A decade ago in 2010, performance artist Marina Abramović dazzled the public with her MoMA retrospective, The Artist is Present. For 736 hours total, Abramović invited any and all human beings to stare into her eyes for as long as they so desired. And, as awkward as it sounds, the practice led to some majorly intimate moments (think: people literally bursting into tears). Abramović isn’t the only one who knows just how powerful eye gazing can be; somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist Holly Richmond, LMFT, recommends it to every single couple who walks through her door for its intimacy-boosting potential.
I first learned about this at a recent mindful sex workshop hosted by pleasure brand Dame, where Richmond asked a room full of strangers (myself included) to eye gaze—not in the name of performance art, but as a tantric practice in intimacy. “I have my couples clients do this all the time when they’ve just been disconnected, they’re not having sex, or they’re fighting all the time,” Richmond says. “Do this before you have sex and even after you have sex. Really, what comes up can be profound. You might laugh, you might have gas, your stomach might flip.”
“”I have my couples clients practice eye gazing all the time when they’ve just been disconnected, they’re not having sex, or they’re fighting all the time.” —Holly Richmond, LMFT, sex therapist
But since this was a mindful sex workshop, though, so it focused on fostering deeper affection among people who you are, you know, actually having sex. And as all of us in the room soon learned, eye gazing can also be deeply meaningful for relationships that are purely platonic. That’s because Richmond asked us to partner up with a stranger, turn our chairs so that we were situated face-to-face, and commence staring into the depths of each other’s irises. It was difficult at the start, but as Abromović demonstrated at the MoMA years ago, it was also deeply meaningful. Here’s how to try it for yourself.
How to try tantric eye gazing for newfound levels of intimacy in 3 steps
1. Grab a partner (it can be your partner, another consenting individual, or even yourself with the help of a hand mirror), and sit directly across from them.
2. Take a deep breath. “If you feel like touching your partner and that’s okay [with them], great. If you just prefer eye gazing, that’s fine, too,” says Richmond. If it’s your significant other, for example, try reaching for their hands.
3. “To make sure your eyes don’t dart back and forth, look left eye to left eye and right eye to right eye,” Richmond says. For 30 seconds, do just this and nothing else. It’s cool if you laugh, cry, whatever—just do your best to keep the eye contact strong.
The first time you try eye gazing, it may not yield desired results, per se, but Richmond says it’s really about playing the long game to ultimately have a relationship that’s more trusting, intimate, and—yes—sexier. “I have couples as clients who are really into tantra and mindful sex and will do this for five minutes,” she says. “What they report back is that it’s just two souls coming together, and it makes sex that much more present and mindful, engaged and connected.”
Abramović knew it a decade ago, and pretty soon you will, too.