You may have been told being ‘shameless’ or ‘too ashamed’ on occasion when it comes to being a sexual being, but shame is by no means attached solely to the sexual act. When going through my tantra training, I sometimes found it hard to engage with my partner in an exercise, but that was particularly the case when we were doing exercises that required a level of setting things in motion to start with. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk over there and get things started…
More often than I would have liked to hear it, our teacher told me to address the shame that holds me back. And each time I tried to locate the shame and simply couldn’t find it. Of course, there was always a base level of shame somewhere, but that was not really what was holding me back, I was sure of it. So what was going on?
It took me a while, but I finally figured out that being reluctant to engage could have a completely different reason: I came to the conclusion that I simply was too shy, and even a certain amount of desire to do something was not always enough to overcome that shyness. THAT is where the base level shame started to come into the picture: on top of the generous portion of ‘shy’, even the smallest addition of ‘shame’ was too much for comfort.
Suffice it to say, I overcame this hurdle eventually. It was important to figure out what was going on and to not just listen to my teacher in that respect but come to my own conclusions. Shame comes up occasionally, and shyness is a constant companion still, but it was helpful to keep the two separate and deal with them one at a time.
The same goes when we look at others: if it’s so hard to tell what is going on inside of yourself, how could you ever tell the difference in others? The lesson I took away from my training is this one: never assume that you know what’s going on with your partner, more likely than not you’ll be wrong in your assumptions.
a shy person can be drawn in, but if they are ashamed they will be unable to let go
What is sex? What isn’t? Who decides? Where are the limits?
Have you ever given those questions any thought? Most of us have a pretty good idea what constitutes ‘sex’, but how sure can we really be that what we feel is considered ‘sex’ is actually the same for everyone else? Have you ever had that strange feeling that you are different from others in that respect? What constitutes sex for each of us is closely linked to the notion of ‘normal’.
We are all influenced by what happens in our lives and a good example for this discrepancy between what you feel is ‘normal’ is our sense of being naked around others. Some of us have no problem whatsoever being naked around others, or at least being in various stages of undress. Others find it a bit of a challenge even taking off a pullover and showing skin on the arms. Of course, we are influenced by what is considered beautiful, but that is yet another issue altogether: even those who fall squarely into current beauty norms can be extremely wary of being naked. And if you have ever been to a beach in Spain you’ll have seen some people who have no problem whatsoever showing off bodies far outside the norm. It’s a mindset that is determined by what we see as acceptable, ‘normal’.
Where sex is concerned, things become even more difficult. Not only is there a huge difference in perception of how you are doing yourself, but there is also a good level of expectation you believe your partner places upon you. Once again, it’s all in the mind: you cannot actually know what is going on in your partner’s brain, but what you believe about yourself is blown out of proportion and every small thing that annoys you about yourself may at any time appear as something you think your partner may dislike. Just think about what you do with him: where is your line between sensual touch and sex and is it the same for him? Does he consider ‘giving a helping hand’ to be sex, and do you? Where does ‘sex’ begin? The name Monica Lewinsky comes to mind…
Whenever you engage physically with someone, you navigate those boundaries based on your own experience and a certain level of trial and error. If you are lucky and you play with the same partner more than once, you’ll find a balance more easily. With a series of one night stands you’ll find that things are distinctly different and often less layered than they could be. Either way, all too often we go in blindly. I believe it makes sense to get the general lines sorted out beforehand and then properly enjoy what you are doing.
figure things out for yourself first, then discuss
As discussed earlier, there are times when an interaction with a partner involves mutual stimulation of some kind, and there are times when it is advisable to either let go and enjoy what is given to you or revel in the knowledge that you are bringing joy to your partner without expecting anything in return. All those are good places to be in, but how do you decide when it’s time for either of them?
