The Ecstatic Exchanges: Why They Work

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happy couple in bed When people first read our material about the hidden hazards of orgasm they often lose sight of what we’re actually recommending. Passing up orgasm without substituting lots of affectionate nurturing (bonding behaviors) would be like deciding to lose 20 unwanted pounds by ceasing to eat. Just as you need to eat, you need the nourishment of love and affection - especially if you want to change the way you make love.

Yet if you just follow your loving instincts, biology’s agenda will soon dominate your love life. Therefore, sidestepping the roller coaster ride of conventional-orgasm-followed-by-emotional-separation calls for a strategy. Without such a strategy, you will veer in one of two directions: the "hot heavy orgasm" path, or the "few and far between" path. If you were to eat in either of these ways, serious problems would arise. Balance is the key.

If you would like to move toward the middle path of affectionate lovemaking, we recommend the simple two-part technique that we used, called the "Ecstatic Exchanges." The Exchanges are set forth in Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony.1 The Exchanges are a 3-week program of daily activities for couples to do as they reprogram their lovemaking. Both the activities and the schedule contribute to the program’s effectiveness. Without a structured approach, the concept of avoiding orgasm will likely leave you high and dry…and frustrated.

sleeping coupleThe Exchanges have two prongs. First, we set aside time to snuggle, kiss, touch, caress…without a goal of intercourse or heated foreplay. Amazingly, this reprogrammed our response to sexual intimacy. As we (and others) have found, this non-goal oriented lovemaking is more sensual than the usual way. Second, each day we engaged regularly in activities - described in the Exchanges - which raised our levels of oxytocin (the "cuddle hormone"). These two tactics enabled us to tiptoe around our biological hunger for fertilization-driven sex with an ease and pleasure that surprised us - and confirmed much wisdom from the past.

The program of affectionate activities known as the Exchanges requires you to sleep together every night even if you are a new couple. Sleeping together is vital and offers many hidden benefits. Initially you may feel some racy energy that will keep you from sleeping soundly. However, in only a few days the steady flow of loving energy between you will create a remarkably comfortable, balanced feeling. Gary had never been able to sleep comfortably with any partner; he was amazed how quickly his nervous system calmed down.

Each Exchange takes about 15-30 minutes and begins with a page or two of reading to remind you why you are doing what you’re doing (and not doing what you’re not doing). A simple exercise is then followed by snuggling, kissing, and sleep. Examples of exercises might be: giving each other hand massages, dancing together, gazing into each other’s eyes, talking about the first time you ever made love, and so forth. You emphasize affectionate touch, giving, and the intention to nurture (rather than "get from" or "excite") each other.

There is a playful quality to the Exchanges. If you try them, you will probably do a lot of giggling. Gary commented on how he felt once again like a teenager in love. Without even thinking about it, you will also be pumping up your oxytocin levels. Fred and Ginger dancingMore oxytocin calms and energizes, reduces cravings, and creates heart-warming, gushy feelings. It’s the reason this process is far easier than you would imagine. Although a recent study showed that affectionate touch raised oxytocin levels in women - not men - touch repeated over several days, without an agenda of sexual arousal appears to have a similar effect on men.

The three-week Exchanges are broken into two phases. The first is two weeks long. During this phase, you wear underwear to remind yourselves that this phase does not include intercourse. Keeping underwear on seems silly…in theory. In practice, however, humans are programmed to pursue all opportunities for fertilization, and a naked partner is a loud signal to the primitive brain that an opportunity has arrived. boxersThe presence of underwear tends to mute that signal.

Phase I is a transition phase. Your brain chemistry shifts away from the addictive cycle of conventional sex and levels out. Whether your relationship is currently a push/pull of hot sex, or consists of embers barely glowing, you will move toward the middle path of warm loving sensuality during Phase I. Phase I also lets you see how surprisingly satisfying "lovemaking" without intercourse can be. That way, when you add intercourse back in during the second phase, it is just the icing on an already delicious cake, rather than the whole cake.

The Exchanges teach a new habit of non-goal oriented lovemaking. Why? So that you can avoid producing intense spikes of high dopamine in the reward center of the brain. Dopamine is the hunger, or "I’ve got to have it now," neurochemical. Excess dopamine triggers the hangover that pulls you right back into the uncomfortable hunger/satiation cycle, which furthers biology’s agenda at your expense. In contrast, warm-hearted oxytocin will satisfy your hunger without throwing you into a disquieting cycle of highs and lows.

couple in bedIn Phase II, clothes come off, and you add in intercourse. By now you can more easily maintain a non-goal oriented mindset. To stay off of the dopamine roller coaster, schedule the days you will have intercourse in advance, and leave at least one day between encounters with intercourse. On days that you do not have intercourse, do an exercise and snuggle just as you did in Phase I.

During this phase, you avoid heating each other up with conventional foreplay, instead allowing a warm, mutual glow of attraction to supply the sparkles in your lovemaking.

Keep in mind that by the time you enter Phase II, you will feel different than you do right now. After two weeks of Phase I, you will no longer be caught in an addictive cycle that can make you feel like you must have orgasm (or like you must have your psychic space to yourself). You will feel noticeably calmer and more open to a balanced approach to sex. In short, you will realize that the "impossible" is quite possible - and surprisingly enjoyable and fulfilling. You may also notice a decrease in depression and moodiness, and an increase in effectiveness and zest for life.

training shoesWarning: It’s not uncommon for couples with some sexual discipline to jump right over Phase I and go straight to Phase II. Others simply attempt to have intercourse as they have in the past, but to slam on the brakes before they go "over the falls." These strategies are not sustainable. Would sedentary couch potatoes train for a 10K race by running 10K the very first day they laced up their track shoes? No. Take your time, and ease into the new approach.

Incidentally, no matter how delightful you find the Exchanges, if you are like most couples, you will fall back into conventional sex thereafter (perhaps inadvertently). That can be good. It will give you an opportunity to observe the changes in your energy level, and in your perception of both your partner and the rest of the world. You will also notice changes in your partner’s behavior. Do your best to stay close and loving. As the two-week hangover period passes, rapid improvements in your relationship will follow. It will be clearer than ever why you want to stay on the middle path.

happy coupleSometimes people ask what it is like to make love this way. We find that we make love a bit less vigorously than we did with conventional sex. We frequently pause, and our lovemaking goes in waves, somewhat like breathing. Erections come and go, depending upon whether we’re in an active or rest phase. Sometimes we synchronize our breathing or visualize drawing energy from the sex center up to our heads. We gaze into each other’s eyes a lot and let each other know how loved we are. We’ve also noticed that a flirty energy continues to flow outside the bedroom because we never "finish." This is deeply satisfying.

If you’re going to play with learning to make love differently, be sure to take the time to reprogram slowly and consciously. Above all, nurture each other as affectionately and generously as possible, until such behavior becomes second nature. These two steps will reveal the "middle path of lovemaking," which is surprisingly satisfying and frees you from the domination of your primitive brain.

To give you an idea of what you could be doing in the bedroom, here are some abbreviated Exchanges. Each time you refresh the page a new one will appear.

More on how the Ecstatic Exchanges shift perception

  • 1. And an older version can be found in the second part of Peace Between the Sheets.