Talking about sex feels more scandalous in French. There is a nuance and subtlety in that language that has perfectly captured my emotion over the past few weeks.

In particular, there is one single phrase that bottles up the complicated, contradictory and terrifying emotions that come along with sex.

La Petit Mort. The little death.

La Petit Mort has generally been interpreted to describe the post-orgasmic state of unconsciousness and “holy-fuck-what-just-happened” brain stopping emotion that some people have after a particularly intense sexual experience.

About a week ago I used this phrase to describe the wonderful orgasm I had while laying on my couch which sits on the floor of my living room (because I’m too lazy to fix the legs)  This “feeling” is quite literally a chemical release caused by the hormonal release of oxytocin in the brain after the occurrence of orgasm.

Then it stayed on my mind. And I started feeling it all over the place.

I started feeling the release, the stillness, and comfortable discomfort in completely non-sexual (or kind-of-sexual) encounters. It was totally fascinating and reminded me that everything is related and nothing is simple. Everything is complicatedly sensual. La Petit Mort can also refer to the spiritual release that comes with anything orgasmic; like yoga, a great meditation session, or losing yourself in your favorite album or live show (cue Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life). It’s that indescribable short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the release of the “life force”.

Mmmmmmm…. life force.

La petit mort is more than just the chemical release. And it’s even more than the sensual and spiritual release that implies something amazing has happened. It can also be used when some terrible thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside”.

Holy shit.

It never occurred to me until my most recent breakup how heavily and complex that feeling is. And how the people who we open ourselves up to sexually, are the ones who can hurt us the most. How often are our memories and emotions about our exes both painful and deeply sensual? For me- so often.

I say all of this to make a point, I swear.

By recognizing that a single moment or a single memory can be deeply painful and sensual completely in tandem, it is easier to forgive ourselves for holding on to those relationships and feeling big complicated feelings. We can fully regret our past and completely honor the same experience. It’s ok.

Here are the three things I’ve learned from living my “La Petit Mort” to it’s fullest:

 

Bask in the afterglow

I know you have to go to work, but as I’ve mentioned before, take the time to bask in the afterglow of great sex with your partner. It is the stuff that mindblowing relationships are made of. Sex can be the foundation of something amazing, it can’t be the only thing to keep a partnership together, but connection and non-verbal communication come in handy when things get a bit rough. Enjoy the way your bed feels and the way your brain processes what just happened to you. Talk about what felt good and just lay there enjoying the silence of being completely exhausted because sex.

 

Lose yourself in the moment

I found myself this week wrapped in the arms of a wonderful and strikingly handsome man as big fat snowflakes fell and the sun was setting and the ocean waves were crashing and D’Angelo started to play (in my head). I had the option to choose to focus on the moment and the details and not the unknowns and what-ifs. And that’s what I did. Lose yourself in that moment and let your heart bring quiet and stillness to your overactive brain. Enjoy the moment for what it is and let go of everything else. Ahhhhhhh… do you feel that? It feels like nothing. That’s La Petit Mort.

 

Let go

If you’ve gone through a recent breakup, you’ve probably thought back on your most intimate moments together and they simultaneously make you smile for how amazing you felt at the time, and also terrified for how vulnerable, sad and even violated you feel now. These feelings can exist in the same place in the same moment. That is so wild! But it provides us the most powerful opportunity to let that experience or memory go. Let that moment and the emotions you once had, die. Then get yourself together and move on.

By feeling your feelings, no matter how fucked up and complicated they might be, you can let yourself honor the past and look to the future.