Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Circulation, Hormones, and Pleasure

What keeps erections healthy? That’s right, circulation, the right balance of hormones, and pleasure. But we have many common misperceptions about how each of these things might help or hurt erections.

Foundationally erections are about blood flow and blood containment. As the spongy tissues in the penis fill with blood, they swell and create the hardness of an erection. Blood has to be able to get into the penis and to be held in there for the erection to last.

Because of the concept of capturing blood in the penis to hold erection, many men unconsciously tense their pelvic muscles, willing blood into the penis and willing it to stay there. This does not work. The muscles in your body do not send blood flow into the penis. In fact, flexible, relaxed muscles in the pelvis will facilitate more blood flow to the penis. You want the muscles in your hips, thighs, and pelvis to stay relaxed while you are getting erect. Practicing stretches for the hamstrings, buttocks, and psoas muscles can be helpful to keep yourself flexible. (You may find this helps your sexual functioning in many ways!) Try to become aware of your PC muscle, the muscle you can use to stop the flow of urine or to cause your penis to twitch. Learn to feel your PC and relax it, along with surrounding muscles, while getting erect. Your PC muscle should stay relaxed until the final stages of orgasm when it can potentially increase sensation and ejaculation. When you feel you are going over the edge into orgasm, then tighten your PC and see how that feels.

For men who are struggling with inconsistent erections, there are some other simple things you can consider and experiment with to improve circulation. One common factor - Digestion requires circulation to go to your stomach. Eat lightly before you plan to have sex; you can binge on whatever your stomach desires after. Also consider using sexual positions that facilitate circulation such as you standing or kneeling. Missionary position, when your weight is in your arms, can compromise circulation to your pelvis, so you might avoid it. And, if your partner is on top, make sure they are not putting all their weight onto your pelvis.

Ok, what about hormones? For many people this is the first thing they consider if erectile difficulties come into play. Hormone levels vary considerably person to person and throughout our lives. Getting testosterone checked can be helpful but often is not the answer. Focusing on general health, eating well, sleeping enough, lowering stress, exercising, may all have positive effects on hormone health. But we are still learning about how to access and supplement for the right balance of sex hormones for each unique person.

Which brings us to pleasure, an often ignored part of the equation. Yes, your body is wired to be inspired by pleasure which feeds the erection process. In the past you may have gotten an erection with just visual stimulation (pleasurable!), but now you may need the more direct physical pleasure of manual stimulation to get erect. Relax and enjoy this part of the sexual process. Allow yourself to focus on what you are feeling, breathe deeply, and tune in to your own pleasure. When sex becomes stressful, because it has turned into a performance or a race to please your partner or an obligation to get over with before you can fall asleep, the body responds. If you lose track of your own sensation of pleasure, your body assumes you don’t need an erection anymore. Having positive interactions with your partner and enjoying a sexual repertoire that doesn’t always rely on an erection for you to have pleasure together is key because it reduces stress and keeps sexual play fun. You can have and give intense pleasure without an erection. You can orgasm and ejaculate without an erection. Your pleasure is important. Explore new ways to feel it without pressure.

So for my friends with penises out there and those who love them, here’s to you! Relax, enjoy and happy pleasuring.


The Risk of Having What You Want

There are many ways we learn to protect ourselves, many forms of armor and resistance, some that serve us well and some not so well. Overtime we develop patterns of shutting out interactions that we wish to avoid, based on our own unique history and wounds. Some tense up in the face of aggressive authority and some numb out when fearing abandonment. Some go into denial when faced with a painful truth. These forms of resistance make sense; they are clearly designed to protect us, even as they often cause their own pain.

But what has been fascinating to witness as a therapist is that we also protect ourselves from things we really deeply want. I don’t mean the way you want a chocolate bar or a nap. I mean the things you have yearned for and feared you might never have, the things that make you feel on the outside looking in,  the things that years ago you might have decided you didn’t deserve. There are things we so deeply want that we create armor around ourselves to resist letting them in. Why? Because they scare us. A lot.

I believe that most of the things that people feel afraid to want are really very simple things, but at one point in our life they were denied to us when we really needed them. Once denied, it becomes too risky to trust that we may ever be given this gift. And so we stay wanting, unable to recognize that we can have it right now. Here it is.

So you may have been emotionally rejected by a parent when you needed to be comforted and now here is someone ready to comfort you, but you are hidden behind walls, muscles tight to push away touch, wanting it but not allowing it. And she is yearning to feel that her sexual energy is embraced and accepted, after being shamed and shut down before, but cannot bring herself to meet your invitation to bring her groove out. And he is waiting to feel that someone believes in him and trusts him as capable, but scans for distrust and hides his adult self. They are all scared to risk having what they have wanted for so long.

And here it is. Right here, available to you. I have seen therapy sessions when a person’s partner turns to them and with sincerity tells them what they have been wanting to hear. And I have seen the person turn away from it, from this gift freely given. I have to help them to slow down and see that they can accept it. I help them relax their body so they can feel it. Even after years of wanting and not getting, they can risk having it now. It is not too late. They can reach out and take it. This is so vulnerable. It takes unlearning. We have to put down the armor and the cynicism that have protected us for so long, saying, “That is a stupid, unrealistic, pathetic thing to want. Stop believing in it all together. Stop waiting for it, stop hoping.” But that voice was wrong..

