Pushing Pause in Sex

Most people who work with me have endured touch, contact, intimacy, or proximity they did NOT want or consent to. Most of the people who I work with (and, in fact, most of the people I know) struggle with boundaries — saying them out loud, standing firm to them, or believing they can have them in the first place.

Most of the folks who say they need help, say they don’t know how to talk about their sexual desires or tell their partner they need something different during sexual play. They say they don’t want to “hurt my partner’s feelings” by critiquing or giving directions during sex.

And that means most of them stay silent in the moment and endure the touch or thrust or smell or words or energy when they really don’t want to.

If any of this describes you now or your in the past, don’t worry. There is nothing “wrong” with you.

Our society tells us to “never quit,” to “push through,” and “walk off the pain.”

The messages we get about sex are even more specific and counter-productive: “talking during sex makes it awkward,” “you should just know how to do it,” “don’t make it so complicated.”

We’re bombarded with visual images of people ripping each other’s clothes off in a mad dash to get to intercourse.

[insert my favorite emoji: the puke face] Gross.

Many of the messages we get explicitly or covertly demand that we strive for a singular intercourse-orgasm goal and quickly.

(Now, let me just go off on a tangent here, to say that that goal really only serves cis-gender phallic-oriented men. That’s it. And, by the by, that is who created this demand.)

If we’re moving too fast, not talking about what we want or need, pushing through, and fumbling on the way, we wind up enduring a bunch of shit we don’t want.

If we are enduring, we are cringing. We are bracing for impact. When we shut down some part of our complex system of humanity in order to survive, we limit our capacity to experience pleasure, healing, learning, or joy.

Let me be clear. You can stop touch, contact, relationships, jobs, dinners, dates, sex, conversations, or car rides at any time. You can say NO and walk away for any reason at any time to end any experience.

But there is a space in the middle here — the place where you’re not a “NO,” but you aren’t really a “YES.” Maybe you’re a “meh” or a “ugh” or an “eh?” Maybe you don’t know what you’re feeling.

So, just “PAUSE” for a second and catch your breath.

Pause is a necessary step in any process to feel, reflect, and determine if what you’re doing is right, truthful, honest, aligned, pleasurable, accurate, desired, or with the right person.

When we pause, we gather ourselves, we take stock of who we are, and make clear(er) choices.

We can ask: What do I know to be true? What do I like? What do I want?

As a Sexological Bodyworker, I use hands-on touch practices to get to the embedded wisdom of the body, to draw out the answers to these questions, to create an embodied environment for pleasure, education, and healing.

To do this, we have to practice PAUSE.

At the beginning of any touch work, I offer my clients the words Pause, Stop, and Go to briefly communicate to me these specific directions.

“PAUSE” ends the movement of hands, while maintaining touch contact. I gently lean my head and upper torso back to give them some energetic space without disconnecting my hands from their body.

“STOP” ends the movement and the touch contact, creating a separation between myself and my client’s body. I do not jump or jerk away. I slowly lift my hands up while pulling my energy back slightly, still close by, but not on top of them.

“GO” resumes the touch and the motion as it was before the pause or stop if no other direction has been offered. (“Go” can also be a “yes” or “I like that” to encourage more of the same.)

After PAUSE or STOP is an excellent time to communicate how you want to change directions or do something different. GO initiates that new movement or touch.

I ask my clients to practice saying Pause, Stop, and Go in an effort to help them use and trust their voice and to become more deeply aware of their arousal, sensations, emotions, and desires.

For some, they are learning in a new way what it feels like to name a boundary and feel it honored and supported. Others use the moment to stretch their limbs, adjust their body, or wiggle around. Some pause to catch their breath, get acclimated to the contact of my hands on their skin, and to recenter themselves. Others use the pause to test me, themselves, and this process in order to build trust. Some confront their sexual history patterns of being a passive recipient and move into being an active, engaged participant. Others realize they can drive their own experience, enjoy receiving touch, and have fun at the same time.

And then there’s a group of folks who struggle to say YES — to affirm their desire for touch, contact, and intimacy — so the pause allows them to practice saying Go.

When I hold my clients in their “pause,” I stay with them in a vulnerable and powerful process of re-wiring their brain, creating new links between using their voice to direct their experience and trust their right to do so. I see their body shift — muscles relax, skin smoothes, faces soften and smile.

This kind of moment of somatic experience is one of the best ways for us as adults to both unwind patterns of enduring and learn new ways of owning our bodily autonomy.

I believe most of us need more of these kinds of moments — opportunities to be held as we connect into ourselves, access our truth, feel our flesh — without being distracted by the conventional expectation for performing reciprocity when we are with a partner.

This pause is valuable not just for the pleasure of the moment, but for our development as sovereign, dynamic sexual beings, as members of a partnership — in that sexual moment or for a lifetime.

If you choose to endure, you may deny yourself the widest menu of options available.

If all you do is Go Go Go, you may not give yourself enough space to feel deeply and get what you want.

If you just Stop completely, you may not be able to easily adjust your intentions or actions to fulfill your desires.

Use it at Home

To use the Pause Stop Go system with your partner, talk about those safe words before you start any sensual or sexual play. Make sure you both understand the definitions of each directive. Talk about what you want from your partner when you use them.

Using this shorthand will free you up from needing whole sentences or phrases to describe what is happening (good, bad, or meh). It also mitigates the likelihood that either person’s feelings will be hurt by an unexpected pause because you’ve already inoculated the situation and given both of you permission to use the safe words.

Here are some examples of times you might push Pause in your intimate life:

  • When you aren’t having fun
  • When you feel things are moving too fast (the intimacy, sensation, involvement)
  • During an argument before (or after) you say something harmful, judgmental, or shaming
  • During intercourse because the sensation is painful or too overwhelming
  • When you are getting too aroused and want to slow your pace in order to last longer
  • When you start to check out, shut down, fawn, fold, freeze, fly, or fight
  • When you feel emotionally overloaded
  • To figure out what you’re feeling
  • To move your body into a better position
  • To laugh or cry
  • To reach for your lube or vibrator or gloves or toys
  • To say what you need
  • To ask yourself if you really want to be here with this person

Couples I have worked with report that this kind of simple technology has improved their interactions, made making “mistakes” so much easier to deal with, given them a safeguard system to rely on, made communication easier, simpler, and smoother. They report more innovation and tenderness in their intimate relating.

Give it a try and report back.

May your play be nuanced and sweet.
May your moments be nourishing.
May your pleasure be plentiful.

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