Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Resistance to Consent

 

In this April’s Elle Magazine there is a commentary on new consent laws, such as those enacted in California this year, defining true sexual consent as acknowledged by verbal consent. The woman writer, Cristina Nehring, claims that asking for verbal consent is the “death of eros”. She writes a lovely narrative about her first experience of seduction and also about the sometimes exciting blurring of lines that can arise when surrender and seduction are at play. But, her resistance to verbalizing “YES” during sex is deeply concerning to me as a sex therapist and educator. And what is even more concerning is that Ms Nehring’s opinion is one that I find more than a few women quietly hold.

 

Ms Nehring proudly closes her article with this statement : “I would never have pursued anything in love or bed had I been asked to consent to it in advance or explicitly name it afterwards.” The implication that she doesn’t find this troubling or sad, speaks volumes about still common attitudes regarding female sexuality.

 

The role of the seduced, the one who is wanted rather than wanting, the reserved partner who gets overwhelmed by sexual pleasure so that she cannot say no even as she is unwilling to say yes - How many romance novels, old movies, and morality tales contain this female archetype? The woman who gets overcome by her, almost always male, partner’s passion without having to claim her own, holds a potent place in our culture’s sexual fantasies. And how convenient it is to not have to take responsibility for a sexual hunger that has been shamed and demonized. How relieving to let all that go and not have to actually admit that you want, that you feel pleasure and crave more. And indeed these can be powerfully freeing roles to enact in a BDSM scene that is carefully negotiated beforehand. But that takes communication and explicit consent. Sticking to these roles without dialogue can do a lot of damage.

 

Not feeling allowed to speak about desires is disempowering whether you do it to yourself or someone else imposes this limitation on you. By not getting comfortable with explicit language, we limit what we can experience and share with partners. By requiring partners to play along with unspoken roles and rules, we blur the boundaries and add to the confusion. By complaining that we should not have to respond or that it ruins the mood if our partner whispers in our ear, “Do you want this?”, we take a step farther away from honesty and intimacy. Believing that clearly communicating consent for sex is embarrassing or burdensome is an effect of a history of sexual repression, not a truth about eros.

 

There are many ways to consent, many of them quite compelling, and I wish for partners to try them all out together. However, being able to speak up, whether in whispers or groans, is foundational.  Being able to say, “YES!” is a gift and a right we should all celebrate. Pursue love and sex with enthusiasm and pride. Pursue them by saying you want them.

 

Sweet Contact...and Separation

 

Good sex can make us feel as though the world has stopped and touch and movement and contact is all that exists in the moment. Intertwining physically, we can also feel intertwined as humans, connected like instruments in song, responding to each other’s rhythms, rising and falling together, sharing something without the effort of talking or explaining. It can feel as though veils of appropriate public behavior are lifted and there is an honesty that comes out in privacy. You can feel joined. Witnessing and being witnessed in the trance of pleasure can create a closeness that is unlike any other. It can make you feel connected and seen, basking in what you just created together.

 

And then we need to disentangle and go about our lives. We pull apart, literally and otherwise. It’s necessary, we cannot sustain immediate sensual connection at all times. We humans have the capacity to feel merged and connected, but also the need to function as individual beings. We cannot live on strawberries seductively inserted between our lips by an ardent partner. Nope, we have to have a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal and get on with our day eventually.

 

There is an ongoing discussion out there about how to create this focused erotic trance-like connection with a sexual partner. As a sex therapist, I have plenty to say on that subject and know lots of people are yearning for those moments of intensity. But we don’t often talk about the de-escalation that comes after good sex, the necessary separation. And yet, many people struggle with these true after-the-after-glow moments. How do we experience disconnecting?

 

Some people feel a mild sadness or an unexplained sense of disappointment. Some people feel distrustful of their own intensity and feelings. Some may feel lonely or displaced somehow. Some people feel checked out. And, since we don’t often talk about the separation after the connection, many people may have no idea what they are feeling or why.

 

The ability to come together in sensual intensity requires the ability to be experience being apart. We can be apart but still allied and we can sustain ourselves through difficult times of distance by remembering the deep and earnest closeness that sex can bring. Couples who believe in the potency of that contact, even when separate, have a secret source of desire and intimacy. Remember how open and naked you can let yourself be, even as you dress yourself for your day out in the world, miles apart from those moments of skin to skin contact. Let yourself flush as you think about coming together again. How beautiful it is to be separate so that we can discover each other again and again.

 

Sexual Chemistry - Should You Have to Work at it?

