Introduction to Slow Sex

As I've mentioned, I'm in training to become a Slow Sex Coach and Orgasmic Meditation Instructor, two programs run by OneTaste. The work is intriguing, exciting and -- often -- difficult. I love experiencing it, and I love writing about it.

At the same time, I find myself less enthusiastic about writing so much about oxytocin. When I first began this blog, most people had not heard of oxytocin, or thought it was just to do with labor and prairie voles. Back then, it was exciting to track mentions of the Wonder Hormone in newspapers and to watch the first glimmerings of scientific understanding of how important oxytocin is for physical and emotional health.

Now, scarcely a day goes by without an article or blog post touting oxytocin, and it's a lot of people's favorite drug. I'm really happy about this, because our society still struggles for connection and meaning. At the same time, I don't feel driven to note all of these mentions on my blog.

I want to extend Hug the Monkey to speak more about my own journey to greater intimacy and connection through the orgasmic meditation practice. I've renamed the Sex category to Slow Sex, and you'll be seeing more posts in this category -- and more regular ones.

I recognize that this blog is an archive of information on oxytocin's role in human attachments of all kinds, and I'll continue to further that role by reporting on research that furthers this understanding. I hope you'll continue with me on this journey.


Viagra and Oxytocin A Hot Topic at Edguider Forum

Here’s a post from Paul, a moderator for the Edguider.com forum. He monitors the forum and has been seeing an increasing interest for oxytocin among men with erectile dysfunction:

A discussion in the Edguider Forum on how oxytocin helps men decrease their sexual performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction has become one of the most popular topics.

Meyer Jackson of the University of Wisconsin's Madison School of Medicine and Public Health found that sildenafil, AKA Viagra, increased the amount of oxytocin released by the pituitary glands of rats. It's very likely that it does the same thing for men.

Sildenafil is the active ingredient in Viagra. It was always thought to be a physical reactive drug by helping increase the blood flow in and around the penis arteries allowing the penis to become hard for sexual intercourse.

Enzymes in the body can act like a braking system for hormones like oxytocin, controlling the release and also dampening the excitation of cells. One enzyme, PDE5 (phosphodiesterase type 5), can also contract blood vessels limiting the amount of blood flow.

According to the Daily Mail,

Viagra overcomes impotence by blocking phosphodiesterase type 5, a chemical that limits blood flow. Scientists have now discovered that this chemical also regulates the release of 'love hormones' in the brain.

Edguider.com is an online forum for men to discuss all related news and information regarding erectile dysfunction, Viagra and other therapies. Here is an example of what the members of the forum are saying about oxytocin:

 The drug was wonderful: oxytocin has anti anxiety effects, and stimulates various types of positive social interaction. I've never felt so calm, confident and relaxed. This may be a God's send if you suffer from sexual performance anxiety, like me. The effect lasted the whole evening.”

Read more: I tried oxytocin and Levitra yesterday


What Is Orgasmic Meditation?

As I wrote last week, I'm training to be an Orgasmic Meditation instructor at OneTaste. This practice is deep and mysterious, and I have not gotten to the bottom of its relation to oxytocin and connection. But I have not found the practice to be at odds with sex's power to connect.

I spoke with Alisa Price, who is on the core faculty at OneTaste, about the practice and what it's meant to her. Go to the One Taste website for more info about their programs.

First of all, what is OneTaste?
OneTaste is an organization that offers classes and coaching for people who are interested in expanding their ability to be intimate and conscious, in weaving their sexuality more consciously and wholly into their lives, and in incorporating mindfulness practices into the arena of sexuality specifically.

Our points of focus reach from gender dynamics to working more consciously with our desires, to our sexuality directly to how we communicate and show up in every part of our lives.

The OneTaste practice of mindful sexuality is orgasmic mediation. We seek to bring practice and mindfulness into the sexual arena directly, to create a discipline that people can use and connect with and be held in that will allow them to increase their conscious connection to sexuality in a slow, sustainable way.

