Show Transcript for Episode 283: Finding A Sexual Flow State—Merging As One

Laurie Watson 00:02
George, ever experienced a flow state during sex?

George Faller 00:05
Whoa. Isn’t that the goal, Laurie, flow state?

Laurie Watson 00:09
That is that’s how we control our happiness. Let’s talk about it.

George Faller 00:13
Sounds good.

Laurie Watson 00:17
Welcome to Foreplay radio, couples & sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller 00:23
And I’m George Faller, couples therapist,

Laurie Watson 00:25
And we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller 00:31
Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart and the body. Getting into flow. Well, how about we talk about the flow generally, before we get into into sex, yeah, I really invite people into just remembering moments in your life where, you know, I think the key sign of a flow state is where time seems to be standing still, where you’re so immersed in the process of doing what you love, or there’s such intense focus, that it’s you can’t be distracted about other things, your mind’s not wandering, you’re really locked into the present moment. I mean, this is mindfulness at its best. I remember when I would, I was a receiver playing football growing up. And there are a lot of times you’re worried about dropping the ball, it is so many distractions and worries, but every once in a while, you’d get into this flow state and a ball would be in the air and it looked like the size of like a beach ball. It was like so big come in. So slowly, you couldn’t not drop it. I mean, it was just the easiest thing in the world to catch it and never enters your brain that you’re not going to catch the ball. Like when I was in those states, it was like peak performance.

Laurie Watson 01:47
You can lose, you can drop it, you just were one with the experience, one with the ball.

George Faller 01:53
Right? It’s so different from those moments where I would drop a ball. And then the next one, I’m so worried about the balls in the air, like, Please catch this, please catch us I like there’s so many distractions. I mean, it’s it’s it’s knighting day from these flow states.

Laurie Watson 02:07
I think people in dating often experience a flow state, you know, they have no sense of time- they’ve been talking. And I remember a conversation with my husband, we were in his living room. It was Sunday afternoon. And we were just starting to date. And we talked for hours. And I remember the sunset, and suddenly it was dark. And I hadn’t even noticed how long we’ve been talking that the sun was going down. It was just like suddenly, wow, we’ve been talking for hours, there was no sense of time at all right? Just lost in the moment.

George Faller 02:39
This is engagement at its best. Yes. I mean, you are totally locked in. If you look at like a flow chart, and I talk about this in my book, Sacred Stress, this is the sweet spot when you’re in a flow, if you have too much of a challenge. And something’s too difficult. The anxiety gets in the way. And the flip side of is not enough of a challenge. If there’s, you know, that leads to kind of apathy and boredom, like that’s not gonna make it happen right at this sweet spot is just the right amount where you’re challenged, and you’re performing in that challenge. That’s where we’re talking about these flow states. So when you talk about you and Derek, the conversation wasn’t boring, right? It wasn’t combative, and difficult. It was right in this sweet spot of just kind of feeling hanging on every word. Right? Not wanting the night to end just totally being absorbed in this state of flow.

Laurie Watson 03:39
Yeah, exactly. It is kind of this merger, right. Either merger into the activity or potentially merger with another person where you have no sense of boundaries anymore about the self. You’re just involved completely. The man who developed the book on flow originally. And he was really studying the problem of happiness. How do we become happy because he was imprisoned in World War Two. And as he was observing adults around him, he was trying to distinguish the ones who could not live a normal life after their imprisonment from the ones who somehow or another grew to thrive after this terrible trauma. And certainly we understand how that trauma was awful and how difficult it is for humans to endure and thrive after trauma that breaks their spirit. But he wanted to understand was there a way to do this and I believe he he thought that flow getting absorbed in a task or performance, where you lose track of time where you lose a sense of self consciousness, the inner critic is silent was one way that these people For identified as finding happiness.

George Faller 05:03
Right? It’s fantastic research, Mihai looks at people absorbed. So if you think if you love gardening, or going on a walk, or work thing, when you find yourself, you close your eyes before you know it a half hour went by you’re immersed in the moment. And it’s two huge benefits to that you’re doing something well, while simultaneously you’re not worrying about all the things we typically worry about. That’s what makes it an optimum state. The anxieties, insecurities, the self consciousness, the all that stuff that shatter in our brain gets pushed aside and frees up all that energy to be directed towards the task in front of us. No wonder why you do pretty well with these flow states.

Laurie Watson 05:49
Or you choose an examples on purpose that resonate with me.

George Faller 05:52
Just coincidence.

Laurie Watson 05:57
Okay haha.

