It’s not uncommon to find ourselves asking the question “How come things aren’t working the way I want them to?” In life, we have greater success when we understand the rules of the game and use our energy to work with the system than against the system. It is using the rules of the game to our advantage. This is the basis of Taoism – working with the harmony of the universe rather than against it. In few places is this as evident to us as in the human body and mind. The human body and mind work in concert together in the most efficient manner possible. This is our natural design meant to utilize the least amount of energy for living. If we have an understanding of the way our body and mind work, we can use this information to achieve greater success and happiness.
So what is meant by efficiency of the human body and mind? This refers to the body’s attempt at learning and becoming accustomed to regular states and behaviors at all levels – organ systems, tissues, and cells. One such example of this is the concept of muscle memory. If you do a particular activity repeatedly – such as reach for the alarm clock in the morning – your body learns the exact muscle movements in the approximate position by trial and error. Eventually there is very little thinking or calculating involved in reaching for the alarm when it goes off. In this way, your brain is being more efficient in directing your body’s movements. This is an energy saver for your brain – metabolically economic for your body. But it can work against you if you turn it off when you’re half-asleep and sleep through the morning.
Another example of efficiency of the human body is evident when it comes to exercise and nutrition. If we start a particular exercise routine – let’s use the elliptical machine as an example – at first, we tend to burn more calories and the muscles we are using will get sore. But if we continue with this regular routine, our body will build up those muscles just enough to prevent muscle fatigue (no more than that) and make sure those muscles are supplied with just enough energy stores in the form of glycogen to get the job done. It won’t build up the muscles or keep more energy available than it thinks it will need. At that point, you will start to burn less calories with the same activity and find that your have reached a plateau with either your muscle build up or your weight loss. Many people get very frustrated when they reach this point because they don’t realize that this is the natural way their body works, and so they don’t know where to go from there. But if you are aware of this, you can change your workout routine to a different motion (like the treadmill or the stationary bike) or change the intensity (like intervals instead of constant pace) without decreasing your caloric intake for continued muscle building or weight loss. This is the reason why many people change their workout routine every 3 months or so.
Now how does all of this apply to sex, you ask? Well, this constant striving towards efficiency occurs with experiences and familiar situations too. We quickly become accustomed to patterns that occur repeatedly so that we can process the information more quickly. Our brain’s default is to actually pays less attention to things that are familiar to us because it matches it up to memories and established patterns. This helps us understand better the issue of sexual boredom. If something is familiar to us, our brain actually pays less attention to it and looks for new or different information to focus on. Even though this is the default position for our brain, we can still choose to focus our attention on something familiar, but it takes more energy and effort to do this. Many couples will interpret this decrease in attention and excitement to a familiar person or situation as no longer being attracted to their partner, or no longer desiring their partner. They expect the same stimulus to produce the same excitement that they felt when they first met this person or were learning about their partner. If we don’t understand what our brain is doing, we may look to leave our partners, assuming that the boredom is related to the person and relationship rather than to how our brain naturally operates.
What this means for our sex life is that it does take effort and energy to keep ourselves interested and excited. Not only can we focus our attention on our partners in ways that our brain takes for granted, but we can also change the environment to create a higher level of attention and excitement. This is why introducing a little role play, or exchanging some fantasy material with your partner, or even doing it in a different room of the house can put a dent in sexual boredom. Something unexpected raises our level of attention and excitation. Now that we understand a little better how our brain works, remember that if you stick to the new stimuli, you will quickly become accustomed to this too. If you decided to watch a porn with your partner to spice things up, you may find that trying it once and then putting it away for a couple of months will work out better than watching it now every time you want to have sex. If you watch it every time, then it will become boring and predictable as well. Just think of a good movie that you saw in the theater: if it comes on tv and it’s been awhile since you saw it, you might find it interesting to watch again. But if you start watching it everyday, you will tune it out and start looking for other things instead. It’s the same thing with sex. One strategy to use with your sex life is building up your capacity for fantasy and using that with your partner. For example, if you watched a porn together that was very exciting, instead of watching it over and over again, whisper to your partner what he or she found exciting about it while you’re having sex: “Remember when they did so-and-so?” or “It was so intense when she was doing xyz!” In this way you are working with your brain for increased excitement in your sexual relationship rather than working against it.