Waking Up to Sex

I had dinner with an ex-lover last weekend. He waited until we ordered and then looked directly at me across the table and said, “I read your article, 6 Ways to Have Radically Intimate Sex, and you forgot the biggest one.”

I looked back at him trying to detect if he was serious or just playfully sparring. He was serious.

“Yes? Which one did I miss?” I said with tentative curiosity. Without hesitation, he said, “Morning Sex.” It came out of his mouth like the moderator at a spelling bee, each syllable deliberately and matter-of-factly articulated.

MOR. NING. SEX.

I felt my chest and throat tighten. My resistance tells me I am at my edge. He’s right. Morning sex is radically intimate.

“Oh right, I forgot that about you,” I replied.

I love middle-of-the-night sex—the kind when it’s pitch black and you’re half asleep, when a good naked spoon slowly becomes a fork—but when the sun streams through the windows, I usually want to sneak out undetected. As a boyfriend of mine once said upon waking, “You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.” Even his charming London accent didn’t soften the blow. I am not a morning person by nature. Having post-coital company exacerbates this condition.

In the days after our dinner, the conversation stayed with me. I asked my ex-lover to tell me what he loves about morning sex. This is what he said:

“I love watching the woman I have been intimate with stirring in the morning light. It’s like that Leonard Cohen lyric, “I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm, your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm…”’

Morning is

A time of true heartfelt exchange

And then…without the liquid intoxication

It’s like first steps again

Freshness of the skin sensations

Eye to eye acknowledgement and smiles

A playful scene

Kissing past the bad breath and leftover scents

A reconvening

I love the force of sobriety

If you can fuck in the morning, you can win the world

Maybe it’s like blowing off the ash of the fire burned the night before and then feeding it again.

His words moved me. This is a man who is not afraid to feel. I know well the benefits of radical intimacy; the deep connection that is made through mutual vulnerability—the healing that comes from being seen and from the witnessing of another. I want to feel about morning sex the way he does.

“What would have to happen for that to happen?” I asked myself. It’s not easy—but it’s simple.

I would embrace my imperfections. I would be naked in broad daylight. I would love my scars that grace my body after 17 surgeries. I would see my pale lips and bare cheeks as an expression of natural beauty. I would rock my bed head like it was the mane of the goddess mother herself.

The great researcher and author, Brené Brown, says that people who live “wholeheartedly” believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. I imagine a space where physical imperfections actually make me more beautiful—because I embrace them with courage and the kind of self-love and compassion that it takes to dance naked in the sunlight with a lover, without shame. I want to live there.

And as far as the morning breath goes, I have found that a single sip of bubbly water from a bottle—strategically place on the nightstand the night before—has a way of freshening a morning mouth.

Grace by Bandwidth

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.” —Brené Brown

There are a few things that I am certain of: we are born alone, we die alone, and I could eat rice pudding until I explode. Other than that, it’s all a crap shoot. The remarkable breadth of possibility in the world is met by an equally broad range of uncertainty. And so, in order to embrace a life filled with expansion and growth, we must also be able to sit with uncertainty and the discomfort of vulnerability it brings with it.

Here are 3 ways to increase your tolerance for discomfort:

1. Play with Your Edges

I had a boyfriend once who insisted, one night, that we sleep upside down in our bed—with our feet at the top, heads at the bottom. His point was that we would never forget that night. Many years and lovers later, I can confirm that he was right. But something else happened that night. We woke up.

By definition, habits are unconscious thoughts and actions. When we begin to dismantle habitual patterns, we awaken to our experiences with a heightened state of awareness. We usually embody this wakefulness across the board, bringing new perspective to many areas of our lives—a state of enlightenment.

Rather than wait to be passively woken up out of our sleepy habits by an accident, trauma, or other existential bump in the road, practice stretching the edges of your comfort zone when life is calm and peaceful. Actively creating insignificant changes for the purpose of sitting in discomfort, will help to develop the muscles you need when life takes you on a roller coaster unexpectedly.

Some suggestions:
Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
Forgo one of your go-to comfort foods for a month.
Drive a different route home from work for a week.
Read before bed instead of watching television.

2. Self-Soothe

Those of us who are parents know how important it is to teach our infants to self-soothe. It is an area in which many of us are still underdeveloped, even as adults. When we are emotionally uncomfortable, it is easy to act out in ways that ultimately will contribute to an increased state of discomfort and distress.

Some suggestions:
Choose a cup of hot tea, instead of a pint of ice cream.
Take a warm, candle lit bath, instead of opening a bottle of wine.
Read a book to escape perseverating over a situation, instead of calling a friend to vent about it into the night.

3. Delay Action

As a culture, we are conditioned to focus on Doing, and not so much on Being. When faced with challenging circumstances, we usually will find ourselves saying, “I don’t know what to do about this.” Very often, the doing is something that could—or even should—come later. A better statement of inquiry would be, “I don’t know how to be with this.” By resisting the urge to take action, we afford ourselves the room to sit with our thoughts and feelings. Give yourself permission to have your thoughts and feelings, but at the same time, realize that your thoughts and feelings do not define you. One of my favorite Pema Chödrön quotes is: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”

Some suggestions:
Name your pain. Unpack it, spread it on the table, inventory it, write it down.
Sit with it and get to know it.
Draw distinctions between what you think and what you feel.
Breathe into the part of yourself that transcends “the weather”.