Have you ever been in a relationship that started hot and heavy, and then as you settled into your routines as a couple it started to taper off and become something a little more mundane and lukewarm?
Yeah. Me, too.
That’s because most of us are never taught that desire takes constant, on-going attention in order to thrive.
It’s like a fire. Literally. A fire needs enough oxygen to breathe, but not so much or it goes out. A fire also needs fuel – too little and the fire is weak and struggling, but too much and it rages out of control damaging things in its wake.
Desire, according to Esther Perel, sex therapist and author of “Mating in Captivity”, thrives on space and mystery.
In our fire analogy, space, defined as a healthy sense of autonomy, or each person having their own experiences and needs, would be oxygen. Mystery or the unknown – which I define as a conscious acknowledgement that your partner is choosing to stay which means they could choose to leave at any time, recognizing they are always changing, there’s always something that remains unknown, and acknowledging that fact – is the fuel.
And a piece many people miss in this equation is this: in order to honor the unknown in each other, you need to constantly be inquiring about your own experience.
How hot do you want that fire? How much do you need right now? And how might that change as your circumstances change?
What are you sexually craving? What are your fantasies? What feels yummy in your body? How are you inviting the erotic in on a daily basis in a way that makes you feel alive and creative?
But, the challenge is that most of us also need a certain level of intimacy in our relationships, which invites closeness and a feeling of safety. Intimacy is, Perel argues, the opposite of desire. Too much intimacy – no mystery, no autonomy – smothers desire like a wet blanket. Not enough intimacy – too much passion and risk – and you feel unsettled, unsafe, and scared.
What most of us get wrong is we feed the intimacy side of things to the point of smothering desire. We also tend to feel like if we put in a little effort on birthdays and anniversaries, so that should be enough, right?
Nope. Not even close.
People who thrive in this area understand that intimacy and desire are locked in an eternal struggle. Both require constant tending. Each and every day, the relationships who master connection and vitality, safety and risk, consciously and deliberately prioritize both.
Cultivating a practice and putting in a small amount of effort on a regular basis will yield far healthier results than neglecting it until you’re in crisis mode or on vacation once per year.
And the beautiful thing about this tension, where intimacy sits on end and desire on the other, is you get to slide back and forth along that line depending on your needs and what’s going on in your life. Perhaps something tragic has happened and you are in need of a little more safety. Perhaps you’re missing the spark which means you need a little creativity and mystery.
My partner and I practice intimacy and desire in a number of ways, as often as possible. For intimacy building, we share deep conversations, mulling over the latest books we’ve read or sharing stories from our childhood. This helps to create a safe container where we both know it’s OK to share our experiences in a vulnerable way.
That container, where it’s OK to be vulnerable, it also a powerful way to roll around in the mystery of each other’s sexual landscape. Almost daily we send each other gifs from LadyCheeky.com (NSFW) outlining what we’re fantasizing about or what we’d like to do the next time we get naked. Occasionally, I’ll write an erotic piece or we’ll do something kinky that delights our senses.
It’s not perfect, but then, it doesn’t have to be. We know how to come back together and practice when we’ve gone a while without one or the other.
So, here’s my question for you. How are you practicing and inviting in desire and the erotic on a regular basis? In what ways are you strengthening your intimacy container at the same time? If you can answer those questions, you’re probably well on your way to feeling valued and wanted.