Author and psychiatrist Judith Orloff has a great quote that I am going to paraphrase here: "When you are empathic, there is no such thing as casual sex."
When I read that, it resonated with years of personal experience and observation - lessons I have learned through tough, sometimes devastating, love.
The reason for such a bold statement is simple: when you are highly sensitive or empathic (one specific form of sensitivity), it means that you are literally more porous and receptive to the energy of others. It's not that you simply empathize with their joys or pains, it's that you actually experience their energy in your body - whether you are conscious of it or not.
This type of empathy exists on a spectrum - and we all experience it to some degree.
When you mix this kind of empathic receptivity with intimate sexual connection, a sensitive individual puts themselves in a position to really, really absorb the energy of their partner.
This can turn out really good.
And, this can turn out really bad.
Let me share some of my own story.
Years ago, I was spending time getting to know a woman, and also just beginning to learn about my own sensitivity, and conscious relationship.
I was physically and intellectually attracted to this person, but on a heart or emotional level, there was almost no connection between us. They had a certain coldness and distance to their person that actually made me constantly wonder if they even liked me at a basic level - although on the surface, it should have been clear there was some kind of camaraderie between us.
There was a conflict going in within me: It was clear there wasn't an explosive heart connection (almost the opposite, in fact) but physically and intellectually, I was really into this person. They were actually really awesome. It was kind of driving me crazy.
So we talked about it, and I shared my entire process - and my friend was extraordinarily receptive to everything I shared. It was quite a beautiful conversation. And, as a result of us both acknowledging where we were and were not drawn to one another, we decided to sleep together - with no expectations attached to it.
I'll summarize what followed: The day after, I suddenly came down with a fever so bad I could barely move for days. I was mildly hallucinating, and in quite a bit of discomfort (since I've been asked, of course I was checked for STIs - the test came out clean).
I also had my home broken into at this time - my inner and outer worlds were in total turmoil.
This was the first (and most extreme) experience I had where I was consciously aware of absorbing someone's energy by being intimate with them. It was not the last.
During that phase of my life, I had several experiences that were less dramatic, but still outrageous.
I absorbed someone's intense, excruciating anxiety - something I'm not sure they were even conscious of - and again it took days to fully recover.
And this wasn't a normal disease transmission - it had to do with me misaligning or taking on extreme energy.
What did I learn?
I learned that for me, there are some very specific things my heart requires in order to be safe and have a positive, healthy experience being physically intimate with someone.
Number one: A basic level of heart openness.
Because of my own wounds and history, it is incredibly important that my heart - the most vulnerable and pure part of me - feel like it is safe, and that it is with someone that cares about it.
This doesn't have anything to do with a superficial commitment - it is something that simply exists when there is a certain level of caring and emotional connection. It's very simple - my heart has to feel safe. There are certain people with whom that level of safety can be established very quickly - almost immediately.
Second: I need to be careful about the state any partner I am intimate with is in - the energy they are bringing.
Even if there is a high level of heart availability, if a partner is in an extremely charged, negative state, it's probably unwise to be intimate. I have to trust my body and intuition here, and listen to its wisdom.
Both of these lessons are pretty obvious: to only be intimate with open hearts and good vibes, but nothing seems to obscure the obvious and lead us to betray ourselves quite so powerfully as the draw to intimacy.
My level of reactivity in this area is pretty extreme. I have friends who are far more empathic than me, and who can also compartmentalize their sexuality much better. They can close their heart and experience healthy, purely physical connection with strong boundaries.
However, they also do exercise the same type of discernment I just described. When you are sensitive and conscious of it, it just makes sense - the cost of ignoring our gut can just be too great.
I share this because everyone has different needs in this area, and we all have to discover them in our own way. The norm in our society does not really encompass this type of sensitivity, so we each have to define our personal truth and live from that norm.
While I completely agree with the quote that I opened this post with ("When you are empathic, there is no such thing as casual sex"), I also know that for some, under the right circumstances, it can be healthy and positive to have a purely physical connection. It just might not be what is normally considered "casual", since there are certain specific requirements that must be heeded.
And for some others, there really is just no casual sex, period. There is a need for deeper connection and safety - and that is a beautiful thing.
I've been focusing on the limitations and challenges for empathic people and intimate connection - but the positive aspects of this dynamic are of course really profound. The heightened receptivity and openness that empathic people possess is - when in alignment - a truly extraordinary thing.
And those incredible, positive experiences generally come from owning, understanding, respecting and living in a alignment with our sensitivity. That's what transforms our limitation into our greatest blessing.
What about you? Do you have thoughts or experiences in this area to share? I'd love to hear from you if you do - leave a comment below or send me a message!
Did you like this post, and want to dive deeper?
My name is Miles, I am an empathic facilitator and I absolutely love working one on one with people - helping them learn how to study and process their own energy and emotion, work with the wounds and lessons that are gateways to their greatest growth, power and wisdom. I would love to help you step into your truth, and invite you to learn more about me and my work.