The crossroads between our genitals and our neurology turns out to be a super highway. One of the most powerful transformers in the new science of brain re-wiring occurs during deep intimate connection. As some of the mystery of sexual intimacy is revealed through the emerging science of neurobiology, we begin to understand how we are shaped and re-shaped by the people we love and who love us back. The brain actually rewires itself as we open wide to physical love within a committed relationship.
Enjoying intimate connection in a committed partnership is an important distinction because the intimacy we share with someone who loves and is committed to us is qualitatively different from casual sexual encounters. I recently heard my 18-year-old son tell his brother, “Don’t bother with hook ups; it is way more chill to have a girlfriend who really cares about you.” I was gratified that he can already sense how committed relationships change your life compared with the easy hook-up.
In fact our personal relationships are the most gentle and profound mechanism of growth through out our adult life. As we mature in our relationships we move toward the process of differentiation, where in each partner develops more of themselves and stops looking to the relationship to validate them. Allowing ourselves to be different from our partners fosters passion and intimacy. By learning to effectively hold onto ourselves in our relationship, we circumvent the classic responses of men sacrificing the relationship to their sense of self and women sacrificing themselves to their relationship.
Building a relationship that has room for both people to be themselves is by definition flexible and resilient. It is also fertile soil for transformative intimacy. David Schnarch, best-selling author of Passionate Marriage and most recently Intimacy and Desire believes that doing the important work of becoming separate individuals actually allows you to enjoy some of the best sex of your life. By not needing to agree or get the approval of your partner, you are free to explore and express yourself deeply and authentically and, which is perhaps the biggest turn-on when it comes to tapping the sexual potential of the relationship.
A powerful technique that Schnarch teaches to tap this potential is called “Hugging Until Relaxed.” The practice is deceptively simple, yet remarkably transformative. Both partners stand on their own two feet and hold each other for at least ten minutes; more if necessary, until you are both completely relaxed into your selves and then into each other’s arms and presence. This holding period is challenging, given that the average hug lasts 5 seconds. Many of us never really learned to relax in a hug. Learning to relax fully in the arms of someone else, even someone you have been intimate with requires a new level of trust in yourself. Knowing that you can really open up and not lose yourself in a sustained hug triggers your brain to think differently. It creates what Schnarch refers to as a “Somata-sensory” moment of meeting, which means that we meet each other deeply with our whole body.
Even more daring and profoundly erotic is the exercise of open eyes sex. Although historical and spiritual texts have long described the practice of looking deeply in to the eyes of the beloved during sex and orgasm, a whopping 80% of people do not look at their partners or have sex in the dark. This is an amazingly powerful tool of seeing into someone at a point when you are most deeply connected, but also clearly differentiated from each other. I remember the first time I practiced this technique and was stunned not only by witnessing my husband in a way that I had never known him, but more deeply by realizing how far apart I kept myself from him at the moments when he was inside of me. It is a practice that changes everything and, now it turns out, the change remolds your brain wiring.
If you want to learn more about this don’t miss the recent interview I had with Dr. Schnarch who is brilliantly articulate and one of the most learned teachers I have ever spoken to about the art of loving.