 

Most of us have approached our dating lives with an image of sexual chemistry and desire that works like spontaneous combustion. It just suddenly hits without warning or intention and burns hard and fast, without our even trying – and can go out just as quickly. Our adult relationships may be better served by seeing sexual chemistry as a bit more complex and alchemical than that. We may not be able to create sexual chemistry anywhere with anyone, but we can actively engage with elements that build a chemical reaction we are hoping for.

 

Think of it like building a fire. You can sit and wait for lightening to strike and get the fire going. But this is not a great plan. It makes more sense to bring components together that will create fire. The fire will be just as hot, but you do have to put some effort and care into it.

 

You need fuel for the fire to burn strong and steady – Think of this as your body and your health. Are you giving your body what it needs to feel desire? Are you getting sleep, good food, exercise that is energizing not depleting, are you handling your stress? Basically, is your body ready and available to act on sexual chemistry?

 

The fire needs oxygen to stay alive – This relates to giving actual time and space for sexuality. You will not feel desire and chemistry while you are running from one chore to the next. Expecting to feel a lot of sexual chemistry on demand while overbooked and overworked, when you haven’t spoken to your partner in person for 3 days, when your mind is somewhere else, is like expecting lightening to strike – within a 30 minute window that is convenient for you. You need to actively create space, breathing room so to speak, for sex in your life.

 

Tinder will help the fire catch quicker – These are things in your life that you know make you feel more sexual, more connected or drawn to your partner, and sexier in general. Craft reminders of sensual pleasure into your day. Touch your partner as you pass by them, whisper about what you might do later in their ear. Make a point to build these things into your life so that, when the time is right, the spark can quickly catch and turn into a flame.

 

The Spark – Yes, the mysterious element that causes the flame to burst forth. There are many things we do that smother our natural sexual sparks and there are things we can do to encourage them, but who we desire and why remains, in large part, a mystery. There are different kinds of chemistry and there are different kinds of sex and what we want and are drawn to can change over time. One person may cause trembling in your thighs, another may cause you to feel playful and teasing, another warm and giving. Why him? Why her? Enjoy finding out…

 

Myth Busting : Men vs Women Edition

 

Okay everybody, here are some myths it is time to bust …

 

Men like porn, women don’t. Turns out, just not true. First of all, porn or erotic art has been around since humans have been carving on walls and while the artists didn’t sign their names, it seems unlikely that this was just for men. Currently, stats tell us that in 2007 over the course of a month’s monitoring 1 in 3 visitors to the selected porn site was a woman. And plenty of women enjoy porn. A 2006 study from McGill University found that women watching porn reached physical arousal in an average of 12 minutes while for men is took 11 minutes. Visuals work for lots of people and the excitement of watching sex is probably deeply rooted in human desire maps. And the biggest problem many women report having with porn? Feeling bad about their bodies in comparison to the unrealistic expectations created in porn. Talking to men, you might hear about painful body or performance comparisons too. If only we were talking to each other about real life sex…

 

Oxytocin is a women’s hormone – Oxytocin, significantly released during childbirth and breast feeding, has been studied for its effect on women and often is talked about as though it is a women’s hormone exclusively and as though women have some lock on bonding because of it. But men’s bodies receive a surge of oxytocin after orgasm, and yes, it also helps them to feel trusting and bonded. It also can make all of us more relaxed and sleepy (touching on another gender sexual stereotype). Oxytocin can also be triggered through relaxed touch or hand holding, so cuddle up, it’s good for all of us.

 

Women have lower desire than men – Not true, not true, not true. Gosh, why is this one still hanging in there? Both men and women have desire patterns that will vary throughout a lifetime, some periods being hotter than others. And there are so many factors that affect sexual desire for everyone, from stress, relationship conflict, hormones (yes, testosterone fluctuates too), children in the house, shame, body image concerns, and on and on. A man’s desire is just as complex as a woman’s. And a woman can be full of desire at any age.

 

Men are the ones who cheatCurrent research, and my experience as a couple’s therapist, are showing that rates of infidelity among women and men are actually pretty similar. Both men and women can struggle with monogamy and can be tempted by new sexual partners. Even with equal opportunity infidelity out there, we still hear more about men’s cheating behavior, in large part because there are still more men in power for the press to report on. Sexual stereotypes weigh heavy here and can damage relationships and trust before they even start.

 

Women need to feel connected to have sex, men need to have sex to feel connected – Human beings are each unique with a life’s worth of experiences, patterns, beliefs, and emotions that go into our emotional needs and sexual needs. What any one of us needs to feel connected is different. What any one of us needs to feel sexual is different too. There are lots of men who talk to me about wishing their partner would give them some focused emotional attention before expecting sex and many women who say they would like to have sex and then bask in the connectedness that creates for them. We are each different.