Joseph Kramer, Ph.D.
“A person experiences the reality of the world only through his body." Alexander Lowen (1)
This essay explores four different approaches to using massage to benefit couples sexual well-being. William Hartman and Marilyn Fithian use foot, face and body caressing with all clients seeking to overcome sexual dysfunction. Ray Stubbs recommends “Pleasure Mapping” to couples who wish to enhance their lovemaking. Jack Morin advocates erotic massage for long-term couples who wish to keep sex a priority. Alan and Donna Brauer suggest massage should be a language that couples speak to each other.
All couples with sexual dysfunctions who attended Hartman and Fithian’s two-week treatment programs were guided in using massage as part of their sex therapy. Hartman and Fithian learned this form of sensate touch from Drs. Masters and Johnson. Hartman and Fithian felt that the word “massage” seemed too clinical for the program’s goal of touching both physically and emotionally, so the word “caress” was chosen to describe the touch exercises. I cannot imagine a more clinical situation than the first three touch exercises: foot caress, face caress and body caress. These exercises are done in the therapists’ office. The therapists watch to see if “there is warmth and feeling or hostility and rejection." (2)
Hartman and Fithian acknowledge that the first touch exercise is one of the “moments of truth” in their two-week treatment program. These exercises separate “giving” from “receiving." Often the problem is that one partner is only a giver or only a receiver. Separating giving and receiving touch allows for the individuals to savor each possibility and role. Furthermore, the therapists keep each client’s focus on the somatic sensations involved in giving and receiving touch.
Hartman and Fithian claim to have noticed a correlation between how rapidly a man gives a foot massage and how quickly he ejaculates. Their professional advice to both in massage and in sex is “Slow is better than fast."(3) Slowing down allows the individuals to “savor” the sensuous. These caressing exercises are basically teaching savoring.
Lack of clear communication between partners can result in problems in the couple’s sexual functioning. Some individuals feel shame about discussing their sexual desires with their partners. When folks can’t tell their partners what feels good to them and what doesn’t, they will end up spending much of their lovemaking time enduring their partner’s fumbling and insensitivity.
Ray Stubbs suggests an excellent massage exercise for couples who wish to communicate better with each other. The goal of “Pleasure Mapping” is to learn how to better pleasure your partner’s body by asking for verbal feedback from your partner. Pleasure mapping has been successfully integrated into therapies for folks with spinal cord injuries. But this technique is not specific to people with disability or illness. Everybody has the potential for sexual growth through this playful activity.
This massage exercise begins with one partner resting naked or almost naked on a bed or a massage table. The other partner is the “pleasure researcher." The researcher will touch a series of places on the recipient’s body. In response to each touch, the recipient communicates–by a number–the degree of desirability or undesirability of each sensation. A response can range between “plus three” and “minus three." “Zero” is neutral. “Plus one” is “I like it." “Plus two” is “I really like it." And “plus three” is “Oh, my God!" For minuses, a higher number means a more undesirable sensation." (4)
The whole body can be mapped in several ways. The researcher usually begins this exercise with very light caresses. The one who is touching should pay close attention to his or her partner’s verbal responses. Some researchers take notes so they can better remember their partner’s somatic feedback. The toucher can map his or her partner’s body with different levels of pressure. Some folks can barely feel light caresses while others writhe in ecstasy from feathery touching. The masseur can also vary the direction of the touch as well as varying the type of touch, for example, kneading engages tissue in a different way from light fingernail scraping. Some masseurs make creative uses of oils, lotions, powders, feathers, silk or even vibrators. Some researchers have their partners lie on the floor and then map their bodies using their toes and feet. Some lovers map each other’s bodies with kisses or with licks of the tongue.
Partners should be clear that this is an information gathering exercise and that impulses to progress to sexual congress should be avoided. The consciousness that one brings to this mapping process can become a part of the couple’s shared history as this haiku by A.C. Missias demonstrates. Here she fondly recalls a pleasure mapping experience. (5)
mapping planes and warm curves
your skin and my lips
Stubbs recommends that the researcher limit his or her touch to an area less than five inches in diameter. The smaller the area that is touched, the better the feedback will be. A “minus 2” area might be right next to a “plus two” area. Stubbs gives two guidelines for this exercise. First, pain is not the objective of this exercise, so when the researcher hears negative numbers, he or she should not repeat that same type of touch in that same area. Some practitioners of sadomasochistic sex will wish to do the related exercise: pain mapping. The “touches," in this case, might include biting and using clothespins. Second, the researcher should not seek out only “plus threes." This is not an exercise where the goal is sexual arousal. The intent here is to gather information that will inform future lovemaking.
