The 4-D Wheel of Sexual Experience
Gina Ogden developed the 4-D Wheel to illustrate how our sexual experience is much more than physical—it is multidimensional: body, mind, heart, and spirit. The 4-D Wheel includes four aspects of experience that are always present in our lives: spiritual, mental, physical, emotional. What I call the connection occurs when all of these meet and merge in the center, which is wide open to the other aspects. This is where sexual experience enters the uncharted territory of ecstasy and mystical revelation.
I sometimes ask clients if they would like to use the Wheel to elicit the core reason for a dilemma or better understand their issue or concern. When integrating the Wheel into our work together, I’ve found that people often have a paradigm shift in understanding and navigating their truth.
A Guide to the Quadrants
The point of diagramming the 4-D Wheel is to help you see all of the paths, regardless of whether they seem to be part of your sexual experience right now. You can use this 4-D Wheel to map your own sexual responses. You can start anywhere. It begins with your willingness to move beyond the idea that sex is all about performance.
The 4-D paths don’t always follow the rigid boundaries shown in the diagram.. As you experience sexual relationship in the complexities of your own life, they’re likely to twist and turn and wend, or detour or bump or even come to dead ends. Sometimes following them can feel like slogging through a wilderness—because sexual experience is not always positive, and even positive experiences may restimulate past pain instead of pleasure. It’s complicated—but exciting once you get it. My books and workshops explore how you can move from negative responses to positive ones. They also explore how you may get a straight shot to bliss—and how to enjoy it when you get there.
The physical path
The path of sensation: A full range of sensory experience-smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing. Movement and stillness. Comfort and safety. Arousal, orgasm, and other physical pleasures. The physical ISIS experience is characterized by heightened senses-brighter colors; increased sensitivity to touch, taste, smell and hearing; exquisite awareness of how all parts of the body connect to all the senses.
…and the path of sexual dysfunction: The physical quadrant also includes issues such as pain, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), disease, disability, distorted body image, and sexual dysfunction, including the dysfunctions that are listed in the DSM, such as anorgasmia, vaginismus, erectile dysfunction, and premature, delayed, and retrograde ejaculation.
The emotional path
The path of passion and compassion: A full range of feelings-love, passion, longing, anger, and fear. Whatever touches the heart. Empathy—the ability to feel what others feel. Compassion: the Dalai Lama describes this as the ability to love yourself and others no matter how conflicted your feelings may be. Trust—the ability to let go of control. The emotional 4-D experience is characterized by open-heartedness and heightened feelings.
…and the path of fear and anger: The emotional quadrant is also the container of so-called dark feelings: anger, fear, angst, disgust, and any emotions that are the fallout from sexual experiences that were disappointing, controlling, scary, painful, violent, abusive, or just plain boring.
The mental path
The path of discernment and choice: Beliefs and messages about both sexuality and spirituality—including religious messages. Imagination, intuition, memory, and dreams. Waking dreams and fantasies. Wishes, intentions, anticipations, and expectations. The mental 4-D experience is characterized by an open mind, increased understanding, expanded beliefs, and letting go of judgments about what sex should be like.
…and the path of judgment, guilt, and shame: The mental quadrant is also the container of guilt and shame—those constructs instilled in us by a society, a religious practice, or a community moral code that fears sex and its consequences. Sometimes sex is absolutely to be feared—given the incidence of rape, incest, and other monstrous sexual aggressions over the course of human history. But most often the monster is the violence and not the sex.
The spiritual path
The path of connection and meaning: A deep sense of connection with one’s self, one’s partner, and/or a “higher power.” This can include inner visions, communication with divine forces, experiencing one’s self as part of all that is sacred. The spiritual 4-D experience is characterized by ecstasy, increased energy, lasting satisfaction, and transcendence.
…and the path of disconnection and over control: The spiritual quadrant is the container for a variety of “irrational facts” about sexual responses and relationships, including disconnection, isolation, depression, and dissociation, or a problematic need to dominate, or be subservient, or keep one’s self or one’s relationship tightly controlled. These may range from religious and cultural messages to aspects of abuse and trauma that wounds our spirits as well as our bodies, minds, and emotions.
The place of integration and transformation: As you near the very center of the 4-D Wheel you enter a kind of high-definition Oz where everything seems vibrantly colored. It may feel like a place of mystery and paradox where opposites merge in an uncanny way. The experience of the Center differs from person to person and time to time. It is totally subjective, and yours to define for yourself. You may experience opposites, oneness and integration, shape shifting, and timelessness. You may experience extraordinary light and lightness of being. You may find yourself communing profoundly with your partner and with yourself. Each journey to the Center can encompass your whole life. There’s no past and no future here, only a greatly expanded now. It’s a place of clarity and vision, of vastness, of unconditional love.
…and the shadow side, when sex falls apart: When physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual experience meet they can blow our circuits, especially if there is unresolved density and negativity. This is the shadow side of the Center—the experience of pain and repression of pain, the feared and the unexplored. This is the agony of despair, the terror of sexual violence and abuse, the burden of shame, guilt, loneliness, isolation—and dysfunction. This shadow place can be a place of dissociation, as well as of association. One client calls it “the valley of the shadow of death.” How we can move from this place to a sense of vibrant sexuality is the subject of my training's and my books.
—Read more in Expanding the Practice of Sex Therapy, by Gina Ogden, PhD