Connecting Without Sexing: Notes on Non-Sexual Partnered Intimacy
Recently I have been inspired to get creative with ways to explore pleasure and intimacy between one’s self and their partner, outside of traditional views on what sex should be and look like.
Personally, this began as an exploration of intimacy practices for during my bleed.
For many, period sex can be quite enjoyable and even preferred due to the heightened sensation, lubrication and enhanced spiritual and intuitive connection inherent in the sex that can be experienced if one or all partners are bleeding. So long as it is safe and properly communicated, period sex can be beautiful. Personally however, it usually just doesn’t feel good for me. The sensations I experience while bleeding are very different than the way it feels for my body, especially my vulva, to be touched during other phases of my cycle, and while this may be an exciting thing for some, my pussy really just doesn’t want to be touched during this time. Penetrative sex or otherwise, she just wants to be left alone. And that’s okay! Not wanting my vulva to be touched however, does not mean that the rest of me isn’t craving intimacy.
I long to be held and nurtured during this phase especially, but too often we conflate the term intimacy with sex, so when sex is removed from the table, intimacy falls away with it. We seem to forget the necessary distinction between the two – intimacy and sex – that they are able to, and often desire to, stand on their own. Intimacy without sex must be uplifted as an entity entirely its own in our relationships, and in the same way it must also be recognized that sex can be had without any sort of intimacy whatsoever. While exploring sex without intimacy is its own topic to dive into entirely, here I want to offer an exploration of how to welcome intimacy into our relationships with warm, safe and open arms, while leaving sex, as we know it, at the door.
This also doesn’t mean that non-sexual intimacy shouldn’t happen at other times as well, our libido fluctuates for an endless variety of reasons and we can also simply just not want sex at any point, and all of this is also okay! My inspiration to explore during my bleed does not ever limit this sort of connection to necessity in that way. It can be an active choice to explore non-sexual intimacy regardless of sexuality at any point in any relationship, romantic or otherwise.
Intimacy, seen broken down as into-me-I-see, is to enter into closeness.
Often, we view this closeness in a physical, tangible way through the closeness that we can see being created – the closeness of our bodies. Here is where we marry intimacy with sex, as sex is the ultimate act of close connection between bodies. For the sake of intimacy standing on its own however, what comes up for us if we think of intimacy (into-me-I-see) as entering into closeness not just physically, but emotionally, energetically, spiritually? This closeness being the source of welcoming the other not only to see you, but to see inside of you on a less tangible level and creating a space in which you are able to reciprocate this soul-seeing. Dare I say, “into-you-I-see” or “into-we-we-see.”
With this of course, comes immense vulnerability, which is why we often steer clear of non-sexual intimacy. It’s scary. When we jump right to sex we are able to distract from this real seeing of one another by way of prioritizing the sexual act at hand. We can keep the walls up and go through the motions and have a beautiful experience, but it doesn’t have to mean that any true intimacy had to occur. Without this distraction, without sex, we are left to settle our attention on all of the rest of the stuff that surrounds us when we enter into closeness; everything that is not physical. It requires the removing of the masks so meticulously crafted for presentation to the outside world. It requires nakedness, again, not merely on the physical, tangible level, but on an emotional, energetic, and spiritual one as well, or better yet, first. It requires trust, safety, and an intentional quieting of the ego in the intimate space and body. It requires softness, tenderness, truth, and in this it is the upmost call to strength.
Because of all of these factors, we may find ourselves intimidated by the idea of incorporating intentional intimacy into our relationships. To read about and understand vulnerability and authenticity on an intellectual level is one thing, to put it into action is another thing entirely. Perhaps one partner is interested in expanding in this way, while the other may hold resistance or blockages here. Perhaps it all simply feels like too much work or too much energy, and you just don’t have the time right now to get into all the spirituality stuff. This is all okay, wherever you’re at on your intimacy journey is okay. I see you.
There are lots of resources out there that can lead you through long, beautiful, ritualistic practices should you choose to dive deeper into what I will refer to as a tantric relationship. What I would like to offer here however, is a very approachable, open-level, accessible guide to integrating non-sexual intimacy into our relationships both with ourselves and with our partners; romantic or otherwise. For these practices, you do not need hours of free time, 47 candles and types of oils or any extensively depth of knowledge on spirituality, tantra, or relational therapy. I want to leave that all aside for now, recognize access to these types of resources as the privilege that it is in our society, and instead just get to the basics. Because we all deserve intimacy.
We all deserve to be seen, no matter what path we’re on.
Try these practices perhaps first with yourself, and then with a partner should you feel called to do so. Try them whenever you feel the space and energy, when you’d like to connect a little deeper. Don’t be too strict with yourself or too rigid with how things unfold once you get into it. If things heat up and move toward a sexual place, then that is just wonderful. If they don’t, this is just as wonderful! Again, the goal is to explore intimacy as its own entity away from sex, but this does not mean that any outcome is better than the other – so long as the intention to connect a little deeper, to see and be seen a little more fully, was placed. After each practice, take a moment to check in. Perhaps journal about the experience, have a chat with your partner about what came up for either of you during the practice, or maybe even take a moment apart afterward, reflect alone, and then come together once you’ve had a moment to process things in your own body. Things may feel tender or emotional before, during, or after, so make sure to hold both yourself and your partner through whatever happens to come up. Do your best to communicate openly, to release shame as you move through each phase of the practice and see how it feels to recognize your energetic nakedness as expansive strength.
