Staying Present During Sex

A lot of people disembody during sex.

Disembodiment is a process by which you – in some way – mentally or spiritually separate from your body. Yes, you’re technically there, but you’re not there there. I mean, it’s not just during sex that people disembody (it can happen on a bus, plane or train, while you’re waiting for a latte or getting a massage), but sex brings together a unique number of things about which we’ve learned to feel ashamed. Right? You’re often at least kind of naked, often gyrating/jiggling; there’s performance anxiety, concerns about who’s going to orgasm when or if at all, and then there’s, of course, the sex itself. It’s like hitting all the panic buttons at once. So, as a way to deal with this some of us disassociate from the act in some way.

As a fat girl, I know a lot about disembodiment. Because I was taught that my fat body was not desirable (quick fact: my body is very desirable, it turns out), I have spent a lot of my sexual life disembodying because I was so terrified of my body and what it might do. I – like many women – remember being terrified that I would somehow end up in an “unflattering” position. What if a jelly roll or muffin top or some other pastry became a little too pronounced? What if my double chin was showing? What if I made a weird or un-cute face? What if he saw my cottage cheese thighs?! What if he didn’t understand that reaching around to play with my clit really wasn’t going to work because my belly was right there?!?!

It was all very exhausting! And worse than that, it felt like my body was on mute during the sexy times I was supposed to be enjoying with reckless abandon. Sometimes I felt a million miles from my body and the pleasure I knew it was capable of feeling. The disembodiment had to go. Or I, at least, had to learn to manage it. I’m sure no one will be surprised to learn that this was no easy task. I figured I’d detail some of the things I learned on the journey in hopes that some of these things may spark an “aha!” moment or otherwise be useful to you.

Well, in my journey to embodiment, one of the discoveries I made was that my body knew exactly what it wanted. So, that’s my first recommendation: listen to what your body is telling you. As we learn to be ashamed of our bodies and our desires, we learn to stifle the part of us that knows what we want sexually. Making your way back to your truth can happen through journaling or centering. Try this: set aside one day and every (waking) hour, on the hour, ask yourself: what does my body want right now? Write it down even if the answer is “I have no idea!” Keep doing it, and the answer will come easier over time.

I also found that trusting my partner made embodiment a lot easier. So, that’s number two: play with partners you trust. Trust means a lot of things and manifests a lot of different ways. I can know someone for years, but if I know that they have fatphobic or sexphobic views I might not be able to trust them. Also, even though our culture aggrandizes romps with bro-dudes, hipsters and frat boys (and otherwise thin, white, able-bodied, middle-class misogynists) maybe they’re best left for fantasy time. Trust doesn’t have to take 30 years to build! Trust can take 10 minutes to build or 10 months to build, depending on what feels right for you. What does your gut or your inner wisdom tell you about this person? Yes, it takes faith and vulnerability to trust someone, and those are are scary things. Before I started seeing myself as desirable, it was really hard for me to see the people around me who were attracted to me and who were totally obviously flirting with me. I didn’t know how to trust my instincts because I’d learned that my instincts were wrong. Because I believed that I had to look “better” (read: thinner) in order for people to be attracted to me, I was blind to the romantic and sexual opportunities right under my nose! I was turning to people I didn’t know well or trust for hook-ups. And though their newness made things hot, it also made it harder for me to feel like I could trust my body with them, talk to them about how I was feeling and tell them what was and wasn’t working for me.

Third, before sex spend 30 minutes to an hour doing whatever makes you feel hot. For me, this might include watching porn that features a woman whose body looks like mine or touching the parts of me I like the most. It also might include writing a piece of erotica that involves me and someone frothing at the mouth to get to my lady bits. Also, I’ve found that teasing my hair and making sexy faces in the mirror helps.

Fourth, tell your partner what you need. Even if you’re with someone for the first time, it’s ok to express what you need from them. This does not make you high maintenance! One thing I learned to communicate about was how I wanted my fatness to be treated during sex. I played with someone once who lifted up my dress, just below my breasts, and said “I want to see that belly jiggle!” in a super urgent, sexy way. Through that experience (and some others) I learned that I wanted to hear the word fat during sex. It turns me on and it totally invigorates me to know that my partner is engaging with my fat. I also like my fattest bits to be touched during sex, especially my stomach and my ass. If I have a new partner (and they don’t know that I’m a fat activist or how to deal with that) I tell them the things I like.

Fifth, slow down and think small. It’s so much easier for me to feel embodied when I’m taking things slowly. Focus your sexual and mental energy on just one small part of yourself or your partner (like their wrist or your neck) and just touch or kiss that until the sensation becomes more and more intense. It’s like turning up the dial on a sex stereo. If later on you start to feel yourself disembodying, start slow and small again.

Finally, it’s ok to not be perfectly tuned in and in the moment all the time. Give yourself a break. Sometimes sex isn’t going to be tears and glory. Sometimes it’s going to suck. And that’s ok.

I’ve found that being embodied is a skill that I’m still practicing and learning. It takes discipline to practice things – and unlearn things – that make my life better. And from time to time there are those perfect, sweet, delicious moments where every sense is heightened and me and my body are BFF’s and I’m shocked and amazed by its capacity to be right there.

Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar is the author/editor of the upcoming fat positive anthology Hot &Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012). She holds an MA in Human Sexuality, is certified as a sex educator, and was voted Best Sex Writer by the Bay Area Guardian in 2008 for her first book, Destination DD: Adventures of a Brest Fetishist with 40DDs. After teaching Female Sexuality at UC Berkeley she went onto host The Virgie Show (CBS Radio) from 2007-2008. When she’s not teaching sexuality seminars or shimmying as her burlesque alter ego, Dulce de Lecherous, she is creating content for her video blog: Virgie Tovar’s Guide to Fat Girl Living. Virgie has been featured on Playboy Radio and Women’s Entertainment Television. She lives in San Francisco.

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2 Responses

  1. 12/17/2012

    […] One of our faves is the Good Vibrations online magazine, The Buzz, at This morning, they had some great tips for staying present during sex – you know, not leaving our bodies or making the holiday to-do list or fostering anxious thoughts that take us away from the pleasure of the moment.   […]

  2. 02/20/2013

    […] “Staying Present During Sex” by Virgie Tovar (Self-Awareness, Consciousness, Psychology) […]