George Faller 05:58
I’ve always envious of my wife loves God at me, and she goes out there and I’m like, I look at it like a chore. I’m going to just be there pulling weeds for a half hour, this seems like, there’s so many other things I’d rather be doing. She goes out there before you know it. Two hours have gone by, and she comes in with this huge smile, and it has not worked to her. Right, she gets so much fulfillment from that kind of connection, because this is about connection. When you’re in a flow state, right?

Laurie Watson 06:21
Yes, exactly. Yeah. My husband says if I don’t have my hands in dirt, I’m not happy. What do you guys see your beautiful pictures all the time of your garden? So obviously, you have a green thumb. It’s glorious. Right now I have all the iris just bloomed overnight. It was fantastic. Right? So back to flow, how this concept developed. And it’s been applied now to sex. But I think just the sense that we are masters of our happiness, that we can do something that brings us happiness, you know, I’m a supervisor and a director at my clinic. And oftentimes, my clinicians, as they’re young and developing, they have trouble letting go of people’s issues. And and they feel kind of done in at the end of the day. And so I keep trying to figure out ways to help them be therapists without being burned out. And I think for me, oftentimes in therapy, I enter flow, you know, because I’m so absorbed in what the people are saying, in their life in their world, my own world is far far away, you know, I’m not really thinking about it, it’s very challenging as I try to be with them, try to understand them and try to help shift them into whichever direction they need to go. It’s challenging, sometimes, maybe sometimes too challenging occasionally, but most of the time, I’m just absorbed in it. And I lose track of time. I mean, I’m often at the end of the session thinking man that went fast. I mean, it was like barely enough time, right?

George Faller 07:54
Yes, the proof is in the levels of engagement. And he did some fascinating research around looking at most people think money is going to make them happy. Yeah. And he looks at this chart over the last 50 years, and our standard of living the amount of money people have has really gone up, yet their happiness has not like once you reach this basic level where your needs are being met. Comfort wise, with money, you don’t really gain much by chasing and putting all your energy toward trying to make more and access and own more things. So this idea that people that actually invest that time in engaging, like you just talked about work, right? If work is you get locked into a session, or in the garden, or going on a walk, or having sex, or talking to your best friend, the people that have more flow states are the happiest people on this planet. So how do we educate people just kind of look for the proof. The proof is in these flow states, if you’re not experiencing flow, because you sit in front of the TV every day. And that’s kind of passive and or bored. You’re not gonna have as many flow states as somebody who’s kind of out there doing things where their brain is locked in,

Laurie Watson 09:05
And he has pretty critical screens as kind of a passive entertainment that robs us of flow. I also think he makes a really good point that we need to do away with all distractions, like in order to enter flow, we have to get rid of the distractions. So when you’re on your computer, perhaps working, you got to turn off all those notices. I would say like, let’s put down our down phones. You know, the phone. My challenge to everybody out there is no phones at dinner. If you’re going out to eat with your lover. Why would you take a phone in that that’s ridiculous. Or if you’re just at a family dinner, put the phones in a place that are turned off so that you can actually be relational?

George Faller 09:49
Well, let’s make that segue into applying this to sex without the phones when we gt back.

Laurie Watson 09:58
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George Faller 10:54
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Laurie Watson 11:12
Right? I think people believe this myth that they’re supposed to know how to do it, how to touch each other. And I think for women, our bodies are so sensitive that we need high attunement, and oh my god, yes.com is where you can actually see real video of women explaining the touch that they need, labeling it so we can speak the same language and then showing it is explicit. We know that but we think it’s beautifully done. It’s artfully done. And we just encourage you to try oh my god yes.com with the coupon for play, so that they know we’ve sent you there, and they’re pissed as well, if you come to our website, they are offering this product to you free. So please come to our website and figure out how to do that you need to send them your website, and you can get a free membership. So we want to apply this to sex. And because this was kind of spurred by an article in Psychology Today, on how to experience a flow state during sex, we’ll put that in the show notes. But basically McCaskill and needle they studied the role of flow in sex. And really this, this happens, basically, with people who have a long term relationship and who get attuned, they’re able to enter flow with each other, partly right, because some of the anxieties gone, they trust each other as lovers, and they know how to do this. There’s partly it’s through experience through repeated pleasurable experiences, you know, our brain just kind of goes into a groove of, you know, I can let go, I can be in slow.