What exactly does that mean, to bring mindfulness into sexuality?

It means experiencing my desire for sex, my desire for connection, my desire for intimacy, not only with another human being, but within the bigger, broader sense of living an intimate life, living a life that feels connected, that feels impassioned, that feels alive and electric.

When I speak about orgasmic meditation, I typically start by saying people hear the word “orgasm,” and they don’t hear the second word that comes after that, which is meditation. Because people are like, “Wow, orgasm!” And they either light up about it, or they’re like, “Ooh, I might want some of that.” Or there’s a fear, or a “What?!"

And so, the meditation part is not always caught in the first communication. And it truly is a meditation. It is meant to be an intentional, mindful meditation where I, as a human being, can drop into a more connected, conscious state while in connection to my orgasm

Can you describe the practice for us?

It is a physical practice. Two people get together. The woman lies down and butterflies her legs open, and the man strokes her genitals in a very intentional and conscious way. It’s done in a very particular manner, from how it’s timed, how the position goes, the intention and the technique around the stroking of the genitals and also the focus, because it is a meditation.

So, for both people, whether they’re the person being stroked or the person doing the stroking, there is a very conscious, intentional focus that you’re focusing on the orgasm and on your body at the level of sensation. So this is a bridge that many people can understand if they’ve had any experience with any kind of sitting meditation, where you sit and you notice thoughts that arise. You notice feelings that arise. You notice emotions and associations. You notice them, and you simply let them go. And you come back over and over again to focusing on the sensations of the body and the awareness of the body, either in a particular spot or the body as a whole.

The mindfulness practice, the orgasmic meditation practice specifically, experiencing orgasm together, that is a true meditation. In other styles of meditation, there is an intentional focus on experiencing the body at the level of sensation. We are applying that to the orgasm specifically. Investigating, what are the sensations in my body right now? Noticing and acknowledging emotions that arise, noticing the tendency to cling to them or force them out. Letting it go and coming back to the sensations.

My blog is about oxytocin, the chemical that causes us to feel connected to each other, producing those feelings of trust and love. And a ton of oxytocin is released during orgasm. Is this something you think about and work with?

We do. We've looked into the scientific, biochemical side of orgasm, absolutely. On that same page, one of the things we're saying is that orgasm, pleasure and sexual connection are part of the full spectrum of healthy human experience. The science behind this, in my opinion, the release of oxytocin is a signifier that points to the fact that our sex is important, and that we do well to be properly nourished in that area of our lives, as well.

On an essential level, people do want physical and sensual connection. They want to be in resonance with other human beings. When you start incorporating aspects of practice and mindfulness into relationships, sex and gender, you start to have a better structure to explore those things sustainably.

Can I find emotional connection at OneTaste?

Yes. It's part of the philosophy of people who come to OneTaste to connect. It's very full-spectrum, full-bodied that way. As a faculty member, I have a rich emotional connection with many people.

Any other thoughts about how orgasmic meditation relates to connection?

I can see from my personal experience, having done the practice for five years, I've experienced an expansion in my ability to feel other human beings. The orgasmic meditation practice is interesting specifically because it is a partner practice. You cannot do it in isolation. Every time I lay down to have my genitals stroked in an orgasmic mediation session, I am asked to be open  Enough to not only feel my own body but be able to feel the body of another human being on some level and to allow my orgasm to arise. From being in physical contact with someone else all the way out to my ability to connect in life, I've experienced a tremendous amount of expansion. I'm more available and more open. I just feel more.


Humans: Bonobos or Prairie Voles?

My new Facebook friend, Tinamarie Bernard Eshel, writes about sex, spirituality, and earth stewardship.

On the blog Green Prophet, she recently wrote Monkey Love: When females rule fornication, Mother Earth delights. It's a terrific and thought-provoking post, and you should read it.

