Men who are willing to experiment with foregoing orgasm are my heroes.
To be sure, most of them only make the experiment because they have exhausted all the usual alternatives. But then, so did I. Perhaps they are tired of feeling restless and anxious because a partner “isn’t giving them enough sex.” Or maybe they have rationally tried to solve the excess-libido problem on their own by producing orgasms with the help of Internet porn, or some other outlet—only to discover that this course of action left them hungrier than ever, that is, increasingly dependent upon the compelling brain chemistry of their chosen stimulation reinforced by orgasm.
They may even have found that this course of action altered their tastes in unwelcome ways. Or perhaps they connected with an eager partner, and then become irritable and uneasy when her demands eventually made them long to get away. Often her demands ("No flowers?" "Your dog makes me sneeze." "We never talk.") seemed to be unrelated to exhausting sexual desire too frequently, making love more baffling than ever.
After cycling around through these scenarios for decades, many of us begin to suspect that our human mating program is run by a cruel trickster who always leaves use feeling battered...and unfulfilled. We're ready for something new. In this article (and the one in next month's newsletter), we'll look more closely at how to undo the lingering damage from this built-in biological mating program.
It's all a perception game
Here's the key concept: Friction between lovers is a natural perception problem, born of fluctuations in key neurochemicals. In contrast, harmony correlates with improved perception, born of the neurochemistry associated with affection and balance.
The friction-producing neurochemical fluctuations are nearly unavoidable while our chief goal is to slake our own sexual thirst. For this reason, lovers can escape the intense neurochemical highs and lows that are built into the passion cycle by moving away from the goal of orgasm.
Why do neurochemical events matter so much? Because those neurochemical extremes are behind both cravings for more sex, and the equal, but opposite, desire for more "space" from a partner. And sometimes these conflicting feelings are separated by as little as twenty minutes. It is these intense, often puzzling, feelings that cause lovers to grow defensive toward each other. Trust erodes, behavior becomes manipulative or uncharacteristically unfeeling and even harsh. Harmony fades.
In short, neurochemical extremes lead to perception changes. These show up as gut feelings that dictate our impressions of each other. They also color our beliefs about how well our partner is meeting our needs. If our needs aren't being met (even if those needs are a puzzling moving target), we can easily conclude that out mate doesn't sufficiently love us (or that we don't love our mate).
Obviously, this phenomenon is a persuasive reason to cheat on, or leave, an existing partner for a novel partner—just as biology intends. However, if we don't address the underlying neurochemical sabotage, we're likely to experience a variation of this same disharmony in a future relationship.
Not only do we have to escape the neurochemical roller coaster, we also have to stabilize our sexual continence as best we can over the long term. Here, single men face one set of challenges: "What to do while waiting for a partner?" Men in relationships often face another: "How to tap the full cooperation of a mate?"
In this article we'll look at how women can help the men in their lives to sustain their hard-won sexual self-control over the long haul. In the next article, Octopuses and Alligators, (that is, hungry, grabby partners and irritable, fed-up partners), we'll look at how men can help their mates to welcome their kisses and playful sexual touch.
Obviously, no gender has a monopoly on sexual frustration, and these gender roles are far from ironclad. Women can be quite hungry for more sex, and men can lose interest. But for ease in addressing the key concepts, we treat the man as the partner longing for more sex, and the woman as the partner longing for "space." Men, after all, have to contend with ten to twenty times the high-octane testosterone women do, which generally keeps them eager to have sex (although around ovulation, women's estrogen levels can cause equally intense horniness).
The challenge of withdrawal
So Ladies, let's look more closely at what men are coping with when they choose to master "pre-orgasmic sex," as one expert labels sexual continence skills.
Initially men often face intense withdrawal discomfort. The two-week neurochemical cycle of uncomfortable highs and lows after orgasm—which most men have not realized was at work in their sex lives—can become very evident (at least to those around them) when they move away from frequent orgasm.
During this two week period—unless a man receives daily affection and touch from a caring partner—he is likely to suffer from recurring low dopamine (or other neurochemical changes). The typical result is mood swings (restlessness, anxiety, resentment), insomnia and uncomfortable sexual frustration. My husband adds that, in his experience, it can also cause lethargy. To counteract this natural lethargy, he instinctively finds himself motivated to do some ass-grabbing, looking at other women, and various other not-so-endearing behaviors—all of which offer him brief dopamine buzzes. At such times, I tease him about his octopus-like behavior, and try to make sure that we spend some time snuggling each day to ease his "hunger."
