The basic loving massage we’ve already explored and practiced is the core, but we can go to deeper levels of intimacy through massage. Sensual massage and erotic massage are the pathways to those deeper levels.
What does that mean? There are two kinds of sensation that we feel. There is exteroception, our sensation of our encounter with the outside-our-body world and interoception, our awareness of our insides. For example, if your partner is massaging your shoulder, you can feel her hand, its warmth and strength, the strokes. That is exteroception. But, at another level, you also feel your own muscles and nerve endings. That is interoception, also sometimes called proprioception.
Why is this important? It explains the mind-body connection which is so valuable. Very often, we store and trigger emotions through interoception. Nowhere is this awareness more important than in massage. For long years, some therapists would talk about storing emotions in our bodies. Nowhere more obvious than how when we are stressed or angry and we wind up with sore shoulder muscles. More traditional psychotherapists used to reject the notion, but as we have learned, there really is a phenomenon to which the somatic therapists were pointing.
Sensual massage goes beyond kneading muscles to sensitively touching our partner’s interoceptive nerves. As we simply hold another person, the partner, often outside direct awareness, finds comfort and perhaps joy in that touch. This is the basis for sensual massage.
We begin with regular massage, focused on exteroception, but we transition into gentle pressures, releasing good sensations, positive triggers of interoceptive nerves. Often there is a bonding in this. The massager and the massagee feel an enhanced sense of belonging to each other; not sexual, but just an awareness of a strong connection. This principle can be applied, for example, between a father and his child, between a mother and daughter or son. As the massage progresses, each feels closer to the other. (In fact, the best neo-natal medical practitioners are encouraging just this kind of bonding.)
Sometimes it is the child giving the massage. It is a way for the child to feel close and valued. In our society, we have become very sensitized to the possibility of incest; it is difficult to get beyond that fear, but given the value of sensual massage, we really would do well to carefully set aside any sense of sexuality and free ourselves to both give and receive sensual massage.
Of course, we normally, in sensual massage, avoid the most common erogenous areas, especially the genitals and, depending on the person, the breast nipples, both usually erogenous. (If there are repeated “accidents”, that may be a reason to terminate the massage and discuss the problem. There may be a deeper trust issue, a violation of the agreement; don’t sweep it under the proverbial rug.)
Even with a love partner, sex is not the purpose of sensual massage. We may get there and move into erotic massage with a partner, but it is not the focus, bonding is.
All sensual strokes are generally done with more gentleness than in basic loving massage. We are not trying to loosen muscles but to trigger the interoceptive nerve endings of the body. Stimulating the nerves in the abdomen or in the lower back takes a more focused touch. (There is s a whole interoceptive nervous pathway.)
Both the giver and receiver must clear their minds of other thinking and be gently aware of the receiver’s interoceptive system of nerves and sensations. That is why sensual massage is rarely done during a first massage. You need to have at least one or two previous massages to be ready to let go of thoughts. “What am I supposed to do besides lie here?” “Should I talk?” “It feels strange to have someone’s hands touching my body.” “What if I fart?” “What does she think of my flabby stomach?” “I can’t stop thinking sexual thoughts.” “What would my Momma say?”
It takes most people at least a couple experiences of massage with a partner to become relaxed enough to benefit from sensual massage.
Gently give and gently receive. Do not intentionally touch erogenous areas—and if you accidentally do, simply move on without discussing it and taking focus away from sensuality.
To sum up. Begin with basic loving massage. Then deep but gentle touch. Mentally focus on the interoceptive nerves. Quiet the thoughts.