40. Performance Anxiety: In Music & Sex, Less Means More

Here we are in the brand spanking new year, and it looks like I’m not entirely isolated in my interest in nurturing the more insular aspects of life at the moment (judging by a humorous video that went viral on social media).

Behind closed doors, in the privacy of my own home, I’m learning the ukulele. Although I’ve hacked my way around on some kind of musical instrument much of my life, this time I decided to actually try to become a little better of a musician. But my musical studies were the last place I expected to encounter fertile inspiration for a long-overdue post about sex…

Turns out that many of the same tricks for becoming a more freely natural musician can be applied to becoming more free and natural in bed. (It’s hardly shocking, as “performance anxiety” is a dreaded adversary in both realms.)

For many musicians, even the well-versed ones, improvisation can be terrifying or, at best, a rather overwhelming obstacle. And for many people, judging by the limited sexual repertoire often defaulted to, improvisation and creativity can also be intimidating. (And for the inexperienced, well, forget it. The whole thing can be as terrifying as standing up on stage to play a solo, something I’ve crashed and burned craptastically.)

Where do you begin? How do you know what extras to choose from or try out? Will they work, or will the whole endeavor just ruin the piece, kill the mood, and land you somewhere on the spectrum of humiliation?

When things seem overwhelming, the good news is that simplifying and setting limits can set you free, if you take the right approach. Following are three concepts on improv that I’m choosing to steal from my training in musicality to apply to sexuality. As someone new to exploring sex, these might help you learn the ropes like a Latin Lover; if you’ve been around the block many many times, you’ll surely find fresh inspiration.

Play/Listen, Listen/Play. In music, listening is an obvious necessity, although shockingly, many music teachers and approaches overlook this piece. So learning fixates too much on playing (and playing it right). This may lead to technical proficiency, but the music (and musician) lacks soul.

This is the same with sex. We’re taught to focus on the doing (and getting it “right”) instead of the being, which ends up looking like “fiddling about” with the parts more than tuning in to self and partner. When we’re more mechanical about what techniques to apply to which body part in order to get from A to B, G(spot) to O, or start to finish, then we just have some sort of sexual outlet as opposed to a more rich, soulful expression of sexuality.

In sex, this looks like slowing down, paying attention, breathing, communicating, luxuriating.

The thing is, sexuality (like musicality) is innate. Just as we know what sounds good to our ears, we know what feels good, both giving and receiving. We naturally have a very sophisticated understanding of sexuality, even if we are uncertain or lacking versatility with all the moving parts of sex itself. We just have to give ourselves the room to explore, to discover (or rediscover), and to trust ourselves. And, also like music, if we pressure ourselves around performance, or stick to the same old repertoire, we’re going to lose touch with that vibrant, luscious source of inspiration.

Constraints reveal Dimensions. Counter to intuition, limiting choices actually helps increase creativity. Because having fewer choices forces us to explore (spending more time on fewer things), imposing limitations actually creates an environment where nuance and subtlety can be discovered, and this is the field of treasures! We are far less likely to discover these highly faceted gems when there’s a lot going on or when we’re speeding through to get to the destination. The richness of subtlety is where less becomes infinitely more.

For instance, by constraining themselves to play only with a single note, musicians can actually find themselves discovering and exploring other realms of music-making like volume, timbre, register, and technique. This gets them away from worrying about memorized details, like scales, patterns, and riffs, and back to their innate sensibilities and sense of adventure.

As it pertains to sex, the same thing happens. I’ve experimented a lot with this very exercise and, let me tell you, it really delivers! Tried and true. You do it, you will be rewarded.

For an example, my partner and I spent months playing only with my breasts. This was one of the most sexually enlightening explorations I’ve ever experienced, showing me things I never imagined about my body’s responses. Meanwhile, he expanded his repertoire while getting to spend more luxuriant time with the objects of his lifelong fascination.

Playgrounds. To unlock our innate skills, buried in the rubble of this sexually unintelligent culture, we need to bring out our curious inner kids. We need to set up a safe playground where we’re not going to get “hurt.” Obviously, the safest playground is self-pleasuring. Choose a set of constraints, exploring a limited area of your own body, then play/listen, listen/play.

With a partner: Share the objective. Choose a single area of focus (like kissing; nipple play; feather touch; one-way oral; or manual touch only…the options are endless). Set the agenda. Then spend your time. And talk about it, during and/or after. See what happens.

You can choose to spend an extended moment, or spend weeks, on a single thing. It’s your playground, make it fun and interesting.

The endpoint of all this finds us being more confident, creative, responsive, and in tune.

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