If men have become hooked on very frequent orgasm and intense sexual stimuli (such as porn, or risky sexual encounters), their withdrawal symptoms can be even more intense. In fact, discomfort can remain strong for up to two months.1
Today, almost all men have thoroughly reinforced a very powerful brain pathway urging them to seek relief (orgasm) frequently by the fastest means possible. What else could they do? Their genetic mating program is already powerfully triggered by anything associated with a potential fertilization opportunity. On top of that, our culture constantly barrages them with superstimulating erotic images that light up this pathway even more intensely. Each orgasm then reinforces it.
See why I say they are heroes? It takes courage, and often a period of "white knuckles" (whatever their skin color) to make this experiment of passing up orgasm to find greater equilibrium.
Longing for loving
Once through the initial withdrawal period, men typically feel better. Calmer, more filled with centered, powerful masculine energy, more creative and productive. They also feel more confident socially. More charming. More humorous. More attractive. More willing to overlook other people’s mistakes or thoughtless remarks (including their mates'). More in control of their lives.
However, after a couple of months, it becomes evident that they can't sustain this state indefinitely by themselves. They need affection, connection, and something to pour their energy into. In short, they need rewarding feelings. Their reward circuitry won't tolerate a vacuum (a gray world).
Here's how a single man described his situation after more than two months of passing up masturbation:
I've been so enthusiastic about the abstinence. I could sense exactly what was happening, and the results were/are amazing and enthralling, the most immediate and substantial results I'd ever experienced.
Now, unfortunately, (after 70+days) I have to report that the loneliness is physically brutal. I'm assuming it's a lack of oxytocin, because it goes away when I'm nuzzling my mother watching a movie or something similar. Unfortunately, when I'm not, my body gets to where it's physically in pain, especially at night. My eyes hurt, my head hurts. It's almost like inflammation, even though there's nothing on my mind, nothing psychologically troubling me.
On the plus side, the ache of loneliness has made the awkwardness of rejection completely insignificant!
Without a partner, single men have to make a very concerted effort to engage in activities that soothe and enliven them (producing both oxytocin and dopamine in balanced quantities). These include:
· voluntary exercise,
· harmonious interactions with others, support group meetings,
· caring for pets (even walking animal shelter dogs helps),
· voluntary generosity,
· inspiring scenery, pleasant smells (pine forest, bread baking),
· calming music, singing,
· warm, supportive touch, therapeutic massage,
· companionship, and
· yoga and meditation
· partner yoga (many classes accept singles, who pair up at class),
· tango lessons,
· therapeutic massage, and
· craniosacral therapy (a gentle process in which the head is held in stillness).
Without this kind of focused activity, they tend to return to the tired old options they have just worked so hard to leave behind. Thoughts sneak in: "I did all this, but what's the point?" Discouragement throws their neurochemical balance off even further, making them more likely to isolate, view porn, masturbate and/or grab a beer.
What about men who have a mate? They correctly sense that their partner has just what they need: the capacity for loving affection. But what if their partner isn’t responding to their overtures for affection? Put yourself in these men’s shoes. What would you do? You’d probably do everything in your power to get your honey’s attention so you could snuggle up…or, better yet, engage in some comforting intercourse now and then.
Yet when men introduce the idea of trying karezza (bonding-based sex) to their mates, they sometimes smack right into a wall of resistance. This can be very discouraging. Here’s one man's experience:
At nine PM I suggest a soak in the spa and some karezza (now that we have that vocabulary). She doesn't answer, and turns on "The Daily Show." Twenty minutes later, she says a soak would be nice. By this time I am totally depressed and feeling needy—and working like hell to calm my raging mind.
Yet consider what this same man also said about what happened next:
We go to bed and I wait...lying close...hand on her shoulder....just staying present...breathing. Ten minutes of eternity pass (or was it five? Forever is timeless.), and she rolls from her back into my arms. I'm in heaven. A few minutes later she says, "I want to go to sleep,” and I, rather graciously, I must say, back off peacefully. It feels really good to be able to let go without angst.
Notice how excruciating it is to have a request for affection ignored. If your dog eagerly greeted you at the door, would you smack his nose with rolled newspaper? To someone in a state of longing, this iciness feels like being put on starvation rations when there's a banquet available behind that frustrating wall of disinterest. (Gentlemen, we'll talk about how that wall arises—Hint: she's not being mean, and she doesn't hate sex—and what you can do to help dismantle it lovingly in next month's article.)
Also notice the power that patience has in both instances. Often, if you can just allow a partner to catch up with your state of mind, instead of jumping to conclusions, your mate will pull through.
Finally, notice how soothing it is for the man to have even a few moments of genuine bonding behavior from a mate. (Bonding behaviors are simple, non-verbal activities that send a subconscious message to a primitive part of our brain, promoting closeness and warm satisfaction.)
What can women do?
All this points to what women can do to help the men in their lives who are willing to experiment with sexual continence.
