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Men are sometimes surprised to learn this about pleasuring

Trigger warning: this post will be more explicit than usual.

(It's excerpted from one of the schmoozeletter emails)

Often, when working with couples who are trying to create more mutual sexual pleasure, I'll use a detailed intimacy questionnaire technique that includes a rating system to help them assess what feels good, what doesn't. We use the results to try and re-choreograph their erotic play in ways that incorporate more of the former and less of the latter. This may sound simplistic, but when it comes to sexual activity, there is often a block on this logic due to the emotional difficulty in analyzing and communicating about it.

Based on the couple's initial description of their reason for therapy, I can often anticipate some of the answers, although there are sometimes ones that surprise me.

There is one response which women give all the time, so I've come to expect, but their husbands are often hearing it for the first time:

"How does breast play and stimulation feel for you?"

"Well, it's not consistent; it's hard to explain..." she'll often begin.

I prefer the client to express it herself, but if she's struggling, sometimes I'll help out:

"For many women, breast play is very much about sequence, technique, and context. If their partners initiate it suddenly, or start it too soon or roughly in the sexual activity, it can feel unpleasant, annoying, intrusive- even painful. But once they're already turned on from non-erotic pleasuring segueing to sensual, it can be arousing, intimate, enjoyable, and exciting. Timing, teasing, and build up can make all the difference."

"Yes- that's exactly it! I thought I was just moody about it."

The relief on her face at learning that she's not fickle, but that this in fact a widespread preference is visible.

I had one couple tell me this was a significant turning point in their sexual journey.

The breasts are exquisitely sensitive as an erogenous zone, and so for many women, warm up, buildup, and quality of touch technique, make the difference between feeling aggressively groped versus lovingly caressed. Women have differing preferences about when and how they enjoy this kind of touch, and it's worth discussing and exploring rather than assuming. (In sessions, we then get more specific assessing even within this variety of pleasuring, what feels good for both.)

Some are surprised to learn all this because in their experience, they don't require warm up; they're happy to receive touch almost anywhere at almost any time. (These gender stereotypes are not true for everyone. If they don't resonate for you, feel free to disregard. But for the couples where it does resonate, it can be comforting to know it's not only them.)

"A bundle of fragrant spice, my beloved is to me, between my breasts he will lay"- Song of Songs 1:13

There is mystical significance to the Hebrew word for breasts. It's one of the sacred names of G-d. It also means: "that it is enough." It's similar to a word meaning "my demons." The Talmud also discusses the symbolism of them being situated upon the heart, and capable of nourishing new life.

The first phrase of the verse: a bundle of fragrant spice, is comprised of complex language. Both words (Tzror hamor, in Hebrew) have both positive and negative connotations. Tzror means a tied bundle or bouquet, but is also linguistically related to the word for pain or suffering. Mor means fragrant spice, but also bitter. (The general translations of these verses follow the positive meaning, but the Talmud in Tractate Shabbos adds the negative ones as well.)

Perhaps these double entendres imply that like most phenomena, it's not exclusively bad or good, pleasant or unpleasant. Her beloved is capable of being both a bundle of fragrance AND a bitter source of pain. (As is she:)

Love is like that- the more important a person is to us, the more we let them in, the more the possibility of hurt in that relationship.

Sexual touch is like that- the more intimate it can be, the more violating it can be when it goes wrong.

Communication is like that: the more we share the more we can mess up but also the more we can connect.

(Likewise: in the Sacred Not Secret course, we talked about the Hebrew words oneg: pleasure and nega: touch and affliction, being comprised of the same letters and components, because human touch can be the source of both the greatest trauma and the greatest pleasure.)

Many women get anxious about breast play because they fear the pain- physical or emotional- that they've experienced when it was initiated prematurely or clumsily. When this area of lovemaking is revisited from within a broader, more nuanced context, it can often evolve from being a source of avoidance or turnoff to a one of immense pleasure for both.

This verse might be expressing the reality that when this most vulnerable form of connection feels fragrant and loving, she will often want to invite him to rest between her breasts: which represent both the intimate, sensitive parts of her body and her heart.

Relationships will almost always involve a degree of rupture and repair, error and correction. But the empathic, constructive communication that clarifies and renders the ambiguous language and touch loving and pleasurable is what can make all the difference between sexual discomfort and real physical intimacy.

To learn more about how to educate towards healthy, holy sexuality, see this:

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