August 26, 2002
Communication and Tantra
I have been married for 12 years and free of breast cancer for two years. My husband Lou was a wonderful support throughout the whole ordeal. I feel as though every aspect of my life has bounced back except my sex life. We used to have a great time in bed, but it's become easier to read or watch T.V. than to make love. I feel somehow responsible, inadequate and frustrated. Help!
Frozen in Frankfurt
Congratulations! The very act of expressing your desire for change tells me that it's time for a spring thaw. The cycle of recovery follows its own rhythm - perhaps your sexuality, which can be so vulnerable, had to remain dormant until you felt more solid about the rest of your life. Tantra teaches us how to melt away the frozen energy within ourselves and in our relationships. There are plenty of tantric tools that can help you do this, including verbal and yoga exercises that you can use to explore and renew your intimate bond with your husband. These methods may be especially valuable to you now, since neither of you has had any previous experience in reopening your sexuality after a cancer diagnosis. And oddly enough, this can be a real advantage for you both. While you may be in uncharted waters, you are also being offered an opportunity to reawaken and redefine your relationship.
Your first challenge may be to understand what is going on between the two of you. One very common problem that you might be having goes like this: He believes that you are fragile, and don't want any dialogue or touch that might make you feel bad about your new body image or lack of libido. He makes you feel safe and loved through teddy bear intimacy - lots of warm, fuzzy cuddles that lack your previous passion. You love the emotional support, but at the same time interpret the lack of passion as a rejection and respond by closing off your desire for sex. His rejection can also deepen your own shaken sense of sexual self-esteem, closing you down even further. This in turn signals him that you do not want to be intimate and that his protective instincts are correct. You both then continue with these very nurturing but dull evenings that protect you both from the real issues and the fact that neither of you have a clue about how to break the stasis.
In Tantra, verbal communication and stage-setting are considered to be two of the four cornerstones of building an erotically charged relationship. Use them to get things moving! Try this: instead of putting on those comfy cotton flannel pajamas, wear some provocative lingerie to bed. Find a style and cut that puts you on the edge of your comfort zone and wear it even if you don't feel sexy. You are making a powerful nonverbal statement about your willingness to risk being sexually vulnerable again. Then light a candle or two instead of turning on the T.V. Lovingly ask him to join you in bed so that the two of you can talk. Now you have taken your nurturing routine to a more erotic level and set the stage for opening up your sexual communication.
Invite him to try a verbal exercise that can help to renew your love life. Take turns describing your sexual fears. The rules are that you take five minutes to speak from your heart, with no interruptions from your husband. He should just listen carefully, lovingly and unconditionally. The idea is that you are not to blame, accuse, or try to fix problems, but just to talk about your feelings. When your time is up, it will be his turn to share his fears with you. Have as many rounds as you need. Then you can follow the same pattern to talk about your desires and your hopes.
This simple practice will help to heat up your romance again - I promise!
I have been having lunch dates with a woman in my office who recently had breast cancer. We make each other laugh and seem to be getting closer. I would love to go to bed with her but am unsure of how to deal with the fact that she has had breast surgery. Do you have any pointers?
Tempted in Toronto
The Tantric point of view is one of wholeness and inclusion. Whatever you're doing that works for you at lunch is what you should do in bed. Let that guide you, rather than worrying about protocol. Use lots of sensitive humor, talk, and ask respectful questions. Be playful and creative. If you are her first lover since her surgery then you are both post-surgery virgins. Celebrate the loss of your virginity and bring scented oil, long-stemmed roses and ostrich feathers to massage her whole body, including the area where she had her surgery. Communication is fundamental in Tantra. Let her give you an sensual geography lesson: ask her to tell you how to explore her body. With her guidance, discover all of her erotic zones. Take long, long turns doing this. Your lunch dates will never be the same.
I want to stay connected to my same-sex partner throughout my treatment nightmare but I have no emotional or physical energy left for sex. What can we do?
Numb in New York
Tantric practices are ideal for your situation because they expand the envelope defining sexuality and intimacy. With tantra yoga it is possible to share your deepest connections in a non-erotic context with very little output of energy. For example, there are co-breathing exercises that you can do together while propped on pillows and fully dressed, even when you are feeling sick. They will take you into a very deep, luminous and merged state of awareness with your mate. When your treatment leaves you with feelings of depression, grief, anxiety or rage you can use other breathing practices that transform raw emotion into clarity and peace. Tantra's verbal exercises open channels of communication and create an atmosphere of trust and sensitivity. Together you can eroticize your environment with art, photos, fabric or paint so that your bedroom holds the spirit of your intimate bond for you while you are sick. I suggest that you get a book (The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, by Margot Anand, is my favorite) and start practicing. Your journey will be smoother and you will use this health crisis as an opportunity to become more deeply connected. Love,
Valerie Keim (firstname.lastname@example.org) leads workshops on tantra and has a private consulting practice in Oakland, California. Her style is relaxed and caring and her seminars enjoy a reputation for being fun, safe, and results-oriented. Valerie's background includes a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and she has studied extensively with the renowned tantra authority, Margot Anand. She has two kids and two dogs, and has been married for 25 years.