So, if you’ve been married more than a week, you know there’s a difference between intimacy and sex. You can have either one without the other, but together, it is an incredible experience!
What is Fully Engaged Sex?
Fully engaged sex is when both spouses are fully present and there is a real sense of connection. It is the difference between just doing it and actually bonding, between having sex and making love. There is a lot that goes into a real sense of connection during sex, but one thing that we want to focus on here is eyes-open sex.
Eyes open sex is really emphasized by Dr. David Schnarch. He is a certified sex therapist who has run hundreds of workshops and surveyed thousands of people about sex. Here are some statistics from his surveys:
- 7.5% of couples never have sex
- 32% never make eye contact during sex
- 42% sometimes make eye contact during sex
- 18.5% actually sometimes have orgasms while looking into each other’s eyes.
These statistics really raise the question about how engaged we are during sex. Why are we not more intimate?
Connection During Intimacy
Connection is what deepens intimacy. It happens on a number of levels, but if you have your eyes open and you’re in touch with each other rather than each being lost in your own private pleasure, that’s sex on a more intimate level.
The very opposite of connected a connected couple are ones who are bored and lazy during sex. They’re just doing their “marital obligations” and underneath they’re isolated and filled with their own concerns or insecurities. Their bodies are there, but they are not both fully present and fully engaged.
Mosher, in The Journal of Sex Research (1980) speaks about disengaged versus engaged sex like this:
When sexual trance is the preferred pathway of involvement, the setting requires freedom from distractions, the mood is relaxed and receptive, sexual techniques emphasize repetitive, sensual pacing, the sexual style is passive and inwardly oriented, fantasies are scriptless sensory images, and sex is conceived to be an altered state of consciousness or a trip that leads to intense absorption into sensation and orgasm with faded consciousness in which the person is transported. When engagement with the sex partner programs the sexual contact episode, then the mood and setting are romantic reminders of the love bond, the sexual techniques emphasize kissing, cuddling, and face-to-face contact, the sexual style is affectionate and mutually pleasuring, the fantasies are romantic, sex is conceived to be a loving merger, and orgasms are flowing with a loss of the self in a loving union.
The first part of that long technical paragraph speaks about disengaged sex where each spouse is focused completely inward. The second half speaks of a union where the couple is engaged. In both situations, people had an orgasm and had sex, but the levels of intimacy are at an entirely different level.
A couple engaged while lovemaking is like the sexual implications of the Biblical statement about marriage that “they two shall be one flesh”. Rather than 1+1=2, we want 1+1 to equal 1!!
Eyes-Open Sex: Touching Versus Feeling
You can do all the right moves and have great sexual technique, but if you’re not actually present and making contact with her, you’re not feeling her and you’re not experiencing your sexuality as intimacy. Intensity? Probably. Intimacy? Not so much.
Again, Schnarch emphasizes intimacy. We can touch without feeling: this might be called sex but it is not intimate. We may be regularly orgasmic but still not make contact. Closing your eyes, focusing on the sensations in your body, working on technique, making it look right and achieving orgasm can actually all be ways of avoiding engagement.
The goal is connection! Learning to engage more deeply through eyes-open sex is a great week to deepen that connection
How Can We Increase This Connection?
Slow things down right from the start.
Engage in creative, eyes-open foreplay. See into each other’s eyes when you’re kissing. That foreplay is communicating about the pleasure that you are experiencing. There is a reason why we are the only creature in God’s creation that can mate face to face – Connection (aka, Intimacy)!
Think about contact, and being present with each other, not technique. Remember, this is not about doing your duty, performing or touching the right things, it is about connecting deeply and intimately as you get accustomed to eyes-open sex.
Enjoy each other – give and receive pleasure.
Don’t tune out; tune in!
It Takes Practice
One thing to keep in mind: most people can’t do this. But try it! It doesn’t have to be this way every time, but as Schnarch puts it this is an invitation for your spouse to look inside you.
A question from Edwin: “What to do when fighting. You mentioned not fighting in front of the kids, but once that’s happened, what do you do?”
Most likely we have all been in this situation. Listen to Episode #8 to hear what we recommended to Edwin!
A Closing Caveat from Caleb
As I mentioned during the podcast, Dr. Schnarch is an excellent researcher and highly respected clinician. The material in this podcast summarizes one of the most helpful sections from his book, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships.
Dr. Schnarch writes with the goal to help couples deepen their intimacy in all areas of marriage through focussing on the marriage bed as a crucible for everything that is going on in the marriage. There is nothing un-Biblical about this approach but for our readers and listeners who are Christians, just be warned that this book is not written for Christians. It contains explicit language (I wish he would refrain from using “street” language when discussing sexuality in this otherwise fine piece of work) and is definitely one of those books where you have to eat the meat and spit out the bones.
By that I don’t mean to condone values that are contrary to my own, I just hold the belief that we can take what is good and leave what we disagree with without the need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I understand that not everyone is comfortable with this approach so if it’s not a good fit for you then I’d definitely not recommend his book to you.