Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

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


From Start to Finish

When people think of “having sex” they tend to focus on the hot and heavy, rubbing bodies against one another part of it. But really, there are many aspects of a sexual encounter, most of them overlooked and underappreciated. Sex does not being when we are naked with someone we like. In real life we don’t fast forward to the climax, nor should we. We miss out on a lot if we think this way. We need to rethink the sexual encounter, giving it a new starting point and a new finish that can really encompass the greater possibility and the role we play in it.

Phase One – Creating Space to be sexual. Yes, in real life we have to actually make choice to include sex in our daily life. So this phase includes the necessity of actually carving out time in a schedule. Certainly easier to do in that 6 hour break between classes when you were in college, but don’t be discouraged. I have said it before and I will say it again, scheduling sex can be very hot, if you engage your mind in anticipation and enthusiasm. Because creating space to be sexual is about more than timing. It also means making space in your mind for sexuality and sensuality, thinking about what you desire and listening to the voice of your sensate body as it finds things to pleasure in. It includes day dreaming about a partner or partners, grooming yourself with the intention to seduce, and possibly preparing for a sexy experience by purchasing a toy or even putting clean sheets on the bed. There are lots of ways to create space. What is important is to honor that you have a part to play in this, sex doesn’t just happen.

Phase Two – Becoming an Embodied Self Again. Maybe some of you enlightened folks go around all day long, aware of your body and mindful of each fluctuating sensation. But most of us, have to consciously bring our attention to our body. We have to let the rest of the day go, so that we can be present to pleasure. Finding ways to refocus and stop thinking about the rude thing your boss did or the thing you forgot when you went to the store today and have to remember tomorrow, is key. If you skip this step, you are may feel a nagging disappointment, like you are missing something, because you are – the actual experience of sex. Getting into your body, into a body-mind that is awake to the senses and the intuitive movement that is yours, is an important part of a sexual encounter.

Phase Three – Engaging with Another. Sex with a partner requires that we enter into a dance, both leading and following. We must listen to the cues of another body as well as our own. We may choose to open ourselves up in ways that are vulnerable or risky. This is a distinctly different way of being than the way we spend most of our day. Some people find they need some time to verbally connect and some need to use silence to shift gears from the conversations of shared responsibilities and chores. Engaging with the other person starts with initation of sex, which could have started days before with some smoking texts or a whisper close to ones ear. It is an act of seduction, a drawing the other person in as you allow yourself to be drawn in, a willingness to enter a trance of one another, your attention right here with them, now.

Phase Four – Riding the Waves. Ok, this is the part that most people think of when they think of having sex. This is the part when the mind can go still while the body gets very, very busy. And this is the part of efforting too, of pushing and clutching and reaching new heights of sensation. Here is where we may feel out of control or overwhelmed or exhilarated. We may feel deep emotions or a welcome emptiness, cleared out, simply sensation. This may include orgasm or orgasms or not. But mostly this phase includes being able to feel and respond, not planning ahead but being willing to ride the waves as they come, and allowing yourself to be moved.

Phase Five – Returning. And then things settle down, we return to our minds, our rooms, our awareness of the rest of the world. But for a period of time there is a need to transition. For some this involves a heavy sleepiness, a rest after intensity. For some, a desire to keep the body contact and to allow emotional ripples to play out gently. For some it may be processing what just happened, building connection through sharing with words and questions and possibly insights. For some a withdrawal into self, to reaffirm the boundaries of our being. But we all take some time to return, to close that particular sexual encounter in some way. This phase is just as important as the others and can be just as rich and satisfying.

I invite you to honor all of these phases and to take responsibility for them. Your sexual encounters are vaster than you have been led to believe from the way we talk about “sex”. Redefine your start to finish and you will find there is so much more to explore.


Falling Out of Love

There is a word in Russian for “the melancholy feeling of falling out of love” – razluibit. I have no idea how to say it, but I am touched that it exists. Its existence in another culture and language allows me to notice that in my language there is no such word. We do not have a simple reference point for this particular human state. It is as though by not naming it, we can pretend it doesn’t happen.

What do we know about falling out of love? How does it happen? What is the starting point? How does one know if love is gone for good? Do we ever really stop loving someone we once loved? I would have answered each of these questions differently at different points in my life. But today, even as a couples therapist, I will say, “I don’t know.”

Some days I sit with people who are facing these questions. I see the struggle to reexamine all that came before in the presence of new feelings, or fading feelings, they are faced with now. I have seen love end with a sudden realization about the other person, maybe a moment in which respect was lost or when there was a clarity about what one could truly expect from the other. The fact that so much can change in one moment is humbling to me and reminds me to take care in my relations to others. I have also seen love that has starved over years, a series of closing doors and quiet mouths until one person is an absence to the other. There are times when someone looks for a misplaced love and finds it is no longer there. I have seen love that is newly recognized as something different altogether, as a now resolved need or a pleasant habit or a settling for what could be. I have seen love compared to something new and found lacking.

But I have also seen love that was fading, revived. People who were falling away from a partner reach out a hand and grab hold with a new passion. I have seen people find new love with the old partner. I have seen love develop that maybe had never been there before.

