When I met Peter, he, like many older men, was struggling to embrace a new sexual identity. He had been referred to me by a sexuality therapist who felt that he needed a direct, interactive, hands-on approach to assist him in his quest to create an initiation into this new sexual identity.
Peter was in his sixties, a twice-divorced veteran recovering from a brain injury that had left him clinically diagnosed as impotent. Over the decade prior to his injury, his erections had become infrequent, and when he did have them they lacked the gusto of those of his twenties and thirties. After a cerebral hemorrhage in 2011, his erections ceased altogether. In spite of this, he remained optimistic that it was possible to recreate what sex was and could be for him. He was ready to empower his sexuality, rather than to see himself as diminished or victimized by circumstance. Inspiringly, he viewed his situation as an opportunity to create a sexual renaissance for himself – a new golden age as he entered his golden years.
He confessed to me that, over the course of his life, he had never truly enjoyed sex. To some extent, he had seen it as a responsibility or a duty, one more thing he had to perform or achieve in a certain way to prove himself. As a result of this pressure, sex had been unsatisfying and he was uncertain whether he had ever been fully present for it. Sex had been angry and rage-filled at times. A military veteran, he held close the experience of war in his body and suffered from emotional, physical and spiritual numbness and PTSD for decades. Peter mentioned that anger felt like the only emotion he had been truly in touch with until his brain hemorrhage in 2011.
“Early trauma and war left me angry all the time. Anger was safe. I knew anger. It was almost a friend,” he told me. “But when I had my brain bleed, my entire life changed. Something shifted for me in my brain chemistry that affected my emotional body. I was able to access the places of emotion I used to have as a boy before trauma set in. Places of freedom, joy, wonder, curiosity, happiness.”
As he spoke, the excited young boy who had been lost since his early youth began to emerge, playful, curious and ready to engage.
From a place inside of him that had seen too much war and trauma, he told me: “Part of me for years was ‘Missing in Action’. I believe this brain injury has actually brought me into a state of grace. It gave me access to parts of myself and a wholeness that before was completely inaccessible. The brain injury also left me without access to the direct flow of energy to my genitals that make erections possible.”
“What a gift,” I said. “It looks like you’ll have the opportunity to expand your pleasure to your entire body. Most people never make it that far and their pleasure often stays trapped only in their genitals.”
His eyes twinkled.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said with a big smile.
“How do you want to feel in your sexual expressions, play and experiences?” I asked him.
“Free, connected, expressed … present. Like I don’t have to work. I want to play,” Peter told me sincerely.
Peter’s brain bleed had also apparently bled right out the angry warrior energy that had previously filled him. I suspected that this inner warrior had finally gotten so angry he just exploded, perhaps on an actual physical level causing the bleed itself. This was a classic opportunity for a shamanic reset in the system – an injury, ailment or illness that becomes an ally and offers us medicine that we need on in the deepest levels of our being.
I escorted Peter over to my floor palette futon and we began with a simple sitting meditation, noticing where sensation was present in our bodies and speaking out loud the sensations we were experiencing. Next we checked in with our body’s desires and made requests to each other on how our bodies would like to be touched in a non-genital focused way for one-minute increments. The body’s desires are always changing so the minute-long increments gave a contained space to explore both immediate and changing desires. Because the genital focus in our interaction was off the table to create a new form of sensual relating, it opened up a world of new possibilities for touch, intimacy and sexual self-expression.
Each of us took turns making requests and unfolding the true desires of the body now that direct genital contact wasn’t hogging the primary focus. The body revealed all of these beautiful subtleties and we had the opportunity to explore not just where we would like to be touched, but how, what pressure, what quality of touch – like feathers, kneading, delicate fingernails, squeezing massage, deep or right on the surface.
We then explored the intention of how we desired to be touched – with love, with curiosity, with tenderness, with passion, with pure carnal desire.
This progressed to a gentle, “as if” role-playing game: touch me as if you were a mother cradling her newborn; touch me as if you were molding my body out of clay; touch me as if this was the first woman’s body you had ever seen; touch me as if the burning desire of the whole universe resided in your fingertips. Each ‘as if’ experience created a new and profound opening for both of us.