George Faller 13:01
It’s so important what you’re saying, because there’s so much in our culture that emphasizes novelty and hookups. And you know, and there’s not a lot talking about the benefits of long term relationships. And yet, what you’re saying is so critical to that, that people that have been with each other for a long time have a better chance of accessing these flow states. This dovetails so nicely into the work of Peggy kleinplatz and great lovers. Right? What a great lovers do, they feel safe, they can be vulnerable, they can get into these flow states, they describe being part of something bigger than themselves, where time seems to stand still, the chatter in their brain stops, and they’re lost in the moment. Not so different, what you’re describing it in a god. And that’s what they’re describing with a partner. Right? That’s super sense of connection. That’s just just amazing.

Laurie Watson 13:51
And how great is sex, when you’re not self conscious? You’re in it, you’re with your partner, not thinking critical thoughts about yourself, or God forbid, critical thoughts about your partner, you know, but the inner critic that stops us from enjoying something is silent. And that creates such a wonderful experience and sex where you’re just relaxed. And although he does say that some of it is a challenge, and I was thinking probably is pretty challenging to turn on a woman and maybe men can enter flow states easier and sex because of the challenge. I think it’s much easier for women.

George Faller 14:29
I’m sure that testosterone helps.

Laurie Watson 14:31
Probably testosterone helps.

George Faller 14:33
Gives you a focus that’s that turn on. But again, what what I want to highlight in these flow states, so many people, regardless of sexual orientation, religious outlet, whatever our differences, it almost feels like a transcendent experience. Right? They, it a lot of people It feels spiritual, because they really lose themselves in the merge of something bigger. That is what a flow state is. It’s you’re not that important. It’s not such a big deal, right? You’re caught up in something bigger than you, which is so beautiful. No wonder why time seems to stand still, you’re like, I mean, that’s about as peaceful. I mean, it’s it is ecstasy there is there’s safety there. There’s curiosity there, there’s easiness there. I mean, this is life at its best.

Laurie Watson 15:19
Aside from the physical release and pleasure that people get during sex, if you experience flow of your partner, I mean, it’s, it’s really like one organism, right, you begin to see how important the we is, you know how important it is to be a couple how important the partnership is, you know, just to be immersed in that, I think you come out of the experience, just with new appreciation for how important the partnership is,

George Faller 15:51
I mean, I had a couple, describe, to me, their flow state actually was after the orgasm, it was, that’s that afterglow period, of just kind of letting themselves just kind of fall into each other. And in that holding space to just like, there are no worries in the world, there’s a lot of gratitude, this just this sense of like, I’m so lucky to be here, right to have both people in that state, where they don’t know as they’re hugging each other, like where one person’s arm ends, and the other weekends, there is a merger that, right, they’re flooded with oxytocin, their body is just relaxed. And then I think when you’re in that state of gratitude, or it’s just like, does life get any better than this? Like this is, this is us at our simplest, you know, it’s like a little kid being picked up and just feeling loved and feeling safe. I mean, they’re just that you can, you know, when you see two people making eye contact with each other, right, that, you know, those, those eyes that are doorways into the soul, there’s a sense of this, this merging, that’s just just astounding,

Laurie Watson 16:58
In our culture, with so much emphasis on individuality and me first, and, you know, making sure my needs are met, if we have regular experiences where we are merged where we are in flow, sexually with our partner. I mean, I think some of the difficulty of becoming a couple is alleviated. Because as we prioritize the couple ship above our individual needs, it’s hard sometimes to think that this will actually be stronger and better for us. Because some of us some of what we want, is subsumed into that purple shirt, but healthy couples, strong couples do prioritize the we over the eye. And I think this is some of the reward, it’s like we begin to see on a micro level, oh, this is what it would be like to be a powerful part of a couple ship. We feel it in our bodies, right? We experience it. And I think, you know, in EFT we’re all about experiencing something so that another part of our brain kind of our unconscious, our body tells us something new. And if we’re in flow in sex, you know, this is it’s an imprint, like we get it in a really deep level of how powerful how good it feels to be part of a we instead of just myself. Exactly what can have more orgasms masturbating? I mean, personally, I don’t think there’s anything that compares to an orgasm with my partner. I mean, it’s so much more powerful. It’s so much more powerful, emotionally, spiritually, physically, in every way.

George Faller 18:36
Right. And what’s sad is, most people are not getting help to reach flow states sexually. Because what is the emphasis, the emphasis is on the performance, the physical, the techniques, the acts, which really get people in their own head, instead of focusing on the letting go and the emotional connection, which is critical to these flow states. So that’s what I think we want to do is help people. I love what you were saying earlier about the intentionality. Right? If you’re intentional, like your target is flow state, then how do you set yourself up for success? What a couples have to do Laura to set themselves up for success and these flow states?