Practices for Non-Sexual Intimacy
Breathe With Me
This one is very simple, and yet every time I have practiced “Breathe With Me” I have felt an almost instant portal opening between myself and my partner that is simply undeniable. It is easily one of my favourites, and yet definitely not something I enter into with just anyone.
Simply put, the practice is to breathe together. I’ll invite you to utilize what is known as the Yab-Yum position from Tantric Sexology, though we can leave the assigned gender roles of the traditional position out of our intimate space if that feels good here. The Yab-Yum is a relatively accessible partnered position and can be manipulated in many ways to enhance comfort, contact and pleasure for your unique partnership, so take what works for you and leave what doesn’t align.
Have one partner sit comfortably with their legs out in front of them, bent at the knees and crossed either at the ankles or in a cross-legged posture. This is traditionally the energetically masculine role, so interpret that how you may. The other partner will then sit on the lap of the partner who is in the base position. The person sitting on top (traditionally the feminine energy, again, open to interpretation) will bend their knees to wrap their legs around the waist of their partner. Both parties may wrap their arms around the other however feels comfortable – usually I have found that the person on top will wrap their arms around their partner’s neck or shoulders, and the base partner’s arms fit comfortably around the other’s waist. From here, gently place your foreheads together, close your eyes, and drop your awareness down into your breath.
Start to focus on synchronizing your breath, breathe together. You can interpret this as taking your inhales and exhales at the same time, or you can alternate, so that when one partner inhales the other exhales, and vice versa. The first option offers more of a platonic energy, two individuals colliding in time and space. The latter option generates more of a unified, singular experience between the bodies involved – that of giving and receiving. This method is often used for building sexual energy, as the cycle of the unified breath moves energy continuously into one body and then out and into the other. If this method interests you, try incorporating visualization as well. Picture this energy moving into you through whatever part of the body feels like the receiving place (perhaps the heart or the crown of the head) and then out of you from wherever in your body feels natural (perhaps the mouth or the root chakra space/genitals) and into your partner in this same way. There is no right or wrong way to visualize this energy flow, so long as it feels natural and relatively effortless.
Allow this to be the entirety of the practice but stay open to whatever experience is created from it. Enter into this communion without any expectation or goal outcome other than to connect, and then with this open-endedness, allow yourselves just to see where it takes you, or doesn’t. Interpret this however resonates, and just as you naturally come into the exercise, let yourselves flow (or fall) out of it whenever it feels right.
Nurture the moments of tenderness that may follow with the same intentionality as the practice itself. If you feel an expansion or an energetic or emotional release needing to happen, let it happen, move through it together. Breathe through it together.
When we think of ways to invite partnered intimacy into our relationships, often massage comes to mind, mostly because a good old-fashioned massage never gets old. This is one of the most beautiful, connective, timeless practices for intimacy and truly, the practice can be as traditional and simple as this should this be enough to peak your interest. However, I would like to invite you to take this one step further. Explore how it feels to introduce a mirror to your massage, your intimate space.
The beauty of this one is that it can be practiced both alone as well as with a partner in almost the exact same way. Position yourself(selves) in front of a mirror large enough that you can see the majority of your body(ies) with ease and start by acknowledging yourself through your reflection visually. Take yourself(selves) in. How does it feel to look at yourself? To really see yourself in your body, not just to check your outfit on your way out the door, but to spend some time here getting acquainted with the shapes and energies that live within and around you in this moment. Let anything that arises emotionally, mentally or energetically to be safely acknowledged, let it all bounce off of the mirror and back into you, and hold yourself in it all for a moment here.
Slowly, when it feels right, start to incorporate touch - your own or your partner’s. If you’re seated, perhaps begin in the upper body at the neck and shoulders, collarbones, chest, and work your way around here, down the length of the arms, up to the head, ears, face, throat. Move slowly and intentionally around the body and let yourself fully receive the touch in each new place. Watch through the mirror as touch interacts with the different parts of your body and lean into the sensation through the visual access that the mirror allows. Let yourself explore the use of the senses.
The invitation is to use the mirror as a tool for feeling, as a way to be involved in receiving touch and pleasure on a fully aware, visual level. In the same way that some people like to watch when they get a needle or any other sort of treatment, and others like to close their eyes or look away, we can experience the pleasure of touch in different ways when we choose to incorporate the other senses at the same time.
You can explore as much or as little of your body in this way as you like, as feels safe, and feel free to communicate as much or as little throughout the process as feels good. Sometimes it feels expansive to release control to our partners during this sort of receiving practice, to let them surprise you and guide the experience in a way that allows you to surrender fully into a more submissive role. Other times, it feels good to verbally guide the touch you are receiving, perhaps by instructing your partner on where to touch you and what you want in each moment. I will say here that it is very important prior to the practice to communicate boundaries and establish what safety in the intimate space looks and feels like for you regarding touch, and then throughout the practice to ensure open communication should things start to feel uncomfortable or unsettling in any way.
