Practice safety as erotic foreplay
Safety is important for all of us, and it's crucial if you have a history of hurt or abuse. Wounds of the body are also wounds of the spirit. All the internal armor you had to develop in order to survive the past may prevent you from feeling a full range of pleasure now, and keep you from connecting sex with spirit.
Physical safety is necessary to prevent sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancy. But most women need emotional and spiritual safety as well. You may need to hear soft words and feel soft hands—reassurance and tenderness, prayer and meditation. You may need to exorcise the spirits of your abusers from the bedroom—poof! You may need to re-connect with rebellious parts of yourself—like the little kid who's kicking and screaming at the idea of any sex at all. Give her a fun job, like playing with the massage oil. She may make a mess but she'll keep herself entertained so the rest of you can focus deeply on connecting with your self and your partner.
Above all, accept your own needs for safe passage. Safety isn't just an avoidance mechanism to put off engaging in intercourse. It's necessary to help you build energy, allow more desire and pleasure into your life, and connect with spirit.
Make time, set the stage, and follow your bliss
It takes time to set the stage for spirit—this is not a "quickie," at least at first. You can strew your space with flowers to bring in the nature spirits. You can light candles and incense to bring in the fires of mystery and passion. You can fix special food and drink to whet your sensual appetites. You can sing, dance, play music, whisper words of love and comfort. Certainly you can exchange touch. These may sound like cliché props for the "hot summer nights" issue of a glossy magazine. But they're much more. Using flowers, candles, incense and all the rest of these practices are also time-honored parts of spiritual and religious ritual.
Speak your heart
Almost all ISIS women agree that sharing deep feelings is essential for sexual satisfaction. You may need to laugh, cry, and break with your good-girl training by speaking up for what you want. It's important to be clear about how you communicate, even when messages come directly from your soul. So follow these ground rules to make sure your deep sharing leads you where you want to go.
• Use "I" statements: "I feel." "I want." "I am...."
• Keep it positive. Offer liberal appreciation and praise—to yourself, to your partner, to the cosmos.
• Accept all appreciation and praise that comes to you (this can be tough for women who've been taught to put themselves down, but get used to it. It's time to learn to tough it out).
• Keep it simple. Too much talk gets in the way of feeling and being. Remember that useful phrase, "Talk does not boil rice."
• Listen to your partner. Erotic connection is always a two-way street.
There may be times you crave an element of risk, surprise, or outrageous fun, especially if sex has grooved into a rut. Two-thirds of the women who answered the ISIS survey say letting go of control is crucial to connecting sex and spirit. So let your wild woman out of her cage every once in a while—as long as you can do so in mutual safety and pleasure. Have you ever wanted to kiss as if these were the last lips on the planet? Or dress like cavewoman? One woman says she and her husband made love as if they were animals and chased each other growling and gnawing all over the house one Saturday morning. This primitive, elemental connection filled her with power she didn't know she possessed. In that sense it was a spiritual breakthrough for her. And it was transformational for her relationship. It pushed the boundaries to the outer limits, and she and her husband were able to travel much farther than they'd imagined.
Jungle activities may not be your cup of tea. But this story is a reminder that "spiritual" is not all about messages from angels. It can also mean tapping the murky depths of your most forbidden desires, whether or not you decide to act on them.
Nurture each other, but don't forget yourself
Most ISIS women are awesome sexual caregivers. But all of us can benefit from focusing some of that earth-mother energy on ourselves. It seems that every other woman I see in therapy yearns for her partner to care more fully and deeply for her. But she worries that she doesn't deserve it, or won't get it. Endless giving may be a way to maintain some sense of control in your relationships. But at some point this strategy stops feeling good. It can be both exhausting and self-defeating. Spiritual sex isn't about one-way giving. It's a relationship dance of all your senses and emotions. A dance of give and take. Letting your partner care for you is an affirmation of trust. It can be deeply spiritual and deeply erotic.
Open yourself to love
An abiding quality for ISIS women is a willingness to love and be loved. Remember your first moments of falling in love? If you're in a long-term partnership, you may find that what connects sex even more poignantly with spirit is commitment, intimacy, and sometimes day-to-day ordinariness. In other words, the whole multicolored fabric of the life you've created together.
My friend and valued colleague Maril Crabtree has a wise and wonderful story about the long-term benefits of loving. She recently attended a retreat where she was asked to answer three questions about what she'll want to say when she's 80 years old: "What was my life was about? What did I care about? What do I want others to know that I did with my life?" Before you read what she says, try answering these questions for yourself. It's an opportunity to write your personal manifesto.
When I'm an Old Woman I Want to Look Back and Know that I...
• Created joy and love for myself and others.
• Lived truthfully, authentically, with passion and compassion.
• Walked lightly upon the earth, willing to share my resources with other species.
• Carried love within me as a precious jewel, never forgetting its value and its presence.
Open sharing of experiences like these breaks the conspiracy of silence about the fact that sex and spirit are connected and have meaning for our lives. May your spiritual journey bring you sharing, and magic of your own making.