not a destination. It’s a journey of maximum pleasure in which we surrender to win.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www. theintimacyinstitute.org