The Rise and Fall of Erotic Energy

There’s a funny thing that a lot of people do during sex. They focus so much on increasing the level of stimulation that they actually miss out on some of the opportunities to experience incredible pleasure. That’s because one of the most effective ways to enhance your sexual experience is to create a rise and fall of erotic energy.

To make a comparison between sex and food, people often enjoy spicy food more when they balance it with something that cools things down. Sour cream, raita, chutney, yogurt sauce, cheese- these are all ways to calm your taste buds down and allow you to get more flavor. If you go back and forth between spicy food and cooling food, you’ll probably enjoy your food more than if you added more chili oil or hot pepper to every single bite.

Working with the Nervous System

That’s because the nervous system responds to changes in stimulation rather than absolute measurements. You can prove this by filling three bowls with water at different temperatures: cold, warm, and hot. Put one hand in the cold water and one in the hot water for a couple of minutes. Then, put both hands in the warm water. The hand that went from cold to warm will feel like it’s hot, while the one that went from the hot to the warm will feel cold. Your nerves are telling you about the relative change in temperature, not the absolute measurement of temperature.

You can play with the same thing during sex by increasing the stimulation for a bit, allowing things to slow down or cool down, and then ramping things back up again. It can take some practice to figure out how to slow things down enough for this to work, without slowing down so much that you loose your groove. Some ways to try it out:

  • Change the pace or tempo. Slow things down and then speed them back up.
  • Change the intensity of your touch. Go from deeper touch to lighter sensations.
  • If you’re having penetrative sex, try more shallow and then deeper penetration.
  • Try a different kind of stimulation that’s less intense.

There aren’t any definitive rules about how much to lower and increase the stimulation, or for how long. It changes from one person to the next, from one sexual act to the next, and even from one day to the next. If you pay attention to your partner’s breathing, you’ll start to see the moment when their system slows down. Let them catch their breath and then ramp back up again. For some folks, it’ll be just a few seconds. For others, it’ll take a bit longer.

Pleasure mapping is an effective way to find out which kinds of touch accelerate your partner’s arousal and which ones slow it down. It’s worth investing a little time to figure out because you’ll have more confidence in your ability to track the rise and fall.

Emotions and the Rise and Fall of Erotic Energy

When you slow things down, it’s important to do it without making it feel like disconnection or disengagement. If you’re massaging your partner’s shoulders, take things down by going lighter but keep the skin contact. If you’re giving your partner a blow job. focus attention on the base of the penis rather than the head. If you’re using your hands for G-spot pleasure, make your movements softer or less direct. If you suddenly stop what you’re doing and withdraw, if can feel really jarring or even be a total buzzkill. Folks who run attachment anxiety might even go into emotional flooding or feel abandoned if the slow down is too much or too sharp. Remember- it doesn’t take a lot of sour cream to balance out that spicy food.

Working with the rise and fall of erotic energy can also help you be less focused on the “goal” of sex and pay more attention to the experience. This is especially important for folks who feel pressure when it comes to sex. I once coached a male-female couple where the guy had a lot of emotion invested in “making” her orgasm. During oral sex, he’d increase the speed and intensity because he thought that would be pleasurable, and he had internalized the idea that a “real man” can make his partner orgasm. Although she didn’t know that this was going on in his head, she felt pressured to orgasm because if she didn’t, he would go into a shame spiral. So he was trying harder and harder, which was overstimulating her and switching her arousal off. She started to avoid oral sex with him because it was too intense.

As we unpacked all of this and explored the different dynamics that were at play, they started talking about how it felt uncomfortable for her when he kept trying harder and harder. He talked about his expectations and fears around her sexual response. When they began to play with the rise and fall, he was more able to attune to her level of arousal and she learned to relax into the experience. Unsurprisingly, oral sex became more fun for both of them, whether she had an orgasm or not. Clearly, there was more to this situation than the rise and fall, and it took some time before they were ready to explore it. But when they did, it made all the difference.

Another way to play with this is to reduce the physical stimulation and focus on the emotional connection. Make eye contact with each other and tell your partner how much fun you’re having, or how much you care for them. Slow down the genital touch and make small circles with the palm of your other hand on their heart. Ask them if there’s anything that would make this experience even better for them. Take a couple of calming breaths together.

When you bring some emotional connection or care into a sexual experience, you activate the Social Engagement System, which is part of the ventral vagal branch of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). That automatically slows everything down. After a few minutes, you can pick things back up again. Plus, the erectile response of the penis, clitoris, nipples and other erogenous zones is a function of the PNS. I have a (admittedly, unproven) theory that activating the PNS through the Social Engagement System can enhance the relaxation of the blood vessels that causes erection of the penis and clitoris.

Some Final Tips

Playing with the rise and fall is a great way to build erotic energy and enhance your connection. But when your partner is getting close to orgasm, changing what you’re doing can short-circuit the entire experience. At some point in the process, your best bet is to stick with what you’re doing. Since everyone is a little different, there aren’t any clear rules about when to make that shift. One way to make it easier to figure out is to have a verbal cue for when someone is getting close. Not only does that help you track where things are, it might be really hot when your partner gasps “don’t stop” or “keep doing that.”

You don’t need to include this in every sexual experience. If you’re having a quickie before going to work, there probably isn’t time for much rise and fall. In fact, in those circumstances, it might be annoying to have your partner trying to extend things. Paying attention to the moment and your partner is going to be more important.

Going from a high level of stimulation to a low level can be pretty jarring, especially if the decrease is sudden or sharp. It can even trigger a shame reaction, especially if it’s a surprise. You might find that exploring the rise and fall works better when you make the transitions smooth and gradual. And if you’re trying this with someone with whom you have an established sexual history, it’s probably a good idea to talk with them about it first. That can help keep it from being a surprise.

Lastly, some folks don’t want as much intensity in their sexual experiences. For that matter, some people don’t like spicy food. If you try the rise and fall and you find that it makes things too intense, that’s 100% fine. There are lots of ways to enjoy sex, and this is only one possibility. The essential thing is that you find the things that work for you.


As a somatic sex educator and relationship coach, I want to help you find new tools to create the relationships that support you and make you thrive. I offer in-person sessions in Seattle, as well as coaching over video. Get in touch with me to schedule a free 30 minute Get Acquainted video call. Let’s talk about what’s going on for you and how I can help you make sex easy.