I will at the same time however, invite you to lean into the uncomfortable nature of this practice, so long as it feels safe, in order to fully invest in the fullness of the experience. These sorts of intimate practices often feel uncomfy at first, that is normal. Vulnerability is almost always relatively uncomfortable to enter into, but often it is through this discomfort that we find the most profound sorts of expansion should we choose to intentionally lean in.
As in the previous practice, allow the Mirror Massage to develop in any way that feels natural. Let it flow, let it be playful, and let yourself(selves) ease into and out of the practice however feels right for you. Again, let any and all emotional or energetic uprisings be welcome before, during, and after the practice, and hold yourself or one another through it all.
Borrowed from the tried and true, traditional tantric practice of Eye Gazing, but incorporating some intentional physical contact, should this be of interest.
The practice of Eye Gazing is exactly as it sounds, it is the practice of intentionally gazing into your partners eyes, and having them gaze right back, for a prolonged period of time. Often, this one starts out feeling quite uncomfortable since we are socially conditioned to feel extremely awkward when eye contact is held for more than a moment or two. This awkwardness arises from the feelings that come from allowing someone to see you. Simply, we start to feel exposed, naked, and in this extremely vulnerable. The expression “they were looking right into my soul” is passed around in reference to this feeling, and often this is not said to describe a positive, comfortable exchange. However, what happens when we lean into this discomfort, as I mentioned in the previous exercise, has infinite potential. To lean into letting someone see into your soul through the portal of the eyes, leaning into this exposure, this nakedness, can be one of the most direct paths to enhancing intimacy that we can offer one another.
This practice can be done in a myriad of positions; sitting, standing, laying down – whatever feels most comfy and most accessible for you and your partner. It can also be done alone, using a mirror! Take the path of least resistance, so long as you have a comfortable view into one another’s eyes, or your own. Close your eyes, take a breath or two, and when you’re ready, open them back up together and, together, look directly into one another’s eyes.
Let the first few moments be a time to sink in. Ride out the weirdness together, hold the gaze, don’t give up, and trust that after this initial hump of awkwardness the practice will get easier once you settle in.
Here is where I’ll invite the “contact” portion of the practice. Let this be extremely natural. Let your bodies gravitate toward one another. Perhaps just your hands touch, perhaps your legs intertwine. Make sure to keep enough distance between you that the eye gazing is not broken or blurred, too close of contact can break the gaze, so stay at enough of distance that you can fully maintain eye contact and focus here.
And remember to breathe! Use the contact between your bodies to ground you in the experience, as this practice can bring us to extremely emotional, vulnerable states. If you start to feel overwhelmed or like you’re floating away energetically, use the physical connection with your partner as a way to bring yourself back down into your body and into the connection. When you get lost in their gaze, let your partner’s body be your tether. Let them, and your shared experience, anchor you as you move through the feeling of being seen, like really seen.
You can choose to set a timer for this practice if that feels more approachable, or you can choose to let it be more open ended as we have discussed in the previous practices. Should you choose to use a timer, I’d encourage you to find one that you don’t have to physically stop from going off (such as Insight Timer or any other meditation timer), as this needing to stop the timer can be an abrupt and unnatural way of coming out of such a tender experience. (I know this is weirdly specific but trust me it makes a huge difference.) Let the timer be a gentle suggestion to move away from the gazing together and use the moments after its sounding to slowly exit the practice together.
If you’d rather not use a timer, then just let yourselves flow out of things together whenever and however it feels right. Let the practice evolve (or not) as it may and use intuitive body language and communication to stay connected in the after-moments. Let there not be shame or judgement should one partner want to close things before the other, let there not be shame surrounding anything that may arise during the process, just try to remain as connected as possible and navigate the entirety of the practice together.
Through all of these practices, I will remind you again and again that safety is the most important aspect of intimacy. Without safety, there can never be complete vulnerability - the walls can’t come down if they’re on defensive duty, and if there are walls up there will always be a block somewhere in our intimacy practices both alone and with our partners. This is not something to fight or feel shame about, these practices, and the philosophy of Tantra as a whole, are here to invite us in from wherever we are on our journey, recognizing that no matter what stage we’re at we are worthy of intimacy and connection. Because of this however, it is important to check in prior to engaging in whichever practice calls to you. Ask yourself and your partner, what safety feels like in your body. Is there something specific that comes up when you try to soften? How can you navigate triggers, resistance, and blockages together? While we can never predict how these sorts of practices will affect us, we can recognize existing emotions, patterns and fears, and we can let this knowledge influence how we move into deepening relational experiences. Just talk about it! Check in, prepare together, and then indulge in creating an intimate space that feels natural, aligned and expansive. Let the walls come down, lean into discomfort, and go for it!
Let intimacy stand on its own, get creative in intentionally entering into closeness, and explore what lives here. And most importantly, have fun with it!