Sense & Sexuality
Proust was right: terrain need not be new in order for our experience to be novel
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust
There was a time years ago when I went on a moonlit guided downhill ski. The guide had a headlamp strapped to the back of his helmet and his orb of light was our beacon to the base of the hill. Because I couldn’t look down, see the ground or my skis, the sensation that became accentuated in place of visual cues was sound. It was almost deafening. I could hear the crunch and scrape of every particle of ice bumping up against the metal edges of my skis. I could hear the snow compressing, the leather-like creek of layers of crystallized water being compacted.
When you remove your dominant sense from a familiar experience, you allow your other senses to give you a brand new perspective. Just as the night ski became nearly all auditory – and completely fresh and fascinating – I had a similar experience while blindfolded during sex. I couldn’t see what my lover was about to do to me so when I felt the dildo, the perception of it was magnified. I felt filled almost beyond capacity, not in a way that hurt, but the toy’s proportions, and my own, had changed. Now, instead of my vagina being a small passage between my legs, it was the locus of my perception. I was all vagina.
Maybe feeling like you’re all vagina doesn’t have appeal. But consider the possibility of a completely new experience of sex by removing one sense or focusing on another. Being told to appreciate all your senses during sex is not particularly helpful. Like riding a bicycle, sex with all our senses can become too familiar; our muscle memory of how to ride a bike switches on and, unless we’re navigating technical terrain, we get to our destination with hardly a rise in our heart rate. So too we became accustomed to the combined sensation of our lover’s sight, smell, taste and sound along with the feel of that moment when our bodies merge. Even though that moment may have once been the sweetest feeling imaginable, with enough repetition, it may lose the ability to thrill. So for better sex, take your brain out of its comfort zone.
Certainly, the easiest sense to remove is sight. Ever seen the kitchen scene in ‘9 ½ Weeks’? She keeps her eyes closed, he feeds her all manner of jiggly, sweet, savoury and hot foods. At first she’s timid, tentative about biting into the foods he touches to her lips. Then she becomes bold, voracious. She consumes his offerings with gusto. Sight is diminished, taste amplified, and the results of their kitchen floor sex likely required a fire hose to clean up. But hey, worth it.
Another sense to play with in isolation is hearing. If you’ve never had phone sex it might seem a bit intimidating, but it’s highly arousing and absolutely a skill that can improve with practice. Start out by simply listening to each other breathe. Then add a few sighs, the kind of sounds you would make during foreplay. Before you know it, you’ll be whispering your fantasies into the receiver, things that may have never before come out of your mouth. It’s easier than talking dirty in the physical presence of your lover because sight, touch, taste and smell aren’t competing for your attention.
We all know that smell is a critical component of our attraction to a mate. One experiment suggests women are most attracted to the smell of a man whose immune systems are most genetically different from their own. But again, over time we become accustomed to our partner’s smell. How to fiddle with this? Remove other senses. Close your eyes, keep your mouth closed and simply explore every inch of your lover with your nose, from the top of his head to the spaces between her toes. Get to know this person in ways they can’t even know themselves. And recognize that even the funky smell of his unwashed armpit is a place of intimacy that only you can know – if you go there.
And let’s not forget the power of the almighty gaze. There’s a lot of science behind the idea that the longer you hold a lover’s gaze, engage with them visually, the more passionate you begin to feel about each other. One study of couples staring at each other while in an MRI machine found that when people held sustained eye contact, they began to blink simultaneously, and after a while, their brain activity actually synced up. There have been numerous studies supporting an increase it empathy and feelings of love when two people hold each other’s gazes. I think this suggests if you’re feeling disconnected from your partner, rather than launching into a conversational analysis of what’s wrong with your dynamic, you might just want to sit on the couch, set the timer for three minutes, and look at each other. Really gaze. Then talk.
As we enter into the long nights and frantic days of the holiday season schedule some sensual sense exploration with your sweetheart, without the need for intercourse or orgasm. As Proust reminds us, landscapes need not be new in order for our experience to be novel. Close your eyes, walk backwards, feel your way. And discover a new country in your old lover.