Sex, whether Tantric or not, involves touch. Lots of touch. Traditional sex guides usually discuss which body parts to touch, when to touch it, and how fast to touch it. This is great, as far as it goes. But in Tantra, we want to go a step further. We want to become the touch. In order to do that, we need to find the narrow realm of touch that lies between too much pressure and too little. When you touch a body, you want to touch deeply enough that the body pushes back just a little. If a muscle becomes rigid under your touch, you’ve gone too far. If the muscle feels flaccid, you haven’t gone far enough.
The Resilient Edge of Resistance
This is the essence of conscious touch. It was named the Resilient Edge of Resistance by my endlessly inventive teaching partner, Chester Mainard. If the concept of the Resilient Edge of Resistance sounds complicated of vague, think about the times you’ve been touched. What does it feel like when someone’s touch is too tentative? It may feel like an annoying tickle, or – if they are using the tips of their fingers – it may feel like poking. Either way, it feels just plain icky. On the other end of the spectrum, some people’s touch is way too intense. Have you ever received a massage by someone with a really heavy touch? Your muscles tense and contract as if trying to push their hands away. You get more and more tense as they try and force your muscles to relax. It is painful and not at all relaxing. Then there is the touch that is just right. It feels safe and supportive and present. It’s neither too hard nor too soft. It lulls you into a place of deep comfort and surrender. You’re awake and aware, but completely peaceful and relaxed at the same time. You want it to go on forever. The person touching you has found your Resilient Edge of Resistance.
Place you hand on your lower arm very lightly. Don’t apply any pressure. Notice what this feels like. Now massage your arm, applying increasingly more pressure. Stop at the point where the massage becomes painful. Notice what this feels like. Now lighten your touch until you find the point at which your arm yields to your touch but does not shrink away from it. You might find it with a massage stroke using your fingers, or just by holding your arm.
I’ve always thought a good illustration of the edge of resistance is the tummy touch on the Pillsbury doughboy in those television commercials. When the doughboy is touched on his tummy, he absorbs the touch (the finger makes a little dimple on his tummy); then his doughy tummy springs right back, and the doughboy giggles. That’s the Resilient Edge of Resistance.
The Resilient Edge of Resistance applies to all parts of our being: physical, emotional, and psychic. When we have too much mental stress in or lives, we shut down, overwhelmed; yet when there is too little stress, we have no energy, no motivation. On the psychic level, the Resilient Edge of Resistance translates into “sufficiently supported to take a risk.” Without risk, there is no growth or energy; however, without support, risk becomes recklessness. In the territory between, we can grow, thrive, and find pleasure. We function optimally at the Resilient Edge of Resistance.
The Resilient Edge of Resistance shifts constantly. When pressure is applied the edge of resistance – whether that pressure is breath, touch, or tension – you expand a bit. This creates a new edge of resistance. Yoga postures are a god example of this. If you are seated on the floor and bend over to try and tough your forehead to your legs, it may at first seem impossible. Then, with each breath, you relax into the stretch a little bit more. You don’t force it, you just open your legs a bit more with each breath. Before you know it, your nose is a lot closer to your legs than you ever thought possible. By staying at the Resilient Edge of Resistance, you are able to go much deeper into the pose than if you had not gone to the edge, or if you pushed past the edge in to pain. The Resilient Edge of Resistance is the place where you feel safe enough to surrender and go deeper.
Sex that is too soft is vapid; sex that is too had is assaulting. We want to learn to dance on the Resilient Edge of Resistance because that’s where the real pleasure is. When we reach that level of pleasure, gateways open to even more profound discoveries and connections.
Most people touch the way they like to be touched, which may not be how someone else likes to be touched at all. For example, you may go all melty and shivery when someone runs their fingernails along the inside of your thighs. Quite naturally, you’ll want your partner to feel as yummy as you do, so you’ll touch him the same way. However, he may find that light, feathery touch ticklish and annoying. So how do you learn to recognize Resilient Edge of Resistance? Your hands and your intuition will guide you, but your best guide is the person you are touching. Ask your partner to tell you when a touch is too hard or too light. When you get feedback, you can easily make an adjustment, and your hands will memorize it. With practice, your hands will know what the Resilient Edge of Resistance feels like on more and more places on the body, and your touch will become as perfect as that of the lady whose fingertip poked the tummy of the Pillsbury doughboy.
Here are a few exercises to help you write the Resilient Edge of Resistance into your muscle memory:
- Hug someone. Find a connection that is neither too smothering nor too wimpy.
- Set the temperature of your bath or shower water to the point where any hotter would be too hot, and any colder would be too cold.
- Give yourself a massage with body cream. Go slowly and find the Resilient Edge of Resistance on your legs, your arms, your belly, and your breasts.
- Give and receive a hand massage.
