Sex as a form of play: A guide for patients/clients

by Elizabeth Rae Larson, M.S., D.H.S., LMHC


Making music, dancing, athletic activity, and creating or appreciating art are all playful experiences. Being absorbed in reading or watching a story is play. And so is sex. Play occurs when someone is fully absorbed in a current activity, with their awareness in the present moment and a sense of being safe. We describe these experiences as pleasurable, as fun.


Play happens in the present. Work happens when we are paying attention to the past or the future. We go to work whether we feel like it or not because we anticipate future rewards for doing so or punishments for not. Play happens only when we feel like it right now. We cannot guarantee play will happen although we can “court the muse” by creating conditions that make it likely. If we are fortunate in our work environment, we might slip into playful states from time to time. To do creative work, e.g., music or writing, we must learn to generate conditions that support being fully present. When we engage in sexual actions that give us pleasure, we find it easy to be present. When we turn sex into work, we are no longer fully present and it ceases being fun. In order to improve our sexual experience, we can do homework to learn where our pleasures are, just like a musician practicing.


When any two creatures are playing together, the minimum condition at any moment is that at least one is having fun and the other is at least fully comfortable. When conditions dip below this standard, play ceases, at least for the moment. Play may recur in the next instant, or not. Imagine two kids in a sandbox. They are fully absorbed in their present activity, e.g., sculpting sand while they create an imaginary universe. Play comes to a halt when something disturbs the flow, sand in the eye, conflict over the tools, a creative difference of opinion. Kids are usually resilient and can return to play after the disruption is resolved. Many of us as adults have lost that flexibility or suppressed it with our belief systems. If we want to play with another, we must find that resilience. We must be acquainted with our own pleasures as well as attuned to and comfortable with theirs. And then we can explore making music together. Then our sexualities can dance.

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