Pleasure mapping usually begins on the upper back, moving down the body to the feet. The recipient then turns over and the mapping moves from the feet up the body to the top of the head. It is quiet common for recipients to get more sensitive as the exercise continues. In pleasure mapping, the chronic placement of attention, which is usually loosely focused within a stream of thoughts, becomes more and more focused in the realm of the physical. Stubbs recommends ending the mapping session with some long, sensuous caresses up and down the body where the receiver does not evaluate the sensations but just enjoys the ending of this important research.
Some couples profit from micro-mapping each other’s faces, hands, feet and genitals. In micro-mapping, one takes a half hour to explore, in more depth, just one part of the body. Because some couples can be bonded for years without knowing where their partner’s sensuous turn-ons are located, Stubbs recommends his exercise be a regular part of every couple’s relationship.
The initial sexual passion that many couples experience in their first years together often wanes as the couple gets to know each other. Psychologist Jack Morin recommends to such couples massage and erotic massage as a sensuous modality of being together. Morin calls the idea that “erotic pleasure must be fueled by burning passion…a widespread yet destructive belief…. For committed companions who are more comfortable than passionate, I’m an advocate of ‘warm sex.' Because it is so flexible and different from our typical sexual routines, erotic massage can provide a new framework for releasing us from burdensome expectations that only set us up for disappointment." (6)
Morin further states, “warm sex maintains an erotic playground… When couples evolve out of the heat of limerance, it’s crucial that they find ways of keeping sex a priority–not just in concept but in fact." (7) Long-term couples will also find that massage can improve communication, release tension and develop new levels of trust and intimacy. Massage is important because it promotes the placement of attention on the physical. The truth of relationships is always evident when couples can access the erotic through touch. “Upon entering erotic reality,… partners begin to interact as embodied wholes. In everyday reality one must relate to others as abstract nexuses of social and personal characteristics, obscuring the connection between one’s intents and the others’ responses. The concretely embodied selves of erotic reality, however, establish a much closer and clearer connection between cause and effect. The responses to pushing sexual buttons or pulling sexual levers are direct, immediate, and visible." (8)
The fact that conscious touch transports an individual into his or her body makes touch dangerous for those folks who are carrying backed up emotion or uncomfortable memories locked in their bodies. “A body is the repository of all experience and it is also the summation and expression of the living experience of the individual and his species. Working with the body, therefore, facilitates the recall of repressed memories and suppressed feelings." It is important to note if one or both partners turn to alcohol or other agents that numb the physical after they have been “playing in erotic reality." (9) As partners get older, some have trouble with embodiment since it can include a palpable sense of death. If a partner has problems with being embodied, this needs to be cleared up before that partner can deal with enhancing his or her relationship.
Alan and Donna Brauer suggest that couples wishing to enhance their relationship need to understand touch as a language that they speak to each other. In their book The ESO Ecstasy Program, they suggest an exercise called “Silent Touching." (10) The exercise suggests that each partner massage the other for twenty minutes with no speaking. The intent of this exercise is to experience non-verbal communications to and from your partner through touch.
I have adapted the Brauer’s silent touch exercise. The Kramer silent touch communication involves continuous alternating between giving and receiving. In this way the mutual massage becomes more like a conversation. The structure is simple and flexible. In the two-hour version of this exercise, the couple exchanged touch for ten minutes each, then nine minutes each and so on down to one minute each.
The partners will immediately find themselves communicating and responding to each other through the medium of massage. Some couples describe “conversations” they have had through the medium of touch. There are many creative ways to time this exercise. One popular structure has the partners switching roles every five minutes. The partners need to determine before beginning how long the exercise will last. Conclusion
Sexual well-being can be enhanced by learning how to savor touching your partner, by knowing the pleasure places on your partner’s body, by learning to enjoy giving and receiving erotic massage, and by allowing touch to become intimate communication.
- Lowen, Alexander. Betrayal of the Body. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1967. p. 5.
- Hartman, William E. and Marilyn A. Fithian. The Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction: A Bio-Psycho-Social Approach. Center for Marital and Sexual Studies, 1972. p. 141.
- Ibid. p. 144.
- Stubbs, Kenneth Ray. The Sensuous Lover’s Guide. Tucson: Secret Garden Publishing. 1986. p. 35.
- Morin, Jack. “Forward." In Male Erotic Massage: A Guide to Sex and Spirit. Kenneth Ray Stubbs. Tucson: Secret Garden Publish. 1999. p. 15.
- Morin, Jack, Ph.D. The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1995. pp. 283-284.
- Davis, Murry S., Smut: Erotic Reality/Obscene Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1983. p. 48.
- Lowen, Alexander. Betrayal of the Body. p. 103.
- Brauer, M.D., Alan P. and Donna J. Brauer. The ESO Ecstasy Program. New York: Warner Books. 1990. pp. 162-164.