When I’m Vulnerable I Feel More ConnectedBY CLAYTON CONE
I grew up in a pretty typical upper-middle-class, white household. My dad was a police officer, my mom was a stay-at-home mom, and every day I was encouraged to feel grateful for what I had. I acknowledge that I had more privilege than I even knew what to do with, and yet, I secretly carried intense guilt about my unresolved pain. I wondered: why am I not happy if I have everything, every opportunity I will ever need? What is wrong with this picture?
Even as a kid, I was always sensitive, and I could feel into people’s emotional states. I was interested in connecting with people there, but I had a way of inadvertently mistaking what I was empathetically feeling for my actual feelings. This sensitivity, coupled with my privilege (that I didn’t know what to do with), created a storm of internal confusion. I felt saddled with the responsibility to take massive action around what I felt, to find my purpose in life and execute on it, but I didn’t know where to begin.
A few years ago, I started exploring sex and sexuality on a more deliberate path. My relationships began to change. I began dating a woman, and we had an incredible connection that I still deeply appreciate. After we were together for a while, she and I decided to open up our relationship to other partners. It both thrilled and terrified me.
I found that when I would have sex with an established partner, the experience was great. However, whenever I wanted to connect with someone new, I became crushed by the immense pressure of my need to perform perfectly in sex. It made little sense to me because I was generally confident in my abilities. But whenever I was with a new partner, the new sex came with an overwhelming wave of anxiety that prevented any blood to flow where I needed—and wanted—it to go most.
The experience felt consistently paralyzing. What could I do? I didn’t know how to talk about what that was happening, I didn’t know who to talk about it with. It was shameful to talk about with men and emasculating with women. I didn’t know what, if anything, could be done about it.
I felt like my body betrayed me, and I couldn’t trust it. I did my best to talk myself out of my need to perform. I’d say, “Body, let’s just go have sex,” but nothing would happen. To make matters worse, no one—not even my doctor—could figure out what was getting in the way of a robust and healthy erectile function . . . but only when it was with new partners.
I learned about OM from a friend one night when we were out on the town. I perked up. I noticed that the people in the videos he showed me seemed to have some degree of conscious awareness around the practice, and because of my newfound frustration that my genitals weren’t working how I thought they should, I was naturally quite curious about this practice. The truth was, I had been looking for a sexuality and health practice where I could explore this issue of performance further, but the only thing I’d found was tantra, and that didn’t interest me much. While I did want the ability to slow down and be less outcome-oriented with sex in general, I wanted the option of being able to “perform” more reliably when I was with a woman for the first time.
After I did my introduction class, I knew this practice could really help. Even after I began OMing and felt unsure of myself, I still trusted.
There is always a lot of sensation for me when I do the noticing step of an OM. I used to call it anxiety or nervous energy, but by practicing speaking through it in the moment when it arises, even though it feels intense, it loses some of its power over me. It has allowed me to be conscious of my presence in interactions with others during all kinds of experiences. The more often I OM, the less anxiety I feel, and the more I can be with uncomfortable sensations.
As someone who has the ability to feel other people’s feelings in a room, sharing frames at the end of an OM has also been a transformative component of my practice. There are moments in an OM when my partner and I can feel something similar in our own bodies simultaneously. Sharing frames about those moments reminds me that the sensations I often feel but have no context for are real. And I can always explore further to see if I am feeling my own feelings in those moments, or if I am experiencing the neurological phenomenon of limbic resonance with another person. Just having that distinction alone has made all the difference for me.
When I found this practice, all I thought I wanted was to have better sex with whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. But what’s been more of the truth is that I needed to learn that when I communicate and slow things down, offer adjustments, and share vulnerably about what’s happening for me in a moment, I feel more connected. Somehow, magically then, my anatomy doesn’t work against my desire.
With OM, I have learned to use my body to make decisions based on what feels good, and I know I can trust whatever signal my body gives me.