This seemed to me to be a good thing to share. Sex isn't meant to be fast food, it is a gourmet feast.
Diana Richardson. Slow sex. The path to fulfilling and sustainable sexuality. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 2011.
Diana Richardson is a holistic body therapist living in Switzerland. She is known for the week-long “Making love” retreats for couples that she holds regularly with her partner Michael Richardson. During these retreats couples are taught to approach sex by slowing down and being fully present to each moment during their sexual meeting. In this book she describes the principles of conscious sexuality that are basic to this teaching.
It is now over two years ago since I first read the book. Since then I have read a number of other books on a similar theme, and come into contact with other partly similar (“tantric” and other) approaches to mindfulness and sexuality. I now felt that I wanted to read her book again, to see how I am experiencing it today.
What had a major impact on me when I first read it was the focus on being SLOW in a conscious, mindful way. Diana Richardson compares slow sex with slow eating, and describes how deliberate slowness in both cases can increase awareness, relaxation, sensitivity, and the quality of the whole experience. The practice of slowness may have benefits in many areas of life: “The slower we can learn to be, the more we can relax and hold awareness of the present moment: gradually the practice of slowness will begin to positively impact every aspect of living” (p. 6).
When reading her book the first time I noticed that this kind of slowness could be applied also to the reading experience itself. One of my notes from February 2015 goes like this:
“During the last week I have been able to set aside time each day for reading, and this has turned into a kind of ‘reading meditations’, a kind of mindful ‘slow reading’. Reading this book (which is so full of genuine observation and wisdom) with full awareness in a relaxed state of mind, and allowing each sentence to ‘sink in’, feels very refreshing. I also feel that this kind of reading contributes to a ‘change of mind’, in favor of a ‘being mode’. It is all too easy to slip back into a doing mode, and I guess that regular reading of this kind of literature may serve as a good complement to other forms of meditation practice.”
What strikes me now when I read the book for the second time is that Diana Richardson’s slow sex approach differs from many other tantric and similar approaches by having its focus more clearly not only on BEING rather than doing, but also on RELAXATION rather than arousal, on a COOL rather than a “hot” attitude to sex, and on the cultivation of SENSITIVITY rather than the seeking of new sensations.
What is probably most distinctive for her approach is the preference for a “cool” rather than a “hot” approach to sex. Although hot sex may provide great experiences for the moment, these tend to be quickly over. Cool sex, as she describes it, is more sustainable, and conducive to experiences of bliss and ecstasy: “Slowness takes the heat out of sex, which is a good thing, because bliss and ecstasy plant their delicate roots in a cool environment, not a hot one” (p.2).
In stark contrast to conventional approaches to sexuality, the role of arousal is very much played down: “sexual arousal is not a prerequisite. You don’t need to heat up with excitement. Instead, you discover how to fall back into your body, to be more aware and relaxed, with a sense of not really going anywhere special.” (p. 2-3)
One aspect of this process is that when we focus attention on pleasant inner sensations this tends to increase the pleasure: “That’s the power of awareness. Any sensations of streaming, tingling, vibrating, or warmth, for instance, will respond to the awareness and amplify, expanding deliciously into other parts of the body” (p. 28).
By cultivating this kind slow relaxed attention to how our body feels from within, in combination with an attitude of mindful curiosity and exploration, we can develop an awareness that is in itself “a highly potent aphrodisiac” (p. 22).
One example is her description of a man’s “slow conscious entry” into the woman: “the actual entry and subsequent penetration should be done with extreme awareness, and therefore extreme slowness, extending into the vaginal canal millimeter by millimeter, and the slower the better” (p. 37).
Interestingly, she also describes how a man, by means of slow sex practice, may train the sensitivity of his penis, so that he may feel “when and where the vaginal tissues are tight, hard, soft, receptive, defensive, relaxing, or melting” (p. 41). To me, this is yet a wonderful example of how mindful practice can lead to an increased sensitivity in any area where it is trained – sexual sensitivity just being one among many other examples.
The basic thing is to direct the attention into the body, and particularly into one’s own genitals. As she points out, this is very different from using the genitals in the “mechanical, rubbing, friction-type way” that is typical of conventional sex: “Through fast movement the genitals get overheated and overcharged, finally finishing up in orgasm. Being slow and still, however, allows a gently flowing cool stream of vitality to arise between them. (p. 42-43).
