Presence vs. Performance in the Pursuit of Extraordinary Intimacy

The obsession with male performance in the bedroom is a misguided intimacy killer and here’s what you can do about it.

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See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World

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Conventional wisdom tells us that great performance in the bedroom means you’re more of a man. The main thing to remember is that women want a guy who can go at it for hours with a blue-steel hard-on. Performance problems? Not to worry! Just get yourself a prescription for Viagra or Cialis. Not a mainstream-medicine kind of guy? Try one of those mysterious herbal concoctions available all over the Internet.

Far too many men have bought into these unfortunate myths. The truth is that great, fulfilling sex for both you and your partner has nothing to do with performance. In fact, the focus on performance is the very thing that will kill great sex.

Replace the idea of performance with the possibility of presence. Then, you’re beginning to open the door to a world of physical intimacy beyond yours or your partner’s wildest dreams.

Even if this notion seems foreign to you—and it probably does, if you’ve been immersed in a world overloaded with pharmaceutical  advertising and online porn that revolves around men who appear to be able to stay hard for hours—stay with me.

Men typically think of sexual performance in terms of:

  1. Equipment (how big, how hard)
  2. Stamina (how long we can keep hammering away)
  3. How much we can drive our partner crazy with #1 and #2

Some women, especially those under the age of 40, tend to agree with this view—not necessarily because they prefer to be ravished this way but because they think that this is what most satisfies their man! When women get to talking honestly about what they most enjoy in the bedroom, it rarely matches the acrobatic stunts found in the average porn episode. Don’t believe me? Talk to some women about this yourself. Ask them what they like most in the bedroom. I’m pretty sure you’ll hear some variation on the theme of greater presence. Women want men to be right there with them, playing and connecting intimately in the moment—not perseverating on some athletic ideal of performance.

The quality of presence is something you find in great leaders, listeners and otherwise ordinary human beings who are totally comfortable being in the present moment. It’s a state of being rather than doing. Where performance is goal-oriented doing, presence is a space of goalless connection that may or may not involve any doing at all.

When you are with someone who is fully present, you feel accepted for who you are. You feel the warmth of a deep connection, even if you’ve just met. In the bedroom, performance requires a strong heart and a hard dick. Presence requires an open heart and the willingness to create space for your mate to experience her total emotional and sexual self without fear of judgment or expectation.

Performance demands, presence allows.

The easiest way to achieve presence in the bedroom is to allow yourself to be truly vulnerable, which results in opening your heart. Vulnerability is something often treated as the opposite pole of the masculine. It’s not often seen as sexy in popular culture, and it’s rarely taught or encouraged in most men. But if great sex is your goal, and presence is your vehicle, vulnerability is the key to the ignition. Just relax. Put performance aside, take a few calming breaths, and just be with your partner. Release all your expectations of yourself and your partner. Let your next encounter be all about her, and be ready for some surprises.

Invite her to candidly let you know what works for her. Let her know that your sole focus is to give to her in the way she wants, and that she need not worry about climaxing. Her role: to fully receive and enjoy the loving you give her. When you sincerely create an intimate space like this, you free her up to fully express her sexuality in a way that she has probably never experienced before. And this tidal wave of emotional and physical connection/experience will carry you both away.

I had to learn this distinction the hard way. After prostate cancer surgery and radiation treatments, I was left fully impotent. I can’t get it up to save my life, even using those highly touted male enhancement remedies. This meant I could forget about any notion of experiencing sexual performance as it is typically understood. My acceptance of this condition allowed my partner and I to explore other ways of being intimate. And without question, one of the most important discoveries for us was the idea of being fully present for each other while making love. This alone transformed our experience from great (when things were working as they should) to extraordinary—so extraordinary that our intimate experiences continue to boggle our minds and those of everyone we share them with.

Forget the pills, male enhancements, locker-room bragging and all fears associated with performance. Being fully present for your lover will take some practice and patience, especially given that our culture does everything in its power to distract us into oblivion, which is the very antithesis of presence. If you hang in there, you will both be rewarded beyond your imagination.

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