Women friends with clear boundaries can do much to comfort their male pals (providing their pals also have clear boundaries). They can hug a lot, take a dance class or partner yoga class together, exchange massages, play music or sing together, or just hang out. Both friends gain in these exchanges. In fact, a lot of misery could be avoided with these relatively simple, generous acts.
Friends can also introduce each other to potential mates whenever possible.
A woman with a mate can make a similar concerted effort to nurture her man with generous affection, or simply accept his affectionate offerings with genuine appreciation.
Bonding behaviors are the key, because all mammals are programmed to find them soothing and comforting. Here's a list. The good news is that many bonding behaviors are almost effortless, and a mere five minutes of generous contact or intimate stillness can produce surprising results. The other news is that your hero will need that five-minute exchange of genuine affection almost daily. Even when you think you don’t feel like it.
Ideally, your bonding behavior isn't just mechanical, although even mechanical efforts can bear fruit over time. One husband, whose wife was a bit sluggish about bonding behaviors, got her chuckling by saying, "Five minutes. We start counting when it becomes an open-hearted encounter."
Keep in mind that these bonding behaviors are not foreplay. They're like petting your cat; they aren't "going anywhere," at least for now. They only work if you are genuinely trying to comfort, love, or pamper the other person. They don't work if you're trying to get more of something from your partner. Use them to nurture each other, not to arouse. Ideally, they create a space for those joyful moments of true bonding...that shared laugh...or insight that crumbles a defensive barrier...or unconditional forgiveness...or sudden desire to adore your beloved...or intercourse which is truly a merging experience.
Regular, scheduled intercourse
This brings us to the other thing that women with mates can do to support their partners in this new approach to lovemaking: engage in regular intercourse. Not intercourse with orgasm (although it may occur inadvertently from time to time), but rather, gentle intercourse with lots of periods of relaxation in it. There are various recipes for this kind of lovemaking, but the most straightforward is perhaps karezza, about which a fair amount has been written.
Schedule intercourse nights with whatever frequency you both agree upon, but make sure you leave “bonding behavior only” nights in between intercourse nights.
Scheduling is soothing to anyone who is longing for love. He knows exactly when he will be “fed,” and he can more easily get on with his life in the meantime. In contrast, if he’s not sure when lovemaking time will arrive, he’ll constantly be angling for your affection—or resentful if you’re not volunteering it when he’s feeling so in need of intimacy. This tension can be avoided entirely by scheduling intercourse, and honoring your commitment.
The nights when you don’t have intercourse are equally important. On these occasions, you can relax into truly non-goal-oriented affection (bonding behaviors). This is very nurturing and soothing to both partners. It can help the hungrier partner to come back into balance, and it can help the less enthusiastic partner to relax any defensiveness that has naturally built up thanks to those neurochemical extremes that so often accompany conventional sex.
To sum up, women can help their mates best by:
· engaging in at least five minutes a day of genuinely affectionate bonding activity (especially touch), and
· scheduling regular intercourse (preferably karezza) on a mutually agreeable schedule.
Running on bonding
A man who is willing to experiment with improving his inner equilibrium by passing up orgasm is making a major change in how he pursues feelings of well-being. As he downplays the "payoff" of orgasm, his brain begins looking around for other sources of rewarding pleasures. Ideally it stumbles upon the major sources of pleasure for which it is also designed: close, rewarding connections with others. But unless women are there to connect with men, men's efforts to reorient their desires will remain incomplete.
The link between loneliness and masturbation/porn is very clear to those of us on the "Habit to Harmony" forum at Reuniting. Women may not yet realize just how much they can contribute to reducing porn use and anxiety, simply by reaching out to those men who realize they want human contact rather than orgasm-producing fantasy. They don't need orgasms as much as they need your caring affection and touch.
The desire to mate isn't the only biological program driving us. Humanity's pleasure-from-bonding program is also etched deeply into our brains. After all, pair-bonding is a variation of the infant-caregiver bond that linked us to our parents, and links us to our kids.
However, in the case of mates, bonding doesn't mean anyone is becoming a mother, or a needy child. The ability to form adult bonds was as vital to our ancestors' survival as sex, for two reasons. First, offspring do better with two parents supporting them. Second, isolation once meant death, so our ancestors had to form emotional bonds with trusted companions to survive. Emotional bonding is natural, but it is not a solo pursuit. It's a duet.
In modern life, we have drifted away from the gifts of bonding, in part because we are constantly tempted with substitute activities that offer a bigger buzz…but less overall satisfaction. (Shopping, high-calorie snacks, porn, gambling, video games, etc.) We can turn this unhealthy situation around by making our intimate relationships more deeply satisfying, and therefore more stable.
- 1. This extended misery apparently has to do with a protein that lingers in the reward circuits of addicts for one to two months, called Delta FosB. It promotes relapse (because the brain associates addictive activity with the short-term relief of addictive behavior).