Here is someone offering it to you now. I invite you to stop and think about the things you want, those deeper things that haunt you and come out when you are feeling sensitive and unsure. And ask yourself, is it possible that I am with someone right now who is offering that to me? Is there something I am doing to not see it, not take it in, actively reject it? Can I admit what I really want, no matter how simple or vulnerable it may be? Can I let myself open to this wanting again? I invite you to take the risk.


What We Tell Ourselves About The Inevitable

The spiritual teacher, Pema Chodron talks a lot about one of the Noble Truths of Buddhism, that people experience suffering and dissatisfaction with what is. This is a given in life, you will not be perfectly pleased at all times. In fact, there will be times when you are suffering. But she goes on, “only in the West is this articulated as something wrong with me”.

This insidious bit of added cruelty seems based in that seductive myth that if we do everything right, we will always be happy and our lives will be perfect. Perhaps no other culture has been as in thrall to this myth as our modern American culture. We cannot get away from it. Everywhere see ads, TV shows, crafted celebrity personas, Facebook posts, telling us that other people achieve this constant happiness and satisfaction. Most recently with the twist implying that only “losers” find themselves struggling. And so we feel the normal suffering or disappointments of life, but turn them into personal flaws.

When we struggle, we turn to self-recrimination hoping for an answer to avoid future struggles. We craft deeply developed stories about how we are lacking, different from other people, clearly not trying hard enough. Because honestly it feels good to believe you can somehow avoid the inevitable disappointments. But that belief turns on us and feels isolating and damning when we can’t. What is wrong with me? What did I do to deserve this suffering?

And this pattern can go deeper into more painful shaming. In therapy I see the hurt self blame can cause as clients get pulled into the impossible puzzle of figuring out what they did wrong that made them deserve to be neglected, abused, not loved in the way they needed. The truth - that there is no good reason, that they were not the cause - is relieving for a moment. But it is also scary because it reminds us that much of life is out of our control. That there is unfairness and suffering. Sometimes no matter what we do.

Of course our behavior matters. Of course we can do plenty of things to make our lives better, to make ourselves better. We don’t need to give up wanting or trying. But we simply cannot make it all ok all the time. We will experience heartbreak, and loss, and many, many small and less small ways in which our life falls short of what we thought it would be. And this doesn’t make us bad or broken. It makes us human.

And the part that makes me sad is that if only we spent our time loving ourselves through the inevitable rather than berating ourselves through it, the pain would pass much quicker. And we would have more time for enjoying the beauty of life and the gorgeous fascinating individual reflections of human imperfection all around us. Remember, you are okay, just as you are, even when times are hard.


Low Desire...for what exactly?

One of the things that is important to talk about when we talk about desire is WHAT we are desiring. One size does not fit all for sexual pleasure and within ourselves we have diverse and sometimes even conflicting desires that call to be fulfilled. One day we may desire to be touched gently and another day to be pushed to our knees and made to beg. Subtle gradation’s of desire that can seem to shift without our understanding, we feel longing or find our minds wandering to erotic landscapes or surprise ourselves with the impulses that arise as we are engaging with a partner. Desire, past the intensities of puberty anyway, is rarely just for genitals to meet in a prototypical sex act. We desire a sensation, a mood, an interactive dynamic, a way of being seen or received, a way of seeing our self.

But this critical piece of the sexual equation often gets left out of the discussion, at least among clinicians who are tasked with helping people have healthy, satisfactory sexual desire. And this is especially true when we talk about low desire – an ill defined category for a time when one’s sex drive is lower than someone thinks is appropriate or lower than one would like. It is true that many people over the course of their life will recognize within themselves a flagging or even disappearance of their active sexual energy. They may say, “I just don’t desire sex anymore”. But this is often an overstatement or a conclusion based on minimal information.

When I work with clients who are struggling with this state, I invite them to unpack what it is truly that they are not desiring. What is getting in the way of sex being an enjoyable, pleasure that they could look forward to right now? People are often surprised by the question but quickly find they can identify crucial things that they are specifically not desiring.

One person has low desire for sex that feels pressured and uncreative. Another for sex with someone with whom they are angry and resentful and just had another fight this morning. Another person finds they have low desire for sex when they feel like a failure if they don’t get an erection and sex that is surrounded by misunderstandings and hurt. Another has low desire for sex that hurts and another for sex when they are exhausted and another for sex when the kids might walk in and another for sex when they feel trapped in an emotionally draining relationship…You see where this is going.

It is rarely some generic “Sex” that we are talking about really. It is something specific for this person. Or multiple things. But once we know what they do not desire, then we can help them find a way to get excited about what they do desire.

Are you a clinician wanting to learn more about helping clients who present with low desire? Now you can take Melissa Fritchle’s webinar, Working with Sexual Desire Issues with Couples, online anytime, anywhere, for only $35. 1.5 CE hours through AAMFT. Find it here