Her thesis:

The bonobos have found the solution to world peace. It’s called love. Whenever there is a dispute, they resolve it with a good bout of nooky. A bit of masturbation here, a little tickle where it feels really good there, and soon enough the tension is relieved. Have a problem? Not after you’ve had sex, bonobo style.

And if you have any doubt about female satisfaction, rest assured that these apes know how to swing. Wink wink, nod nod, grunt grunt, sigh. In fact, in their natural habitats, Bonobos have rarely demonstrated hostile or violent behaviors towards another.

I began to comment on her blog, and decided instead to post it here.

I completely agree with Tinamarie that you can't have too much sex. Sex is the emotional glue that holds couples together, and it satisfies our physical and emotional cravings for connection while tuning up our bodies for maximum health.

That said, even though we share 97 percent of our dna with the bonobo, this does not mean that we are like them socially. Biologists estimate that approximately 3 percent of mammals are monogamous, and they seem to share a quirk of brain structure that places receptors for both dopamine, the neurochemical of reward-seeking and reward, close to receptors for oxytocin, the neurochemical of attachment, trust, generosity and love, in the parts of the brain that handle social interactions.

This difference makes the prairie vole monogamous, even though it is genetically very close to its polyamorous cousin, the mountain vole. Humans do seem to share this monogamous brain structure.

This does NOT mean that humans or any other monogamous mammal is wired to copulate ONLY with one mate. In fact, they've found that as many as 45 percent of "monogamous" male prairie voles never mate, while in monogamous bird species, some 25 percent of offspring are the result of extra-pair copulation.

We seem to be wired to live in a stable family with a long-term, and possibly life-long, mate, with the possibility of other sexual partners for both sexes. Unfortunately, in our highly civilized culture, we have robust social conventions for romance, friendship and property rights that make it quite difficult to be as free as the bonobos.

I think where the ideals of polyamory may lead us astray is when we focus on the amory part and forget about creating a stable mate relationship. I firmly believe that this mate/family structure may take many forms outside of the traditional nuclear family -- in fact, I think it should.

However, without a home and family to come home to, the polyamorist risks falling into a tangle of unsatisfying relationships that may provide lots of dopamine highs without the next of trust and connection that comes from oxytocin.

I think women can be especially at risk in a polyamorous playground, because our higher estrogen causes us to respond more strongly to oxytocin, making sex feel more bonding to us. 

All that said, sex -- no matter who or how many we enjoy it with -- does make us calmer, less anxious and more open and trusting. That's got to be good for the planet.


Is He a Cheater?

Paul Zak, the guy who showed that oxytocin affects all sorts of positive human emotions, as well inventing the field of neuroeconomics, posted five tests you can use to discover whether a man is likely to stay faithful.

The tests illuminate the relationship between oxytocin, vasopressin and testosterone. If that recipe isn't just right, a man's more likely to be a seed-scatterer than a bacon-bringing-homer.

They're smart, science-based, and most of them you can do yourself without the need for lab tests. I covered his post in the blog I write at LifeGoesStrong.com, and I'm afraid that, in what is certainly recursive but necessary in this link-crazy world, I am cycling you through that in order to read his post. Is that too, too awful?


Sex and Oxytocin on Bliss Radio

I'm joining Chrystal Bougeron on Bliss Radio this coming Wednesday, March 17.

I mostly focus on the bonding aspects of oxytocin. Chrystal's show is produced by BlisConnection.com, an online store for sex toys and simliar goodies, so we're going to turn up the heat on oyxtocin's role in sex and orgasm -- and how that seems to tie sex to bonding.

We'll also talk about touch: why it feels so good; why, in fact, we need it to survive.

You can tune in live over the internet, or listen to the show later on iTunes. This should be fun!


Monogamy the Intelligent Choice?

Thanks to Solitaire Miles for sending me this item from the Telegraph. According to Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, intelligent men are more likely than the general population to remain faithful to their mates.

