Donald Mosher was a psychologist and sex researcher who developed a matrix of sexual engagement. His work is a constructed paradigm that can be overlaid your sexuality, to help you better understand how your mind influences your sexual experiences.
Understanding how your sexual mind works can also help you navigate your sexual relationships with partners. Having language to put around experience makes it easier for partners to see how they are alike and how they differ when it comes to getting turned on and feeling pleasure.
Here’s how Dr. Mosher breaks it down:
Each person has a primary mode of accessing their arousal; through erotic trance, partner engagement or role play.
Each of these modes has an energetic tone, communication style, and physical technique. Your psychological preference determines your fantasies, your definition of hot sex, and the types of touch you like. While we each have a primary mode, these aren’t hard-and-fast definitions. Also, we can learn to access arousal through other modes with practice over time.
1. Partner Engagement
Partner Engagement focuses on emotional connection with your partner.
This is the sex we see in Hollywood movies. Affectionate sharing and mutual pleasure get you hot. Eye contact, verbal communication, full-body contact and face-to-face positions.
Observing your partner become aroused arouses you, as does their pleasure. There are different levels of partner engagement that run a spectrum of experiences, from predatory to loving.
2. Erotic Trance
Erotic Trance focuses on body sensations.
If you prefer this mode, you most likely prefer private sexual encounters with minimal distractions. You may prefer taking turns rather than mutual sexual contact. Even being asked a question about what you like may be quite distracting.
You want to be able to focus on the experience, and not on communication. The normal world falls away. Fantasies are often wordless, just visual images or feelings.
There are varying depths of erotic trance, and at the deepest level you lose awareness of everything except the sensations. You can experience erotic trance either as a giver or as a receiver.
3. Role Play
Role Play focuses on sex as a stage.
Performative aspects are important, such as costumes, acting out fantasies, porn, online sex, props that are chosen for their appearance rather than for their sensation, visually interesting positions or settings.
You like to become the role you are playing, and have the flexibility to step into many different sexual selves without shame shutting you down.
Considering which of these descriptions fits you and your partner/s the best gives you valuable information about the mental dimensions of how you access arousal.
But the problem that many of my clients face is actually HOW to get into the body so that arousal and pleasure can happen.
How can we practice embodiment?
We have all of the tools at our disposal. Breath is an important element. Paying attention to our breathing is a direct route to the body. Practicing bringing our attention back again and again as it wanders is an important skill. We know how to do this, even if it’s hard.
So perhaps the real question is this: why is there often so much resistance to being in our bodies? Why do we struggle so with inhabiting our pleasure?
Does this question ring true for you? Instead of beating ourselves up with the “why,” perhaps it is enough to know that we do resist living fully in our bodies and our pleasure, and that we can choose to engage with ourselves gently here.
If indeed it is a goal to be able to get out of your head and into your body during sex, each sexual encounter becomes an opportunity to practice, to make the choice of pleasure again and again.
Acknowledging that we have lots of baggage when it comes to sexuality, and that we are still standing in our commitment as beings worthy of pleasure is enough.
Sometimes we’ll get it, we’ll be in our bodies. Sometimes we won’t.
We succeed through our commitment to examining our resistance, being compassionate with ourselves about it, and gently steering the ship back to pleasure and sensation.
Questions to ask yourself
- Are there recurring themes that distract me during sex?
- Can I address them or talk about them outside of sex to give them the attention they’re asking for?
Try this 15-minute mindfulness practice outside the bedroom, which may help you to be more grounded in your body during arousal and pleasure.
Mindful Breathing Practice by Greater Good in Action
To learn more about the three sexual styles we discussed today and where you fit in, check out my interview with Wellcelium teacher, Yuri Kotke: Discovering Your Sexual Style