Laurie Watson 19:18
Yeah, I think what we’ve been talking about best sex, right? Having sex, that is the body emotions, our spirit and our thoughts, that that kind of merger with all of those parts engaged, does create an optimal experience that enhances the relationship, the satisfaction of the relationship in general. I mean, you and I, we listened to a podcast this week that was more focused on the body and the experience of the body. And it was important, you know, they were freely talking about things that most people don’t talk about, and that was great. I think both of us noticed that these were women, talking But none of them really talked about their emotional needs during sex and maybe as therapists we know that they have somehow or another for that particular moment split off the emotions about what they were describing sexually. And I think that flow state is the engagement of all of these areas.

George Faller 20:19
Right? Well, let’s come back and get into more specifics on how to target a flow state.

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George Faller 21:32
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Laurie Watson 22:32
Yep, so get 20% off and free shipping with the code FOREPLAY at Manscaped.com. So one of the things we talked about George, that is the first requirement is really you got to eliminate all distractions, all external distractions. You know, most of us make love in our bedrooms for our anniversary, my husband and I we bought new bedroom furniture and refinanced and repainted and did our whole master bedroom up, you know, just so that it becomes like this sanctuary, this spa like experience when you go into the bedroom, I think that that’s right, no laundry in the bedroom, no pictures of the children in the bedroom. That’s one of my roles. It’s like, I don’t want to be thinking about my kids while I’m in my bedroom.

George Faller 23:17
For me, it’s always helpful to remind myself: What is the target? The target is not always flow state. Sometimes you want to quickie right, sometimes you just want a release of stress sometimes, you know. So again, there are a lot of different goals of sex. And that’s the beauty of it. There’s so much freedom, right? But if you want to hit these flow states with sex, then you got to be very intentional about setting it up for that possibility. Right? And that’s where that best sex becomes so important, you know, starting off with a body, how can you that’s the best way of letting go the distractions, allowing yourself to feel to relax to kind of let all your senses come online. So that’s what you’re talking about, like, hey, what is the furniture look like that’s important to have music on is the candle, you know, all these little factors that are building a context of climate and atmosphere, that’s make it much more likely for your body to kind of reach this state.

Laurie Watson 24:08
It’s also cueing your brain. You know, when I come in and I see the candle light, I hear the music My husband has on cologne, all of those are sensory cues about what’s about to happen and and our brains actually get into a state with some of those cues. You’re laughing What are you laughing

George Faller 24:27
I’m just thinking about you know, manscaping and like how important like stuff that we don’t think about but that’s could be a big turnoff right? You’re not you’re not you’re not groomed you’re smelly as is not clean. Like these things are so important. Women work so hard to kind of get themselves ready and men just haven’t thought about this. So I don’t know. It’s just it’s something I’ve been thinking more about.

Laurie Watson 24:50
Absolutely. I don’t know many women who don’t take a shower before sex or something, you know, get ready themselves. And And again, it’s part of the priming of their Mind, you know, I’m entering a new place, right? We, you know, we have rituals that help our brain Get ready.

George Faller 25:08
A man should be thinking about the same thing. So showers keepin it nice and fresh and clean smelling and tasting. And that that makes a difference. And it’ll do just have that intention. I already I think I love what you’re saying. It puts your mind more in the mood to think about like, this is important that I taste clean like that. That’s a turn on for my partner that starts to turn me on as I think about it instead of just not being intentional about any of these things.

Laurie Watson 25:35
I think I’ve told this story on podcasts, but I had a girlfriend, she had been married for 25 years. And we were on a hike all of us as couples, we were away for the weekend. And she was saying that she never gave her husband were all sex. I’m like, really? Why not? And she’s like, well, I like to do it better when he’s just out of the shower. I’m like, heavier told him that. And she said, I don’t think I have I’m like, why wouldn’t you tell him that? She said why don’t want to install them. I don’t want him to think that he tastes bad or smells bad in any state. I’m like, Oh, just tell him. And later on, we were hiking and he sort of passed me by on the trail and he just leaned down and he said, Thank you. You got to taste good.

George Faller 26:16
If he comes back from that nice six hour hike. I mean, that’s not gonna taste so good. Right? I mean, so what’s what’s my shower that men thinking about? Like, what’s that’s gonna taste like or smell like that. That’s also important, but you’re getting back to the best, right?

Laurie Watson 26:32
And put a shower head in the shower, right? Because then you can take five seconds and shower off every time, right? And again, put the fans down. Do not let the phones in your bedroom if you’re gonna make love. That’s, that’s crazy.

