Practicing Sex

“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.”
~Julius Charles Hare via tinybuddha.com

Sex is a practice.

So let me tell you what I mean. We live in a world that presents sex as something that we can do perfectly. If only we read the right tips in the magazines at the supermarket checkout, if only we discover the perfect position to drive someone wild, if only we find the right clothing/hair/body spray, we can have perfect sex. Perfect sex is, unsurprisingly, also what we see in a lot of porn. Body parts get erect or wet without any hassles, there’s never any discomfort, people switch from one position to another easily (and without any mobility issues like stiff knees), and there’s always an orgasm (at least for any men involved).

But in the real world, sex is a lot messier than that, no pun intended. Not everyone  always has an orgasm, bodies don’t always do what we want them to, there are stains on the sheets, physical discomfort that limits what we can do, emotional concerns that show up at inconvenient moments, and, quite simply, it’s not always what we want it to be. Sex is never perfect in the real world.

I’ve never believed in the adage “practice makes perfect” because I don’t believe it’s possible for anything we do to be perfect. When we strive for an unattainable perfection, we often miss out on the joys of the moment. Our inner critic comes out to tell us all of the ways in which we’ve failed, and we forget to celebrate. When we let go of the ideal of “perfect sex,” we can dismiss the inner critic and enjoy.

So when I talk about sex as a practice, I’m thinking of it in the same terms as band practice, a martial arts practice, or a yoga practice. It’s something that we engage in, to expand our skills, to learn as much from as possible, and to enjoy. When we approach sex as a practice, it’s with an acknowledgment that we’re never perfect and that we can enjoy the experience of discovery. In essence, the distance between where we are and “perfection” becomes a source of opportunity for learning and joy, rather than a reason to judge or shame ourselves.

Approaching sex as a practice means that we need to make time for it. If you stop practicing the piano, your skills get rusty. If you stop practicing sex, the same thing happens. Musical greats still practice every day- that’s how they achieve such a high level of ability. Making sex a practice means coming to it with the intention of developing our skills. And not just the technical skills of giving an amazing blow job, but also the skills of connecting with another person (whether a long-time partner or someone new), the skills of working with and managing erotic energy, the skills of communicating and talking about what you want, the skills of navigating a relationship, among others. Nobody is born knowing how to do any of these, so if we want to have a high degree of skill and ease, we need to practice.

Thinking of sex as a practice requires us to come to it with fresh eyes. Our capabilities, interests, and desires shift from moment to moment and over time. So each time we engage with our practice, instead of trying to repeat our past performance, we need to ask ourselves “where am I in this moment?” Our internal compass becomes the tool for navigation, rather than an external guideline that may not always be relevant.

Making sex a practice also means making room for mistakes. We all make mistakes, and when we make perfection our goal, there’s little room for the inevitable errors that are part of life. When sex is a practice, mistakes become an opportunity. That doesn’t make them any less scary or unpleasant, but at least we can stop shaming ourselves for having made an error. Instead, we can learn to acknowledge what we’ve done, apologize, make amends, and learn from the experience. It’s a cliché that wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from making mistakes, but that doesn’t make it less true. When we allow sex to be a practice, we can give ourselves permission to make mistakes and learn from them, as painful as that sometimes is.

Approaching sex as a practice requires us to be brave in the face of the unknown. It asks us to make room for the possibility that things might not work the way we expect or want them to. And I understand why that can often be scary. Making sex a practice requires us to be brave enough to face our fears, and almost everyone has fears when it comes to sex.

A teacher once said to me that we don’t need to be perfect. All we need to do is move towards our joy and deal with whatever comes up. I think that captures the essence of making sex a practice.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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