This blog is the transcript of Episode #56 of “Under 10: A Mini Podcast on Intimacy”. Listen along here.
Last episode I explored why telling truths in intimacy is so hard. Go back and listen to Episode #55 if you haven’t already. This week I am focusing on how to heal your desire so you can ask for what you want. This topic may seem simple, but trust me, it gets complex fast. I hope by the end of our time together that you leave with some starting points for wading through the obstacles and bravely giving voice to the desire that lives inside of you.
I’m going to begin by stating the obvious. In order to ask for it – whatever “it” is – you have to have some clue about what you want. For example, when placing an order at a restaurant, you are expected to specify, “I would like beef curry, spice level 3 with a side of brown rice”. If you don’t know what you want, when the waiter shows up at your table, you’re going to have a very tough time getting fed that evening.
Intimacy is like that. We spend a lot of time lamenting that we are hungry. But often, some of the problem is that we haven’t gotten clear – I mean like “spice level 3” clear – about what exactly we want. So the cosmic chefs in the kitchen who might otherwise be cooking up the meals of our intimate dreams are left wondering what spices to add and whether or not we eat meat and if we like cilantro on top, and so on. The order is vague at best so the cooks are left scratching their heads.
Now, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with you if you struggle to know what you want – in work, in food, in love or in sex. What’s likely happening is that your desires are totally intact inside of you, but buried underneath a bunch of crap programming that has been telling you what you should want, how you should behave and generally who you should be. Depending on your upbringing, you may have had people who helped safeguard you against all this static interference to your internal signal. But if not, it’s possible that those desires that make you uniquely you are buried underneath a bunch of commercials about how you should behave so that you won’t upset the world’s expectations for you. Your desires are there – but muted. If this is you, and you struggle to identify what you want, then your healing journey may include a lot of experimenting in order to discover how to awaken your desire.
You might think of desire like an animal. Give it a gender if it helps, or just stick with “it” or even “they”. I’ll use “she” for this example. She has an appetite. And when you do something to please others, for example you moan in bed when it doesn’t feel great. Or you say, “Oh really, tell more more” to someone you’re listening to when you’re actually bored out of your skull, your desire will stay dormant and snoozing. She doesn’t stir when you fake it. Now, faking is a survival tactic, so don’t blame yourself for it. It may be the way you have gotten by in the world up to this point because you just didn’t have the support to figure all of this out before.
But when you see someone who genuinely makes your pulse race, you know it. It’s a hot, seething force coursing through your veins. Desire has woken. When you draw a boundary in a conversation in which you felt disengaged and return to something you prefer, desire trusts you more, because you have taken care of her. When you put that gooey, delicious, savory, sweet, crunchy, spicy taste in your mouth – the one you really wanted, not the one you thought you should eat because it was good for you – your desire feels fed and will purr and loll her tongue.
When I began this work, I started by experimenting at the hot food bar at Whole Foods which included a wide range of prepared foods sold by weight. There were lots of choices. I would typically fill my cardboard food box with salad and vegetables, the things I thought I should eat. Inevitably I would then ogle the food boxes of friends who had filled their cartons with the items I actually wanted to eat. When that happened with an intimacy coach friend of mine whose salty French fries I had been pilfering, he wisely drew the line and snapped, “Own your desire and get your own fries”. I took him to heart.
I began with the BBQ chicken. Even though I knew the sauce had sugar, and I’d been on a strict no sugar diet for years, I filled my box with it. Almost every time. I ate with my fingers and licked off the gooey sauce and felt elated. I loved the sweet Whole Foods BBQ chicken. It was for once something the animal of my taste buds wanted, not the thing I ate while depriving myself of the object of my actual desire. I felt like it brought me back to myself.
To be clear, I’m not saying indulge every last whim without reason. I knew my body would be able to handle the tiny amount of sugar in the chicken. If I’d eaten donuts, for example, I probably would have gotten sick, which also would not have taken care of desire. This exercise is not about hurting yourself or others with your abandon, but about tuning into where you feel your compass has lost its gravity and giving yourself permission to break the rules of your programming in order to find your true north again. Like me, your truth north may begin with BBQ chicken. You have to start somewhere.
In Episode #52 I explored why words are essential to love making and I encouraged you to try exchanging a hand massage with someone, where you ask for the kind of stroke you want. I recently talked clients of mine, a young couple, through this exercise. It was much harder than they expected. When it came to asking for what she wanted, there were some painful memories that arose of when it wasn’t safe for her to name her desires. Opening up desire can at first can be painful. As I created space and helped her welcome her feelings, I began to name options for things she could ask in her massage. If you don’t know what’s possible, you can’t ask for it. So I began to show her what was possible.
Ask him just to hold your hand and breathe with you.
Ask him to slow down, and then ask him to slow down even more.
Tell him to massage some part of your lower arm that you wouldn’t normally, just to see what it feels like.
Ask him to use his nails.
With only a few examples, she began to warm up to what was possible. As she was discovering that she could ask for exactly the touch she desired, and adjust as she went, gradually her reticence began to melt. Unlike ordering food at a restaurant where there are just so many choices, the options in intimacy are in fact endless. Way beyond what would fit on a menu. As vast as your willingness to ask and your vision for what’s possible. If the menu put in your hands when you first began getting your connection needs met was limited, it may be time to toss it out and start with a big, wide open canvas of possibility instead.
For homework, write what’s called a “desire inventory”. This will be your canvas. Every line will start with the same two words, “I want…” And then fill in the blank. You can start with food. Be specific. For example, “I want a thick, hot, creamy mug of cocoa”. “I want homemade chicken soup with chunks of celery”. “I want a big cheesy slice of mushroom pizza”. It can include your career or hobbies. “I want to do work I’m passionate about”. “I want to learn to ski”. “I want to publish my poetry”. It can also include your desires about your love life. “I want to sleep next to someone every night”. “I want to kiss that person I’m crushing on”. Or, “I want to play more with my spouse”. Start with what you know, including, “I want to know what I want”. You might be surprised how your pen can channel a voice inside of you that has been waiting to come out. Then when you’re done, read your desire inventory to someone you trust or just out loud to yourself while moving your feet. Then celebrate. Hoot and holler. Use your body to jump up and down. Let your desire know your joy that she is beginning to speak to you again. This is a sign of her – and your – healing.