There’s a sweet spot to be had between passionate intensity and cuddly connection. When we find balance on the outside, our bodies generate all the feel-good stuff on the inside.
You’re probably familiar with the Taoist concept of yin and yang – that the whole is made up of complementary opposites. Yin represents the softer, flowing side of life and yang represents the firmer, directed side. Thinking about the physiology of our bodies, a lot of people might consider the yin and yang of sex as simple as being turned on or turned off, but this is way too binary – there’s a lot more going on behind all that! What turns us on or off, what enables desire and what dampens it, is a complex interplay within and between our nervous system and our endocrine system (related to hormones). Let’s take a closer look.
THE CHEMISTRY OF YIN AND YANG IN THE BODY
Our nervous system is constantly flowing between the yang (up-regulated sympathetic system) and the yin (down-regulated parasympathetic system). If we are too much in the sympathetic, we’re stressed and can have trouble becoming sexually aroused. Yet if we are too much in the parasympathetic, we’re so down-regulated that we’re more inclined to fall asleep than to become aroused. We need a balance between the two, a state of alert-relaxation, and from there we can flow between the more yin parasympathetic state of romance and tenderness and the more yang sympathetic state of passion and excitement.
Parallel to our nervous system, our endocrine system is comprised of what we can consider yin-like and yang-like hormones. Oxytocin and vasopressin, the bonding hormones that give feelings of connection, as well as endorphins, the feel-good hormones, are released by tender, cuddly yin activities. Yang-like is dopamine, the reward chemical, which leads you to wanting more (including more of your lover), and norepinephrine, which makes you feel excited.
BALANCING CONNECTION AND DESIRE
We need a balance between these hormones for great sexual chemistry. Dopamine and norepinephrine are stimulated by novelty and interesting activities, so it’s important that your relationship is stimulating and not too complacent. We also need oxytocin and vasopressin because they keep you feeling safe and connected, and generally good about your partner. So both the tender affection and the interesting activities are necessary in a relationship to produce a balance between bonding and desire. We want to balance the tender and the flirty – cuddles on the couch as well as exciting adventures – to create both connection and interest.
Ideally, we create this balance in the lead up to sex and during sex. Intensity is fine, but if all you’re having is shagadelic sex, striving for orgasmic heights, then it’s yang without yin. An example might be if you go too fast, too quickly and aren’t ready for the intensity, as this produces cortisol, the stress hormone. This isn’t helpful for feeling positive about yourself or your partner. Focusing on intensity, tension, and orgasmic climax can also cause a dopamine drop after the Big O, leading to a feeling of withdrawal from your partner as well as feeling irritated and disconnected. You need the oxytocin and vasopressin to balance out the dopamine drop and keep the happy feelings going.
Whatever is happening for us physiologically also manifests experientially. The most satisfying sexual chemistry allows for a balanced flow between the yin and yang emotions – tenderness and passion, romance and eroticism.
The most satisfying sexual chemistry allows for a balanced flow between the yin and yang emotions – tenderness and passion, romance and eroticism.
Sink into the flow
Rather than setting a KPI of orgasm, instead sink into a flowing encounter, where each one becomes a unique co-creation of mutual pleasure and satisfaction. Here’s how.
Beforeplay – It’s important to keep the balance and flow in the whole of your life and relationship. You can think of this as ‘beforeplay’. It’s the bulk of life, so make sure your relating has a balance of the calm, cuddly, safe yin elements as well as the more exciting, flirty, active yang elements.
Set the mood – Never underestimate the importance of a conducive environment. Having a beautiful and tidy bedroom with sexy music and soft lighting really does help a lot of people sink into the enjoyment of erotic connection. And let’s not forget to mention practicalities like having a lock on the door!
Take the scenic route – When it comes to more intimate engagement, this includes having good conversation and connecting mentally as much as engaging with your entire bodies, enjoying the feeling of kisses, touch, and whole-of-body skin contact. Don’t get genital until your body really wants it.
Focus on pleasure over orgasm – When you focus on pleasure, rather than just ‘getting each other off’, you’ll find sex way more satisfying. Not that there is anything wrong with orgasms! But don’t assume you have to have them, or else you’ve ‘failed’.
Stay connected – Finally, make sure that when your encounter comes to a close, you continue to cuddle and chat for a while so that your nervous systems remain relaxed and those calming, pleasure hormones keep flowing.
Approaching love and life holistically, valuing both yin and yang elements, means that you are priming your body for physiological balance on the inside – in both your nervous and endocrine systems. This then manifests as pleasure, connection, and all the good things about love and sex on the outside.
Lead image: Svetlana on Pexels