Of course there is something to be said for following your flow and going with what comes, but all too often we get engrossed with what is happening at that time and never consider to change things up a little. Indeed, there are break points when it feels natural to shift from a reciprocal mode to a unidirectional one, but the tricky bit is to keep yourself from feeling selfish about just receiving, or from getting carried away with giving without taking into account that your partner may be in the mood to have you just receive at the time.
As usual, it’s all down to communicating what’s going on, ideally non-verbally but not limited to it. Teachers often place much interest in being quiet. And while it’s an important skill to communicate without words, sometimes a short exchange can be beneficial to adjust expectations and maybe set the stage for something too complex to indicate just with a wink and a touch. That said, don’t shy away from pushing your partner’s hand to the place where you want it (or away from where you don’t). He cannot read your mind and sometimes being direct can work wonders.
When is the right time to give, or to receive, then? It can be anytime, as long as you find common ground with your partner: you may end up ‘just giving’ for a whole evening and find bliss in that action alone, or you could end up alternating ever so often, or let yourself enjoy being treated to an afternoon of pampering.
if it works for you both, go for it
We have all been there: feeling insecure about your partner’s reaction isn’t something completely out of the ordinary. Also, it has nothing to do with the fact that your partner is your lover of many years or someone you just met hours before.
Whenever you are doing something you are not completely sure about – either because it is physically difficult to do, or you feel like you are unaccustomed to doing it – you may become very aware of what you are doing and become sell-conscious about everything you do. You’ll start second-guessing everything you do and, therefore, drop out of any flow you may have experienced before.
Touch, sensuality, sex, … any kind of interaction or communication with a partner, in fact, rely on the actions being fluid and not come across as forced in any way. Of course, there are exceptions when the parameters are slightly different, like in BDSM scenes or any other kind of roleplay. But those simply take the communication to another level and get it over with before things happen for real.
The problem here is easy to pinpoint. It’s the fact that you take on a role that you are not supposed to take on: you try to guess what your partner is thinking about you because you are not sure if you are doing something wrong! Let’s stick with your own process for a moment. If you are second-guessing what you are doing, why not take a moment and consider your own experience first. There is clearly a reason why you would think that way. Maybe you feel uncomfortable doing what you do (in which case you may want to stop and tell your partner about that feeling, and then move on to something more appealing), or you are not certain you are doing the right thing (in which case asking a simple question may solve the issue in a couple of seconds flat).
Either way, trust your partner that he will tell you if something does not work for him or if he gets crampy … or if he simply has had enough for now.
create a space for commentary and accept if none comes
A lot of people shy away as soon as they hear the word ‘ritual’. I suppose that is because it feels vaguely religious or seems to imply an element of wearing underpants on your head and reciting weird phrases. Well, here is the definition of the word ritual is a lot more neutral: “a set of actions or words performed in a regular way, often as part of a religious ceremony” or “an act done regularly, usually without thinking about it”.
In Tantric practice, rituals are used to assist with the transformation of a regular environment and personal interaction into something more meaningful, using intention and technique to create a special connection between you and your partner(s). Any practice intended to build up energy, and especially sexual energy, can be intensified by a certain level of ritual.
What are those rituals, then? Anything could be seen as a ritual. Personally, I like to use a short ritual related to the four elements to set the scene, focusing (dare I say: meditate) on each of their essences for a brief moment, invoke certain aspects associated with each of them that speaks to me at that particular time. The soundscape can be part of it: I use repetitive music or nature sounds if the practice is more on the meditative side, and more rhythmic, melodic sounds for more active exercises.
As you can now tell, ANYTHING could be part of a ritual, a particular way of touching, speaking or looking at someone, as long as it is done intentional and it serves the goal on hand. Ritual is not so much about WHAT you do, but HOW you do it, and it is usually associated with an element of intention. I’m sure you have your own rituals in many parts of your life, starting from your morning or bedtime routine, all the way to how you usually greet friends, how you conduct your grocery shopping in the supermarket to how you make love to your partner.
rituals provide a way to ease into connection with those around you
These are my own thoughts on aspects of my work I feel strongly about.