George Faller 26:45
So we got our body kind of locked in the moment, right? The body is so in the moment and an intentional doing that if you’re paying attention to your breathing, then you’re touching it’s hard to let the brain wander. That’s the beauty of mindfulness. Right. But the the ease that emotional, how do you make sure your heart is aligned. And I think this is the most important piece for that flow state that you’re allowing your heart to, to expand and to not just be kind of locked within you. Right you live with that is where when we got a merger happening, I know when people are talking about feeling gratitude, feeling just blessed feeling like that appreciation that thinking about how important the other is, like that’s a great sign that that hot is online.

Laurie Watson 27:32
Yeah. And our hearts to be online, we have to be emotionally connected. You know, sometimes we’re with people who say, why are you spending all this time on our emotional connection, we really came to you just for sex. It’s like, if only it were that easy. If only sex therapy were about technique, and you touch him here and you touch her there, blah, blah, blah, you know, and now, bingo, you have great sex. But really, our hearts have to be online. And I think one way to think about doing that is to certainly you got to have emotional connection. But also you got to eliminate some of that momentarily, so that you can have physical connection, which adds to the emotional connection, and maybe getting rid of that internal distraction that says, okay, you know, but we had a fight. Yeah, we’re repaired. But I still that. It’s like, how do you get rid of that? And I think one of the things you said sparked something in me, you talked about how gratitude, the practice of gratitude helps us kind of keep the whole thing in mind. Okay, yeah, we’re in process. We’re in partnership. You know, partnership means sometimes I’m not so happy with my partner, there’s a season, or I’ve just had a fight. But how do I get rid of that maybe writing some of it down journaling, making sure that we do practice gratitude for the good things about our partner, you know, sometimes I’ve had patients who have 95% in their sex life of everything anybody would want, but they focus on the 5% that’s missing. And all their attention goes to that. And so they don’t take in and feel in their heart, how good that connection is, and use that as a springboard to maybe have the rest or just to be happy and content.

George Faller 29:24
Exactly. The key to emotional safety. And that connection is you need to just listen to whatever the emotional signal is. This isn’t always about though gratitude and being happy. Like if there’s a fear, and you could share that fear, and your partner can comfort you, you’re never gonna feel safer than in those moments, right? So we’re just encouraging people to share, whatever the feeling is, right to give it permission to give it space, and it tells us what we need. That’s the key to emotions, if I feel like a little insecure, and I share that and my partner could reassure me and you know, now I I feel so appreciated because she’s loving me in places I really needed it, people like leave out their emotions leave out the ability for all these different ways of connecting with each other so that getting that hot online is critical to flow states.

Laurie Watson 30:13
So maybe having sex when you’re biologically most ready, like at your peak that can help, especially, you know, it’s hard to get into flow state, if you’re low on energy, if you come to the bedroom, and you’ve worked yourself to death, and there’s nothing left really emotionally for your partner or physically to be really involved sexually. It’s harder to be in flow.

George Faller 30:36
Yes. And we add those last two elements of the spiritual, right, allowing yourself to want to be part of something bigger than yourself, that intentionality is often helpful. And then that the thinking part right, our brain, allowing space for that erotic part, to be able to come out to talk about our fantasy things we want to do differently, right? That’s so important to couples just finding, I think just talking, being able to communicate can be such a turn on that’s the whole idea of this show is to get people more comfortable, because we want a partner to be a mind reader. And it just doesn’t work that way, right? The more that we can say, Hey, I would really kind of love this if you like you’re giving that feedback. We were talking about annual in the last time and a little shift here and all of a sudden, boom, it’s a lot easier for your body to get into these flow states. When your partner’s responsive This is all about attunements right? A flow state is attunement and we really need to be able to communicate to get there

Laurie Watson 31:31
I think this is what he’s talking about the the work aspect of sex the challenge, you know, one of the challenges is the focus of you know, okay, keeping my heart online even though I’m in a partnership that has ups and downs, you know, keeping my heart online appreciating and feeling gratitude for just getting to the bedroom, even though Yeah, you know, maybe my sex life still needs to grow and become more of what I want like how do we that task of staying focused on the good on staying focused on our partner and on our pleasure you know, not letting those distractions in that actually takes a lot of mental energy, right? It is difficult and so maybe that’s what causes flow state beautiful.

George Faller 32:18
Well, we’re wishing you all more success in your flow states.

Laurie Watson 32:23
Keep it hot.

Announcer 32:25
Call in your questions to the foreplay question voicemail, dial 833-MY-4-PLAY and we’ll use the questions for our mailbag episodes. All content is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for therapy by a licensed clinician or as medical advice from a doctor. This podcast is copyrighted by Foreplay Media.