yellow brick road with ruby slippers leading to emerald city with rainbow

The power of true sexual connection

yellow brick road with ruby slippers leading to emerald city with rainbow

I had roughly this same conversation twice last week. It’s one I’ve had many times with couples over the 35 years of my practice.

Me: “OK, so you had sex. How was it?”

Partner A: “Great! I loved it!”

Partner B: “Umm…it was ok.”

PA: “Yeah, see? Let’s do it more!”

PB: “Ummmmmm…”

Me: “So, PB, tell me more. How was the experience for you?”

PB:”It was ok. It didn’t hurt this time.”

Me (trying to hide my concern): “Wait a sec, you mean it’s hurt before?”

PB: “Yes. But that’s usually better now.”

Me, breathing: “So you’re telling me you kept going even though it hurt?”

PB: “Sure–it was so important to PA, I didn’t want to stop. Plus PA gets so unhappy. It’s better to keep going.” 

Me: “So you’re having sex that’s on some continuum of ok to painful?”

PB: “Yeah. Of course. Because then our relationship is better.”

covering face with hands and looking through fingers


By now, I’m generally internally shuddering, wondering once more about this very common dynamic. It seems to take root very early in relationships, then lead to power struggle, disconnection, stuckness, and a whole lot of suffering. How I’ve seen it played out: Two people have sex; one person (generally the one most Power Down) doesn’t speak up when it isn’t pleasurable for them; the other person (often Power Up) assumes that all is well, and that the other person enjoyed it as much as they did. The enjoyer wants to have sex again–it was so great!–while the less-than-impressed one starts dragging their heels. This (even unspoken) reluctance amplifies the other’s desire, as they start to feel a next experience slip out of their grasp, making it perceived as desperation.


Now the couple has jumped the track from sex being about connection to one that can lead to, well, relationship hell. What was their point of enjoyable, even sacred intimacy, now can become fraught with overtones of resentment, rejection, overwhelm, evocation of past trauma, and seemingly unresolvable conflict.

As this cycle magnifies, the couple desperately searches for who’s at fault (he’s* a selfish brute; she’s got Low Sexual Desire that must be fixed; they’re incompatible). They act out old patterns, fighting hard, leaving, giving in, giving up. They try everything they can think of to fix it. Polyamory! No porn/more porn! Emotional connection before sex–no, sex so there can be connection!.

They get too frustrated, and talk about ending their relationship.

*These are actually roles, not gender related, though in our culture, they are stereotypically paired male/female.

Warning Pit of Power Struggle sign

There is another path.

The two of them could look at how unconscious patterns are ruling their lives, and commit to facing into them, understanding them, shaking off their constraints. They could shift towards finding alignment with their true selves. They might step out of trying to force their relationship into how their conditioned selves expect it to be, into true curiosity about how to be with life as it is. They could stop battling their beloved and turn towards a context of allyship and teammates, looking for how each person can get everything they want.

As I work with couples who are shifting out of this challenging patterning, I do lots of educating. I teach skills like: how to speak the unarguable, non blaming truth; how to discern and clear up the hidden power dynamics that thwart such clear communication; and how to generate real connection.

2 women facing each other and listening


Once this new context starts to take hold, I pose this idea: How about generating a “rules of the road” for sexual intimacy so that you have a shared vision for what your team is wanting? 

The idea of giving up what society has drummed into us through countless images and messages, and taking responsibility for creating their own definitions and guardrails can seem daunting. However, in this space comes freedom, agency, and true self-expression.

Interested? Here’s what I’d add to the list, as you imagine what you’d like on yours:


  1. If what we’re doing is not pleasurable to both of us, we’ll stop.*
  2. If the inevitable “something happens,” where someone is triggered into reactivity, we stop and support them to go through a complete feeling cycle.
  3. We understand that we are each 100% responsible for our own pleasure, and so for asking what we want and being clear about what we don’t want.
  4. We view safety as the foundation for a truly connected sexual and emotional relationship, and commit to sourcing our own safety by telling the truth. This could include: “I want to stop” and “I feel mad because I didn’t get what I wanted.”
  5. We declare that our sexual relationship is about our deepest connection. To cultivate that connection, we’ll embody this foundational practice: We commit to telling the unarguable truth** throughout our relationship, and while we’re being sexual.
  6. We address the power differences in our relationship, committing to viewing each other as our equal, our teammate, our ally. We want there to be room for us each to tell the truth, always.
  7. We generate our own definition of what “sex” is. We’re not bound to the larger culture’s definition (that generally exalts intercourse and orgasm, rather than celebrating pleasure, and each individual getting what they really want).
  8. We let go of all of our behaviors that have been directly or indirectly aimed at getting the other person to do (or not do) what we want: anger outbursts, silence, withdrawal, hostile departure, going numb, collapsing, criticism of self or the other, passive sexual engagement.
  9. We understand that threats to end the relationship place the shadow of conditionality over our entire sexual life, making true connection impossible. We commit to working this out–together.

*As I write that out, I feel a flutter of feminist indignation that this isn’t obvious. Why would anyone want to keep doing something–particularly something that requires energy, vulnerability, and time–that doesn’t feel good?? Then I remember the intensity of power dynamics, and get back to work.

**aka, SEW–Describing Sensations, pairing those with concomitant Emotion, clearing that to get to what we Want).

Imagine that sexual connection could be organic, flowing, a true expression of each of your most expansive selves. That possibility exists between true equals, people that have freedom to express who they really are. The pathway does, indeed, exist to that dreamy land, but it requires giving up all you’ve believed so that you can step into the vast unknown of the possible. It all can seem daunting and difficult. Letting yourselves install new guidelines that you can truly rely on, however, means you can really sit back and enjoy the ride.

True connection, in all ways.

That’s what the EPI is about.

Blessings and love, Julie


I’m teaching a workshop called “Getting Unstuck Around Sex” in beautiful Boulder, Colorado over the weekend of July 12-14. We’re playing with how power dynamics impact sexual connection, and how to shift those back to play, flow, and passion. Here’s more information.

BTW, here’s an amazing video where Sarah Schweppe and I are talking about how power dynamics impact real-time sexual experiences. You’re gonna want to watch this.



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