The interplay between pleasure and desire, explained
Try this touch exercise. Hold your arm out, palm up, and use your other hand to trace slow, very light circles around the inside of your elbow. Use the lightest touch you can, barely brushing the hairs on your skin if you can.
Give this a try right now.
Notice the tingling, almost ticklish feeling. Almost as if your skin is reaching for more. Do this for awhile, and notice how the sensation changes.
When you’re done, you can go ahead and rub or massage it out. And as you do, notice what that feels like. Very different, maybe like scratching an itch, more grounding. An exhale to the bated breath of the first one.
(Did you try it?)
The idea is that there can be touch that creates a desire for more touch… and touch that satiates. The first can be enjoyably tantalizing for a bit, but if you do it for too long eventually it can become irritating or aggravating.
The second one fulfills and gratifies, but like the first, it’s not something you would want too much of—it runs its course quickly. Keep going and eventually it feels numb or painful. (Imagine scratching an itch and continuing to scratch with the same vigor long after the itch is gone.)
Somewhere in the middle there can be a touch that feels good and stokes desire. What exactly is this supposed goldilocks touch? You’ll need to discover it. But here are some things to know. It exists in between the extremes of too much and too little. Not that the extremes aren’t pleasurable—they can be great. But we get our fill of them very quickly.
And it’s a moving target. No touch feels good indefinitely, so don’t expect to set it and forget it. You will have to keep paying attention.
In sex, the shifting interplay of pacing, pressure, intensity, zeal, inviting, coaxing, teasing, responding, meeting, gratifying, pausing, etc., can allow the enjoyment of the game to continue indefinitely.
One thread running through all of it to take notice of, one particular nuance: pleasurable touch that cultivates desire instead of extinguishing it.
“Great food is like great sex. The more you have, the more you want.”
“Eating is so intimate. It’s very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life”
Imagine that you have a plate of delicious food, your partner’s favorite meal, and you’re feeding them.
You decide which flavor is next, and how big a portion. You savor each mouthful with them, raise the fork as they swallow, and reach their mouth just as they open to receive the next bite.
Your pace feels dialed in. Could it get any better? Yes.
Subtly, almost imperceptibly… slow down. Let the fork be just a tiny bit more leisurely in making its way to their mouth. Let there be a sense of anticipation.
Allow them to want the next bite before it arrives.
As you enjoy the meal vicariously with them, notice, too, how they lean forward slightly to meet the next bite, to take it. Follow their gaze as the fork moves.
Let every bite be its own complete cycle of anticipation, desire, receipt, savoring, completion, and readiness.
Let every bite be hungered for before it’s delivered.
This is an exercise for you in being dialed into your partner’s desire from instant to instant. Your pacing is not simply to maximize pleasure, but to attend to and cultivate the continuing hunger for that pleasure.
In sex, find a rhythm that maintains a hint of wanting more, even as the exquisite sensations intensify. Slow your pace just a hair, draw it out a bit. Allow them to hunger for more of you even as they’re devouring you. From beginning to end, never extinguish that feeling of wanting, even in the throes of enjoyment.
“My reaction to porno films is as follows: After the first ten minutes, I want to go home and screw. After the first twenty minutes, I never want to screw again as long as I live.”
If you or your partner sometimes check out during sex, it may be as simple as pacing. This is also why people who emulate what they see in porn end up feeling so little.
Porn has to compensate for the fact that it’s strictly visual, while real live person-to-person sex involves your entire body and engages all of the senses. In order to do that, porn wildly over-exaggerates the action.
Imagine you’re a YouTuber with a popular channel. Imagine you are required to eat a meal on camera in such a way that your viewers get hungry and order takeout. How would you visually transmit mouth-watering deliciousness? That is basically what porn has to do.
Imagine competing with millions of other YouTube videos of people eating. How would you make yours Gangnam Style over-the-top?
Does this even remotely represent how you actually enjoy a meal? Think it would make a good instructional video on how to properly eat and enjoy a meal?
Education on pleasurable sex has never been the goal of porn videos. When people have porn-style sex, their genitals quickly go numb. And they assume the solution is to (over-)compensate by going even harder and faster, when what they really need to do is slow down enough for the nerves to recover the capacity to be pleasurably stimulated.
You know what beats porn sex hands down? When your bodies are so lit up, so sensitized, so alive, that you hardly… have… to…
If you’re not feeling much, overstimulation more likely the cause, not the solution.
Ask yourself if the sex you’re having tends to sensitize or desensitize your body. Sensitizing sex is one of the cornerstones of having a sex life that gets progressively better over time.
Life (a.k.a. Flirting)
“I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this”, he begins. He doesn’t blush, and his eyes don’t dart away. Instead I find myself staring into a pair of oceans — one perfect, the other blemished by that tiny ripple. “You’re very attractive.”
I’ve been complimented on my appearance before. But never in his tone of voice. Of all the things he’s said, I don’t know why this catches me off guard. But it startles me so much that without thinking I blurt out, “I could say the same about you.” I pause. “In case you didn’t know.”
A slow grin spreads across his face. “Oh, trust me. I know.”
Needless to say, this is a metaphor that extends beyond the bedroom. Consider the art of flirting. Think of flirting as a game of skillful pacing. A game that comes to a screeching halt the instant someone over-delivers (think: unsolicited dick pic) or under-delivers (think: no response for three days). A game that is enjoyed in the moment, and fans the embers of desire as part of the enjoyment.
Learn the skill in one arena and you will naturally sense how it applies in another.
You’ve likely heard that seduction doesn’t end when the clothes come off. If you found this intriguing but too abstract to know what it means in practical terms, try this. Are you over-delivering, under-delivering, or just right? Just notice that one thing. Is every motion, every thrust, every touch wanted before it occurs?
Is there as much flirting, teasing, inviting during your sex as there is leading up to it? Or do you switch gears and boff like bunnies in a race to the finish line?
Do you go harder and faster to compensate for a lull when what you need to do is back off, under-deliver, so that desire returns and the next stroke can be fully savored?
Can you fuck in such a way that there’s still a sense of anticipation?
Do you maintain that feeling of wanting all the way through to the end? Is there still a hint of it remaining after you finish? Is there still enough juice between you after sex to flirt with each other? Or are you both so cooked, so done, that the idea of talking about your next sex is more off-putting than a turn-on?
Where else in your relationship can this sense of exquisite pacing come into play, so you stay in the zone between feeling oversaturated or undernourished, continually enjoying and wanting?
Play with it.
Copyright © 2018 by Ken Blackman. All rights reserved.
About the author:
Ken Blackman has worked with hundreds of couples from San Francisco to Paris to Sydney, and trained thousands of students in his workshops on intimacy and connection. His work has received attention everywhere from Cosmopolitan to Business Insider to Playboy. With nearly two decades of experience, Ken’s powerful, unapologetic break from conventional relationship advice is shifting the world conversation around love and committed coupledom.