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Using Breath to Explore Sex


Breathing and sex have a lot in common. There are the obvious connections, like the fact that we need to breathe to have sex and we can’t have sex if we aren’t breathing. There are more subtle connections as well. For example, many people assume that breathing and sex are two activities that come naturally, that we neither have to think about nor learn. This is an assumption that’s not exactly accurate. While it’s true that for most of us breathing is involuntary and something we don’t have to learn, this isn't true for all of us. And if we never pay attention to our breath we probably aren’t getting the most out of it. Of course the same can be said for our sexuality.

Breathing can be energizing or relaxing. Sex can also be energizing and relaxing. One of the great benefits of sex play is how it relaxes us afterwards, and much of that relaxation comes from the way we breathe when we're having sex.

Because our breath is fundamental to both our overall health and our awareness, it can be a powerful tool for sexual exploration. You can use your breath to learn more about your sexual body and mind and to expand your experience of sexual pleasure.

Safety Issues

As with any sort of sexual exploration, exploring sexuality through breathing can bring up painful and difficult feelings and memories. It’s always best to have someone (a friend, partner, therapist) you can turn to for support if unexpected thoughts and feelings arise.

If you have problems with your breathing or don’t have full control over your breath (for example, if you’re a ventilator user), paying attention to your breath in the exercises below won’t make breathing problems worse. In fact increasing your awareness may make them better. But if you find the exercises are feeling too draining, or causing pain, you should stop them or slow them down.

How We Breathe

We breathe in mainly through the efforts of the diaphragm, a thin, domed muscle that stretches under the lungs. When the diaphragm flattens, it pulls down, making the pressure in the chest less than that in the atmosphere, so air flows in. We also have 'accessory' muscles that can help us breathe in, though we don’t use them as much.

When the diaphragm relaxes, it goes back to its dome shape and air flows out of the body. Breathing in (inhaling) takes muscular effort, breathing out (exhaling) is a result of relaxation. Air flows through the nose or mouth and into the trachea, a large tube that splits into two smaller tubes (called bronchi) that take air into the lungs where it ends up in little air sacs (alveoli). Oxygen from the sacs goes into the bloodstream, and waste products in the body, like carbon dioxide, go into the alveoli and then leave the body during exhalation. We breathe more heavily when we need more oxygen.

Conscious Breathing

There are many different theories and techniques for increasing awareness through breathing. Conscious breathing is probably the oldest technique you can use to bring your attention to your body.

When practicing with breathing it’s usually better to play with the exhalation since it’s a relaxing breath. If you find yourself feeling distressed, concentrate on breathing out, and try to gradually lengthen the out breath.

Start by finding a time and space where you can get comfortable with minimal distractions. Experiment with different physical positions until you find one where you are least distracted by your body (using pillows can help). Your position should be as symmetrical as possible, so if you can't sit, it is better to lie on your back than on your side.

If you feel comfortable it can be easier to close your eyes for this exercise. Breathe normally and pay attention to your breath. Count how long it takes you to breathe out. Slowly increase how long it takes to exhale. How do you feel when it takes longer to exhale? What if you pause between breathing out and breathing in? Then do the same with inhale. Count your inhale and then extend it. Try holding your breath at the end of inhale. Do you notice a change in the way any part of your body feels (toes, ears, anywhere)? Just do this the first time your practice. You can do this for five minutes, 30 minutes, however long you want. If you find yourself too distracted by outside obligations, take a break or stop.

Next time you practice, start with the above exercise for 5 or 10 minutes. Now you can start to experiment with sound during breathing. Most of the sounds we make (talking, singing, yelling) come from our vocal cords at the top of the trachea. We also make some quiet noises (like whispering) by moving air around the back of the throat, through the nose or through the mouth. Try seeing what sounds you can make breathing through your nose, then your mouth. How soft a noise can you make? How loud? Do each of these things slowly and take note of how they feel. Now do the same thing with your vocal cords, either saying words or just making sounds. Do you feel the sounds in different parts of your body? What is the difference in feeling when after you’ve made some sounds as opposed to breathing silently?

The next time you practice, begin with the above two exercises. Then try to experiment with breathing through your nose versus breathing through your mouth. Try one than the other and see if you notice a difference in how both the inhale and exhale feel. Now try to imagine that you are sending the breath to different parts of your body. You can imagine it flowing to your head, your fingers, your genitals, your toes, to any part of your body, whether or not you think of it as a sexual part. You may want to imagine that your breath is your favorite color, and imagine the color flooding different parts of your body as you inhale.

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