Next we stood up and disrobed in front of each other. I went first and asked Peter to simply be present and hold space for me while I did. I took off one piece of clothing at a time and we paused to breathe in between each one to notice what sensations we were feeling in our bodies and to speak on them. Then I invited him to disrobe as well. We stood and breathed. I then spoke what I observed about the story of his body in that moment, where my eyes were drawn to see and what they saw. Silver hair, warm twinkling eyes, hands that had held guns and babies, a stray hair here, a special freckle there, a long lean body trained both as an athlete and a warrior. I asked him to mirror back to me what he saw, where his eyes were drawn to my body so that we could fully take each other in. Long brown hair, softness, rosy cheeks, large nipples, femininity. He did a beautiful job recounting what he saw. I received a new perspective for myself on being witnessed through his eyes.
We took turns now in longer increments sharing touch, only this time we focused on how we desired to touch each other. We asked permission with each touch and there was space to say no if it didn’t feel in alignment for us. We rolled around and played and laughed together for several hours as we explored how desire and sexual energy wanted to move through us.
As our sacred space came to a close, Peter confessed to me: “This is the most present I have ever truly been with a woman. I can actually feel the desire in my body and it can be expressed without the pressure to perform. I can’t recall ever feeling this free before. So much has just become possible.”
When the effort to move past scripts and ingrained patterns of touch and relating was presented, a new form of relating that is based on presence and authenticity has permission to unfold in the space shared between bodies. Our bodies are always changing and transforming and so are our desires and how they want to express themselves. When we work with the body’s true desire, we can be present to the possibility of expanding the pleasure palette within the body and its capacity for sensual self-expression.
Peter told me he is ready to actively pursue dating with renewed gusto and to explore the possibility of physical intimacy based on the new possibilities in sexual self-expression available to him. He is also complementing our experience with Western medicine, exploring possibilities for assisting his erections but also freeing himself from the imprisoning mind-set that erection with ejaculatory orgasm is the apex of sexual experience. There is a wide scope of supportive allopathic ways to just about guarantee an erection. What they can’t guarantee is any happiness from it. With Western medicine and the explorations into the possibilities of returning full erectile function, Peter now has a new space to play in – a penis that can maintain an erection with a template for presence and authentic connection.
The path of self-discovery Peter is on is one of enthusiasm and wonder rather than a quest to fix a part of himself that might be considered broken. Peter knows he can have new and deeply fulfilling sensual and sexual experiences and now erections can become a part of that experience with the support of western medicine and compassionate and caring health professionals. It was his commitment to creating a template to break scripts and old ways of being and to move into his authenticity that allowed for this to unfold. Peter wrote me a few weeks ago saying that he is having a marvelous time exploring penis pumps, injections and supplements to increase his erectile possibilities. He reports that they work and that every part of this journey continues to be a learning experience. He’s excited to explore all of these possibilities with his next partner from a place of presence and authentic connection when the right relationship comes along.
I wish for him presence, play, powerful penis pumps and new possibilities for relating as he steps confidently into this new identity of sexual self-expression!
Here is a closing piece of advice and comment from Peter:
Something I believe in so strongly is the act of getting support. Getting support from caring and loving sources. It is remarkable just how lonely and debilitating it is, processing the realities of impotence. What men need to know and understand is what I learned and frankly am still learning – unless you want to remain stuck in the world of feeling badly about yourself, you MUST reach out and trust. Men who are already in a loving relationship with a caring partner have in this regard a great advantage. Presumably that partner will be there for them and process with them the oftentimes painful truths that impotence brings to light. It is men such as me not in any such loving relationship who need to be reminded of this. Men who find themselves twisting slowly in the breezes, with not a clue, and nowhere immediately to turn. It is these men who need great comfort, and these men who need to know that the worst thing that they can do is to do nothing. It is never easy and never over.
To those men reading this who might be embarking on a journey like mine, I’d like to say that there are no magical endings. There is much experimenting, much unknown to be explored, many turns along the way that will not be fulfilling. At its essence comes the willingness to commit to the process of healing and becoming whole.