In her words, this allows room for “genital intelligence” – the wisdom that is inherent in our genitals, and that is released when we let our genitals meet and allow things to unfold spontaneously, with mindful slowness, without any striving for an orgasmic climax. In this way “we offer our sexual organs the opportunity and space to communicate in their own language” (p. 33).
Because the need for sexual arousal is played down, there is not even any need for the man to have an erection. “Soft penetration” is an option that is “highly recommended”. Diana Richardson describes in detail how a woman may insert a soft and relaxed penis into her vagina. This option “takes the pressure out of the situation because you can unite at any time you choose. Union is not dependent on stimulation, excitement, or erection.” (p. 48).
I think “Slow sex” represents a very interesting way of combining mindfulness with sexuality. And when I read the book now for the second time, it strikes me how clearly she focuses her entire approach on sexual PLEASURE, rather than on sexual AROUSAL.
In psychological research on emotions, it is common to differentiate between two independent dimensions of emotion: (1) emotional valence, ranging from positive to negative; and (2) emotional arousal, ranging from excitement to relaxation.
It seems to me that sexual experiences can be described similarly in terms of two independent dimensions: (1) sexual pleasure, ranging from high to low and (2) sexual arousal, ranging from excitement to relaxation. Some approaches to sexuality focus on sexual arousal, and hardly mention pleasure at all. Other approaches combine arousal and pleasure (focusing on lust, desire). Diana Richardson’s approach, however, focuses almost exclusively on pleasure, or rather on pleasure in combination with relaxation (that is, the opposite of arousal). Thereby, it also points to the possibility of a variety of orgasmic experiences.
Here it is interesting to contrast Diana Richardson’s slow sex approach with Emily Nagoski’s completely different view. According to Emily Nagoski’s definition, “orgasm is simply the explosive release of sexual tension”. Strikingly, this definition is totally devoid of mentioning anything like pleasure. It also means that Nagoski has a hard time understanding the value of longer orgasmic states, saying that “having extended orgasms is the sexual equivalent of running a marathon”. In Nagoski’s view, extended orgasms represent hard work, keeping sexual tension high and releasing it only little by little (“your job is to steadily release sexual tension even as you continue to add it”, as she puts it in her booklet “The sex nerd on orgasm”). Diana Richardson’s view of extended orgasmic states is completely different, as they require awareness and relaxation, rather than tension.
I don’t know how we should best define “orgasm”, but I think an adequate definition has to include at least two components: sexual pleasure and sexual relaxation. Such a definition would recognize various forms of orgasmic experiences, which all have in common that they involve a combination of sexual pleasure with relaxation – including explosive releases of sexual tension, but also waves of orgasmic sensations that come and go in a mindfully relaxed state, and long-lasting orgasmic states.
Although pleasure is central to Diana Richardson’s view of sexuality, her way to sustainable sexual pleasure does not go via external stimulation of erogenous zones, or the buildup of sexual fantasies. On the contrary, she claims that our present society’s focus on external stimulation and excitement, and fast hot sex, actually leads, in the long term, to a loss of sensitivity.
The way to deeper sexual pleasure goes via awareness, relaxation, and increasing one’s capability to experience subtle inner sensations. “Not a pleasure that leaves you wanting it again and again, but a pleasure that nourishes, fulfills, and uplifts you” (p. 70). This may open up to more of genuine love and sustainable relationships, and to spiritual states of bliss and ecstasy – as well as an ability to experience “orgasmic, blissful states in aloneness” (p. 89).
When I had read the book for the first time, in March 2015, I made the following note, which also shows a bit of skepticism in relation to some parts of her book: ”Diana Richardson’s book gives me so much, but not in the sense that I accept everything in it (on the contrary, I feel skeptical about some of it), but by inspiring me to continue exploring. This is something which she actually emphasizes herself: the important thing is to explore and to see for oneself. Importantly, she invites us to take what she writes as tools, not rules.”
As she explicitly formulates it in her book: “DON’T MAKE TOOLS INTO RULES!” I think this is yet another great example of the wisdom that is to be found in her book.
Anders Lund, June 2017