Kanazawa told Telegraph writer Matthew Moore that he thinks this is because in primitive times, it was adaptive for a man to father children with multiple women; now that this is no longer adaptive, only more intelligent men have the ability to " shed the psychological baggage of their species and adopt new modes of behaviour."

I disagree -- not about his finding about the correlation between intelligence and monogamy. My understanding of the research by Thomas Insel, Larry Young and others is that the human brain is structured like those of the other 3 percent of monogamous mammals. We have more oxytocin receptors in our brain's reward center, causing us to tie the reward of sex to an individual. 

This is social monogamy, not true sexual monogamy. That strong bond with a mate doesn't preclude that monogamous 3 percent from sexual activity with other individuals. In prehistoric times, this let human males have the best of both worlds: investing substantial resources in the survival of his mate's children while spreading a bit of his seed around at random.

In today's structured and complex Western societies, most of us expect sexual monogamy within marriage. Perhaps it takes a bit more brain power for men to resist the lure of extramarital sex.

By the way, Kanazawa found no such correlation between intelligence and sexual monogamy in women. What does that mean?


The Penis, Arousal and Oxytocin

As you know if you've been reading my blog, oxytocin is not just the cuddle hormone, nor is it just a girl thing. It's also necessary for sexual arousal, and studies have charted its effects specifically on penile erection. (They have not to my knowledge tested whether oxytocin is necessary for the engorgement of the clitoris -- aka female arousal -- but I sure bet it is.)

The Neurotopia blog covers an interesting study showing that oxytocin levels rise inside the penis as excitement increases, specifically in the corpus cavernosa, the spongy center of the penis. It also rises in the circulating blood -- until full erection. According to Neurotopia:

During sexual arousal and the formation of an erection, oxytocin levels went up in both the systemic blood and the cavernosa blood. But as the penis reached full rigidity, oxytocin continued to rise in the penis, but flattened off in the systemic circulation. Then, during the soft-off, blood levels of oxytocin the penis dropped (as expected), but rose AGAIN in the systemic circulation.

I wonder if this leveling off and then new increase in the amount of oxytocin circulating in the blood correlates with oxytocin levels inside the brain. (In fact, many studies assume that it does, measuring blood levels to make a guess at brain levels.) Is this how sex remains, well, sexy, while the emotional charge comes afterward?


Chip August's Sex, Love & Intimacy Podcast

Charles August, or Chip for short, has done 90 podcasts covering all aspects of sex and love for Personal Life Media (a company founded by internet wundergrrrl Susan Bratton). Chip co-facilitates, with his life-partner, a relationship workshop for couples called Passionate Relationships. Chip is also a certified Instructor of PET (Parent Effectiveness Training) leading adult education workshops to teach listening, conflict resolution and communication skills to parents.

I was honored to be Chip's 90th guest recently.

We talked about how the way we're mothered influences the way we love as adults, and how that plays out in our relationships throughout life.

You can listen to the podcast via iTunes or here on Personal Life Media. If you're an old-fashioned readerly type like me, you can also read the transcript when you click on that link.

Thanks, Chip!


Michael Gurian and "The Purpose of Boys"

I am a huge fan of Michael Gurian, a psychotherapist and author whose life's work is helping society understand how to raise children to be secure, happy and fulfilled. His special focus is boys, and how our culture doesn't support them in their development.

I have been very guilty in the past of being angry at men because they're not more like women. As I learned about the differences in the brains and neurochemistries of men and women as I wrote The Chemistry of Connection, I realized that it's neither fair to expect this nor possible for men to relate in the same way that women do.

Gurian has terrific ideas for ways that parents and society can help boys find ways to live honorable lives that harness their strengths. His latest book, The Purpose of Boys, is designed to help parents give boys what they need to thrive.

USA Today interviewed Gurian about the book, and it's well worth reading.