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It usually starts the same way. One of us has something difficult to share.
It’s like a hot potato, difficult to hold. We toss it about, circling the conversation before eventually blurting some news to the other that lands like a burning coal we didn’t see coming.
Damage is done.
And we spend hours on the cleanup. And then I think, if only he had helped me warm into it, the heat wouldn’t have burned. I actually like it hot, when I choose it.
I hear this story often. And as an intimacy coach, my ears perk up. One, because I can relate! And two, because this damage is highly preventable through a simple skill that can be applied in countless moments.
That skill is called “safeporting.” Not a very sexy name. But a skill that can add infinite sexiness to your lives.
To “safeport” someone is to tell them what you are going to do before you do it. For example, “I’m going to touch you now, is that okay?” No surprises for my body there. “I would love to talk and I need to leave in about 30 minutes, that good for you?” I can be prepared for his departure and wrap up our conversation accordingly. “You are about to read five more paragraphs about safeporting, ready?” Just like that, you know what’s coming, and can choose whether or not to proceed!
I first learned about safeporting from the practice of Orgasmic Meditation, or OM, for short. OM is a partnered wellness practice that boosts energy, turn on and connection. In OM, a man or a woman gently strokes a woman’s clitoris for 15 minutes, as a way for both partners to tune into the simple physical connection without pressure or expectations. The practice is done the same way every time, so that both partners can relax into it. There are no surprises, and whatever each partner feels can emerge freely inside of the fixed structure of the repeated steps.
OM is designed to be highly confronting for most people. Spread my legs and do what?! That’s what I first said, when I heard about the technique. Built into the practice, every step of the way, is safeporting.
“I’m going to step over you now, is that okay?” My partner begins the practice the same way every time.
“I’m going to touch you now, is that okay?” Before any skin to skin contact, I know exactly what’s coming. And so on. Zero surprises.
The word “safe” in safeporting is critical. All of us are wired to tense when we feel threatened, and to soften and relax when we feel safe. In fact, part of our brains is dedicated to regulating this function. It’s called the vigilance center, and acts like a meerkat when alert, cocking its head and listening carefully for any signs of impending danger. For our cave people ancestors, this looked like mobilizing the adrenaline to scurry up trees when the saber-toothed tiger approached, a lifesaving adaptation. In current times, our vigilance centers activate to the stress of finances, the pressures of work, the demands of family, the tangles of intimacy and especially the threats of our partners cheating on us. Nothing like the scent of our beloved gravitating to another to send the vigilance center into the red zone.
What effect does an activated vigilance center have on our capacity to feel close to others? To experience pleasure? To play? To feel orgasmic? You can probably guess. When the vigilance center is on high alert, orgasmic capacity and everything that goes with that, decreases. In effect, if s/he is managing the internal feeling of a saber-toothed tiger approaching, a fight may be pending, chance of sex fades from the horizon and you may be in for a long night.
But here’s the good news. The converse is also true. When one’s vigilance center is soothed—when we have good reason to believe that we are in capable hands, that they are telling the truth, that we are loved, that the bills are paid, that we have done it right and that our bodies are beautifully sexy just as they are—we are likely to be playful, forgiving, creative, generous and, yes, orgasmic. As vigilance center deactivates, capacity for orgasm increases.
What helps deactivate the vigilance center? Yep, you see where this is going. Safeporting is carefully keyed to enter into the perilous territory of our vigilant defenses and gently ease the system that blocks connection into openness. “I want to tell you something that may be hard to hear. Is this a good time to talk?” I am alerted that something emotionally challenging may be coming. And though my heart initially may freeze at his safeport, I have time to take a breath, decide if I am in a good space to receive the communication and in the process create an alternative pathway for the habitual resistance to connection. In other words, I have the chance to open in the face of fear. And this is where the infinite possibilities for healing in intimacy can occur.
When we love someone and have sex with them, we share our most vulnerable selves. Where disconnection occurs, slight bumps can feel like steel mangling wreckage. Our hearts are the most durable, resilient and powerful muscles on the planet. But in this beautiful paradox, they are also as sensitive as a crystal sculpture perched on a ledge in a windstorm. No one wants a broken heart, or even a slight fracture. We want to learn to expand from that place of what feels like fragility and discover that our sensitivity is in fact our source of strength! To do so requires the right balance of challenge and support.
Safeporting offers one way to ease hearts into tricky territory—gently inviting a stretching, rather than forcing—staying connected as we tip over the ledge and discover we can soar on a breeze.
Author: Jessica Tartaro, PhD
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Pedro Simoes