When it comes to relationships, we hear a lot about how good communication is the key to a happy, healthy, and strong connection with your partner. When it comes to sex, however, many couples find it hard to discuss their needs and desires. Sex is an inherently intimate act, and it can be challenging to step back and find the right words to use when trying to revitalize a long-term relationship or address a problem—which is why many sex therapists suggest techniques that are entirely nonverbal. Sexual communication is its own language, and we’re not all fluent.
I had the opportunity to interview a few “sexperts” to learn some of their secrets and find out how couples can apply these techniques to rewire their sex lives. Whether you’re trying to address an issue like performance anxiety, expand your understanding of your sexuality, or rekindle your romance, here are three techniques used by sex therapists and coaches around the country.
1. Sensate focusing
A popular method originally developed by pioneering sex researchers Masters and Johnson, sensate focusing is all about learning to connect through touch. The couple takes turns caressing each other’s bodies in order to heighten awareness of the physical sensations and learn to stay with early arousal (touching of breasts and genitals is off limits during the first few sessions). The goal is to become more in tune with giving and receiving and to create an environment of trust and support.
“Most couples touch each other in order to please the other person, but it’s the opposite with sensate focusing,” says Dagmar O’Connor, Ph.D., a psychologist and the bestselling author of How to Make Love to the Same Person for the Rest of Your Life…and Still Love It. “Each partner uses the other person’s body for their own pleasure. The key is learning to communicate what you like so that over time you will develop a nonverbal language of touch.”
Patti Britton, clinical sexologist and sex coach, co-founder of SexCoachU.com, and author of The Art of Sex Coaching, agrees. “It is stunning how deeply people grow, heal, and find joy and their unique authenticity in the process,” she says, “It’s a wonderful way to get couples to be present with each other. It also conveys the positive and empowering message that ‘you can ask for what you want.’ Your partner is there for you.”
2. Orgasmic meditation
Commonly referred to as OMing, orgasmic meditation focuses solely on the female orgasm and involves one partner stroking the clitoris under the supervision of a certified trainer, teacher, or coach. Though this may sound strange, the practice is therapeutic rather than sexual and activates the limbic system and releases a flood of oxytocin, commonly referred to as “the love hormone.” Many women who experience this technique report feeling more confident, less stressed, and more in tune with their intimate desires.
Many of us have sexual insecurities and are unwilling or unable to test our sexual boundaries, and attempting to communicate our needs can be intimidating. But when partners truly begin to understand each other’s bodies, those uncomfortable moments of miscommunication can be replaced with a connection that allows us to bond with our partner and uncover the hidden truths of our sexuality.
The only goal of this type of meditation, Levin says, is achieving greater awareness and entering a state of total relaxation. Similar to tantric practices, it’s about extending the climax, which leads to more intense orgasms and a deeper physical and spiritual connection during sex.
3. Desensitization exercises
Let’s imagine you have a fear of public speaking and every time you stand up to give a speech you freeze. Slowly over time, the more speeches you give, the less anxious you become. Desensitization exercises work in a similar way. The goal is to remove any fear and anxiety surrounding sex through gradual exposure to situations that make the person feel fearful or anxious.
“Many people don’t realize a sexual problem or dysfunction stems from a similar phobia,” says Dr. O’Connor. “For example, the underlying reason a woman can’t orgasm during sex is often due to a fear of letting go. Sometimes this fear extends to many areas of her life.”
During desensitization, the therapist helps identify fears and teaches patients how to make love to themselves so that eventually they can dare to make love to their partners.
“Part of my treatment for sexual phobia includes having couples masturbate in the same room,” says Dr. O’Connor. “Psychologically, this is very powerful because it communicates ‘This is my sexuality, and I am sharing it with you.’ This exercise not only helps with sexual problems such as performance anxiety and premature ejaculation, but it’s also an excellent way to create deeper intimacy.”
Many of us have sexual insecurities and are unwilling or unable to test our sexual boundaries, and attempting to communicate our needs can be intimidating. But when partners truly begin to understand each other’s bodies, those uncomfortable moments of miscommunication can be replaced with a connection that allows us to bond with our partner and uncover the hidden truths of our sexuality. Only then are we able to truly enjoy the experience.