- Get a massage. Explain the concept of Resilient Edge of Resistance to your masseuse. With her agreement, give feedback to keep the masseuse’s touch at your edge.
- Give a massage. Ask the receiver to give you feedback to keep your touch at their Resilient Edge of Resistance.
- Practice by petting a dog or a cat. Pets give great feedback. If they stick around and beg for more, you’ve found their Resilient Edge of Resistance.
- Find the Resilient Edge of Resistance in stillness. Stillness is extremely powerful. Put your hands on someone so that you can feel both resilience and resistance. Embrace them both with your hands.
The Resilient Edge of Resistance Applies to More Than Touch
Although the Resilient Edge of Resistance is a concept most easily applied to touch, all of your relating with and lover (including yourself) can take place in the lovely realm between too much pressure and too little. Let me give you an example. Several years ago, I met my adorable and adoring partner, Kate, at a most intense time in my life. I was breaking up with one lover, involved with two others in a three-way, long-distance relationship, and packing up my New York City home to move to Australia. Not a day went by that I wasn’t saying goodbye to someone or something that had been a hugely important part of my life. The stress was high as an elephant’s eye, and I was starting to crack under the pressure and grief and drama of it all.
On afternoon, Kate and I started o make love. She was touching me lightly and lovingly, and it should have been wonderful, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t stand it – I wanted to punch her. Of course, it wasn’t her fault. I usually loved a light, elegant touch. After all, I was the queen of ostrich feather caresses and silky, sensuous massages. But today it just wasn’t working for me at all. Kate. both a very experienced S/M player and a very intuitive lover, said, “Do you think you might like something a little harder?”
She began by thudding my back with a padded nightstick. It felt so good. I breathed and groaned and yelled out weeks of built-up pain and frustration. When I turned over, I felt a tight pain in my solar plexus as though some malevolent force had grabbed hold of all my power and was holding it hostage. Kate took a sharp pointed talon (a long steel claw that extends from a ring worn on the finger to an inch beyond the fingertip) and started running it down my stomach. She started relatively lightly, as the talon was quite sharp. I kept asking her to press harder and harder. With each stroke I was opening up a bit more. Kate stayed right with me. She listened to me, gave me what I asked for, and most importantly, made me feel safe. I knew she was focused only on me and that she had the technique to use the talon safely. I knew she would not do anything that would actually injure me, no matter how much I asked. I breathed and yelled and cried, and finally, as the talon nearly sliced me open, I felt my solar plexus burst open, releasing all the evil, black, psychic gunk I had been holding there. I cried and cried and then I laughed and laughed. I felt so high, so light, and so me again.
That was meeting Resilient Edge of Resistance – psychically, emotionally, and physically. So, think about your own life: where you live, what you do for work, what your home life is like, and so forth. If you live in a sweet little cottage beside a lake in the woods, work at a fulfilling but low-pressure job, and have lots of time for family and friends and nature, your Resilient Edge of Resistance will be at a very different place at the end of the day than that of a person who works in a cubicle in a corporate office tower in midtown New York at a high-pressure job that frequently keeps them at their desk till 9 p.m. the person in New York is more likely to ant and need a harder touch in order to crack through the armor they have built up to protect their hearts and other soft tender parts. Whether you generally like a hard touch or a soft touch, whether you like black leather or floaty sarongs, even if you change your sexual style on a daily basis, you can’t go wrong if you simply find your Resilient Edge of Resistance.
It is important as a partner to stay connected to your own boundaries, needs and joys. While these needs may not get met all of the time, denying them tends to backfire. I have seen partners edit themselves out of the relationship because they are trying not to do or say anything that will cause their loved one to feel pain, remind them of their history, or make them feel afraid. These feelings are part of the healing.
Remaining as honest, sensitive, and authentic as you can be, while expressing your own boundaries, needs, and desires is the best bet as partner.
I urge partners working with healing from sexual abuse to engage others in this process. Who are your support people? Who else can you talk with honestly about the healing process? Your friends, family (when appropriate), and community play an important support role in healing. It’s hard to be in a relationship when one member is working to heal from sexual abuse. But those who hang in there usually find that the process is a major growth experience with a wonderful deepening of love and intimacy, and in the end, a better relationship with much better sex.
5. Why is good sex important?
Sex is a normal and healthy part of being human. Having good sex–where you feel pleasure, intimacy, intensity, and longing–is one of the most powerful experiences anyone can have. Not having that can be as detrimental as sex can be powerful. Oftentimes, people who have been abused avoid sex so it doesn’t bring up feelings about the abuse. To heal, they have to go toward, and eventually through, whatever triggers memories of the abuse–that’s where freedom is.
Reprinted with permission from Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century by Barbara Carrellas. Be sure to check out Transcendent Bodies: Erotic Awakening Massage for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People.