Sex Ed in Bed
The Caress
By Jallen Rix, Ed.D. (c).

Have you ever received a massage from someone who just didn’t seem to “get it?” You lay down on the table, this masseur goes to work and you feel like a baker kneading dough probably has more passion for her craft. True, the masseur is touching you, and massaging your muscle groups, but it’s so rote that it could almost be misconstrued as an anatomy lesson. On a different note, there have been times when I’m having sex and I catch myself dropping into this kind of masseur mode — touching in ways that seek out muscle tension, but like an automatic exercise I am doing to my partner, and it’s not necessarily a mutually pleasurable experience. What I think both of these examples are missing is what sexologist, Vena Blanchard likes to call “caress,” and she ain’t talking about a brand of soap.

Anybody can touch another person (with permission of course). The general activity of touch can have many motives and numerous ways of carrying it out. Massage is pretty much focused in one direction — on the person being massaged. Caress is the kind of touch that may be initiated by one person, but it is fully savored by both parties. This is not as easy as you might think. Dr. Blanchard believes that getting people to really feel the experience of touching another person is much harder than experiencing what you feel when you are being touched. Let’s face it, if you’re receiving a massage you don’t have to concern yourself about touching the masseur. But sex between two people is generally desired as a mutual experience.

Something that can interfere with this mutuality is a phenomenon that Masters and Johnson coined as Spectatoring, and in today’s vernacular it might be when you’re “too much in your head,” as if you’re watching the sex occur, but feeling like you’re not participating in it fully. Lots of people experience spectatoring at one time or another and fortunately, caress can be just the thing to get your head and body synced up again. Notice I didn’t write “ get you out of your head and back into your body,” because just as there is a mutuality between partners there also needs to be a balance — an integration, if you will — between the head and the body. “If both my hands are involved in something, I figure my mind ought to be involved with it too.” — Ellen DeGeneres. So if you feel sometimes your inner dialogue keeps interrupting your love-making, try this caressing exercise:

Set some time aside with a friend or partner. This time will have no expectations of intercourse, orgasm or performance. This is just a time to experience touch. Get relaxed and put some soothing music on. Sit someplace facing each other and you start by caressing your partner’s hands. You might give them a massage. You might touch them as lightly as a feather. Technique does not matter. Nothing else matters except that you enjoy touching your partner’s hands as much as you can. Of course, your partner is enjoying being lovingly touched, too. So after about five minutes, switch and let your partner caress your hands. Try to stay focused on how good it feels to be touched. After another five minutes, try touching each others hands at the same time. You might at first think that it is going to get complicated, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you will both learn to delightfully dance with each others fingers.

If you can tear yourselves away from just caressing your hands (it can get pretty fun) repeat the exercise by caressing your partner's arms and shoulders, and vis versa. Then, over time (but not too quickly), move onto other body parts — feet, legs, faces, and so on. Of course, if pleasure sends you soaring and you end up having hot passionate sex, all the better, but it’s not the goal, experiencing each other is. Also, if at any point you don’t like how your partner is “exploring your landscape” speak up right away and give him/her a little guidance in the way that you would rather be touched. I know the exercise seems pretty simplistic, but trust me. Great pleasures are awaiting you who are willing to feel them. Believe it or not, this kind of caressing is a tried and true sexological exercise called Sensate Focus. It helps all kinds of sexual partnerships to set aside their “baggage” and zero in their attention on maximizing mutual pleasure. It really works and I highly recommend it!

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