It's safe to explore what frightens you.
We’ve all experienced fear in our lives and, as you know, fear usually pulls us out of the moment and shuts us down to everything else around us. So, one would assume that embracing fear in the bedroom is a surefire way to sabotage a positive sexual experience.
But that's not always the case. In fact, sometimes embracing your fear can enhance the sexual experience and lead to healing and greater intimacy between you and your partner.
You see, it's almost automatic for people with a habit of being afraid to show fear when they grow emotionally close to someone. This type of fear is your survival-based brain saying, "Look out for danger!" The closer you let someone near you emotionally, the more vulnerable and exposed you feel. Thus, the sense of "danger."
But, at the same time you feel this fear, your heart and body also want to hook up with your partner. Drawing toward your partner and pulling away are two conflicting yet natural, necessary, and healthy impulses.
However, those healthy impulses are slower, more complicated responses in your brain and body. They feel better the longer you can savor them. Fear, on the other hand, wants you to react right now, in a millisecond, by freezing, fighting or running away. These quick feelings can dominate (a.k.a. shut down) the sexual experience and override the more positive complex impulses unless you learn to create space for BOTH.
To that end, here are five effective ways to enjoy your sexual experiences while balancing your fear impulses.
1. Relax and breathe through fearful moments
Remember that feelings of fear are just signals. If you're feeling abused or truly threatened, by all means, honor those signals. But if you feel panic or fear but realize nothing hurtful or life-threatening is actually occurring (like a saber tooth tiger jumping at you)... just pause for a moment and breath.
Healthy, deep breathing will heighten body sensations and calm survival responses. Fear's true purpose is to ensure you survive in life. And part of sex is about surviving as a species. We need both in the right amount, at the right time. The bedroom is the time and place to feel safe as a person.
2. Luxuriate in your body’s sensations
Centering your attention on your body is very grounding. When your brain starts sounding panic alarms, notice this thinking and pull your attention out of your head and direct it back to sensations in your body. Be aware in the moment; trusting the future to take care of itself.
3. Get to know yourself (and your partner) on an intimate level
As your sense of safety and awareness grows, your energy and attention will start to empathetically notice subtle shifts in your own body and your partner's. You'll develop the ability to recognize, anticipate and calm the fearful impulses you both have. You do this by recognizing cues and micro-expressions in your partner and yourself. This happens slowly and builds as your attention moves in and out, feeling close to your partner.
4. Share your fears
The most powerful, yet difficult, way to override your fears is to share them with your partner. The vulnerability of being close to someone is letting them deep inside you, physically and emotionally. Only you can welcome your partner in and let him or her know you better. Your partner can’t "make" you feel safe. This closeness stuff is about coming together and moving apart, in an ebb and flow.
The more intense your lovemaking grows, the harder being apart becomes. Sharing the confusing parts of yourself can help you gauge the safety of exploring together. This is where therapy can come in handy. When you feel too ashamed to let your partner know the difficult things you've lived through, talk to a knowledgeable professional. Then you'll know what to tell your loved one.
If you've lived through trauma, your partner eventually needs to know the powerful strength you used to survive. You made it through real danger. Your partner feels fear, too. Your ability to go in-and-out of feeling afraid and feeling connected might inspire your lover to have the same courage, too.
5. Slow down
If you want increased intimacy when you're afraid, just slow things down. Develop a rhythm. Trust your partner and yourself. You can ‘go for it’ again as soon as you're feeling calm and centered once more. In and out. Ebb and flow. It's easy to hide from sex, avoiding it entirely, when fear rears its ugly head. But that doesn't help you learn to move through your fear.
When fear comes up; breath into a slower pace. You and your partner must learn to trust this push-pull. You push inward by testing boundaries and taking risks. You pull outward by luxuriating in the feelings of safety and respect for one another.
Take advantage of your built-in desires for closeness and let your courage guide you to risk asking for the pace you want (and need), and listening to your partner’s expressions of the pace he or she wants (and needs). The magic of enjoying fun sex is waiting within you. Fear and safety are both a part of it. You can only experience intimacy by honoring all aspects of your own magic.
Bill Maier is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, OR. He can be reached to help you further through his website.