Written by Vagdevi Meunier
Sex is everywhere in the American culture. From sports advertisements to the sale of food, it is not hard to find a svelte gorgeous model biting into a giant hamburger or hanging on to the hood of a new car. Yet as a general public, we are reticent, awkward, and unfamiliar with sex talk with our intimate partners. As a couples therapist, I sometimes have to stop my couples in the middle of the argument to ask them what they are fighting about. “Our sex life” is the answer but if you could have sat in my chair all you would have heard are phrases such as, “you want to do it all the time, but I don’t have time for it,” or “I want more of that juice we had when we were first dating.”
We use starkly cold clinical terms for our intimate body parts and acts of passion or we fall back on urban slang. It is not uncommon for me to hear terms such as “JJ” or “Peter” as people try to navigate the choppy waters of sexual desire. It is hard enough to maintain our interest and fun when having sex with the same person over 100 times, why do we make it so much harder on ourselves by trying to talk about it so indirectly?
The sad truth is that we have to talk about sex in oblique terms because we have created so many layers of morality, mythology, and misrepresentations about what real sexual intimacy between two committed partners can be. We cannot talk simply about sex because we don’t understand sex in simple terms. We complicate it with taboos, negative self-talk, and shame. The consequences that follow are tragic, especially for long term committed couples, because the lack of precise communication means they are not able to fix what is not working well and end up blaming and shaming each other for problems that are not the fault of either partner.
Since I am an Indian woman, a lot of people ask me if I know about Tantric sex or the Kama Sutra. I do know something about these eastern perspectives on sexual pleasure. However what I know about mystical sex may surprise most people. Tantric sex was a term coined in the West where some of its originators translated spiritual bliss into sexual ecstasy. Tantra is about sacred spirituality and encompasses many traditions on transforming the physical experience of reality into a mystical experience. Similarly Kama Sutra is really about care and emotional nourishment of women and men. While it does have information about many sexual positions that enhance pleasure, most of this ancient text is devoted to helping men and women understand the rules of the society they were living in.
The essence of Tantric sex is mindfulness. Mindfulness, defined in simple terms by Jon Kabat Zinn, is paying attention on purpose to the present moment without any judgment or expectation. What this really means is that you don’t need any fancy toys, videos, or outfits to enhance your sexual experience. Nothing stops you from using those marital aids but simple vanilla sex can be made much more powerful and intimate if you can follow a few basic principles. Here are some Dos and Don’ts for amazing vanilla sex with tantric mindfulness:
- Don’t use sex to take care of other feelings such as loneliness, anxiety, sadness, emotional hunger or thirst (or physical hunger and thirst), and anger. When sex is used as a channeling tool, the act of intimacy gathers a lot of layers of meaning, baggage, and undercurrents. Sex that is loaded down with psychological waste from the relationship will become dull and boring.
- Do take the time to be present, mindful, and awake during sex. Take the time to take a shower, brush your teeth, or in other ways bring your fresh, self-confident self to sex. Take some time to put away the stresses, cares, and worries from other parts of your life so you can create a sexual bubble between you and your partner that is ONLY about what is going on in the moment between the two of you.
- If you want to experiment, then experiment with small changes that can have powerful outcomes. Keep the lights on while you are having sex if you are used to doing it the dark. Open your eyes when kissing and when you are having an orgasm; you will be amazed at how much more impact that has on your sensory pleasure (unless that distracts you, in which case refer to point 2 above). Discover sensuality that is connected to the skin-to-skin contact you are having with each other. Imagine experimenting with sensual touch, sensory play, and sexual arousal that bypasses the genitals.
- Slow Down! Sex is not a race to the finish and when it is treated as such, the finish line (or orgasm) will feel harder to achieve or will become anticlimactic. Make a commitment to enjoy the process, to discover yourself and your partner’s emotional experience of the soulful intimacy you have with each other, and forget about the orgasm. Think about sex as a journey that has many rest stops and the destination is only a temporary vacation. In other words, orgasm is simply a sign of a physical release. Think of sex beyond orgasms and imagine what would change if you treated orgasm as unnecessary in sexual pleasure.
- Sexual intimacy without relationship safety and intimacy is simply a physical and biological act, not all that different from relieving yourself when your bladder is full. Foreplay begins when you have a moment of verbal or nonverbal connection with someone that goes beyond friendship. Begin the sexual foreplay with your partner a week, a day, or many hours before the horizontal mamba begins. What this means is that foreplay includes all the small and big things you do in a relationship that invites your partner into a special close connection with you. For some of us that means washing the dishes after dinner, or offering to put the kids to bed so our partner can take a break or a bath, or even doing the grocery shopping each week and remembering to bring our partner’s particular brand of soy milk, breakfast cereal, or frozen dinner. It means letting our partners know we think about them, we want to know them in all their imperfect complexity, and we want to feel close to them in our hearts and minds even when we are not together. The act of knowing and connecting with one another throughout the week sets up a delicious anticipation that adds just the kind of electric charge in the sensual realm that makes us tremble and vibrate when the act of knowing is upgraded to sexual intimacy.
So why is this vanilla sex? Because it is sex plain and simple, with just a hint of spice and seasoning that elevates it to a sublime moment of sensual experience. It is sex without a lot of rules and restrictions. It is not an ice-cream sundae of sex, it is tasting one flavor and really savoring and relishing the nuances of that single flavor. This is why I love vanilla sex and look forward to its simplicity and sublime nourishment. In this world of vanilla sex, everything you do in a relationship becomes foreplay and every moment carries the potential for deep intimate connection. I hope you will join me in this taste test.
Vagdevi Meunier is the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Relationships. She is a licensed clinical psychologist, teacher, author, and master trainer for the Gottman Institute, Seattle, WA. Dr. Meunier has over 30 years of experience helping individuals, couples and families build flourishing relationships.