Still in all that, I haven’t found one truth about how or why we fall out of love. Or how or why some people manage to stay firmly, happily in love. I can say that I believe that sometimes love cannot and should not be revived. I believe we must transform and change and therefore we must have love that transforms and changes with us. I believe love requires tending and attention to stay alive. I believe love flourishes when we can stay engaged in new ways to be in love with our partner and new ways to uncover ourselves to them.

What can I can say most confidently about real human possibility of falling out of love? Like so many realities of human life, we can navigate it better if we can name it and therefore share it.


Why Do We Dis the Orgasm?


You may have heard it before from a sex therapist like myself – “Don’t be so orgasm focused.” Easy to say, not so easy to do. And why, you ask, are we so down on the orgasm?

Trust me, we are not anti-orgasm. Orgasms are great! And a big motivating factor in being sexual. And they are good for us, although I won’t go into that research here. I like them; you like them. Good for us.

The problem with focusing on the orgasm is it really limits our sexual expression. Humans are very good at learning patterns. We quickly develop short cuts and automatic responses to simplify reaching our goals. In many areas of life this serves us well. So many of us, by the time we reach thirty or so, have learned very effective ways to reach orgasm, using a specific speed, rhythm, position, etc. If we are in long term relationships, our partner or partners may have learned the steps to our easiest orgasm. In fact, we can run through these patterns again and again, effectively teaching our body to find orgasm this way with this specific type of stimulation. Efficient, sure…

But do you want to be having efficient sex? Maybe sometimes, when you are in labor and trying to quickly have an orgasm to stimulate your uterus or you are giving a sperm sample or something. The option of mutual orgasm quickies is nice. But having sex strictly to get to orgasm efficiently can start to feel a lot like masturbating with a partner. I hear many couples complain of the ever increasing limitations to what they do during sex, because it doesn’t led to quick orgasm, until they are performing the same 10 minute routine each time, orgasming and being done. But they don’t feel passionate, inspired, or connected which is also a pretty great part of sex.

That is the thing we sex therapists are trying to get across.  Finding your way to orgasm is one small part of sex. But there is a lot more to experience. Risk and creativity are key to our ongoing arousal and excitement; we thrive on it. Passionate connection with a partner requires much more than knowing their orgasm routine. Your body has many channels for pleasure, and many new sensations to explore. Did you know that after losing sensation in their genitals people have been found to orgasm from earlobe stimulation? Routes to intense pleasure and release are only as limited as we decide they will be.

So get creative. Focus on pleasures of many kinds, regardless of whether you think you will orgasm in the next 20 minutes or not. Focus on your partner and relaxing into sensual research and reconnaissance. You may actually find that by ignoring the easy path to orgasm, you forge new trails to intense gratification. And hey, you can still always take the short cut. Just don’t make it the only path you seek.


What I Wish We Told Boys About Their First Time

This is not a conversation that should only happen for girls...

It should be about you – This should be treated as a special and vulnerable moment for you. There needs to be attention paid to you, your feelings, nervousness, excitement. It is important that your partner is able to hold that space for you. If it is the first time for both of you, this is space you need to hold together, but neither one of you is more important than the other. I talk to many men who feel shame years later because they ejaculated quickly with their first partner. Of course, you did! This is perfectly ok. Your first time is not for performing to please someone else. It is overwhelming and your body will respond accordingly. Give yourself the chance to be a virgin who is having a first time.

Choose a partner you can trust – Ideally your partner is someone you feel comfortable with, who is honest with you and wants that from you in return, someone who respects you and who feels like an equal. If you feel like a partner expects you to take care of them without any awareness of the needs you may have, be careful. If there is a power differential, be careful. If you feel like you have to play a part that is not really you, be careful. It doesn’t have to be a forever partner or a committed partner but it should be someone who is there for you and who you can trust.

If you have to get drunk to get the courage, WAIT. – First, sex is much better when you are present. Second, being nervous is not a big deal; being so nervous you can’t imagine doing something unless you are only semi-conscious is a sign to stop. I promise you, you will not be cooler about things if you are drunk. It will not make things better.

You are not less of a man if you actually don’t want to right now. – The idea that men must want sex indiscriminately at all times is very damaging. A healthy man will have times when he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t like the other person that much, the environment is stressful, he is enjoying doing other things, the 5 slices of pizza he just ate are not sitting well. Whatever the reason, you have a right to decide if this is the right opportunity for you or not.

There will be other chances – No matter how nerdy or undesirable you feel at the time, it is highly, highly unlikely that this will be the only chance you have to have sex with another person.

The pleasure with a partner is different than the pleasure with your hand – Masturbation feels great because you know exactly what you want and you can immediately provide that. How much friction, how fast or slow, what you are looking at or thinking about, all can be matched to your desire in the moment. Partnered sex has different pleasures than that, pleasures that in some ways are more subtle or diffuse. With a partner, you might focus on their excitement, the slippery warmth of your bodies together, the feel of hip bones pressing into you, the connection you feel with them. The path to your orgasm may be more circuitous but there are more diverse pleasures to enjoy. Let yourself be surprised.

There might be a little pain – If you have an inexperienced female partner, it is helpful for her to take some time to build to intercourse as her vagina is not used to stretching to accommodate a penis. If you or your male partner have foreskin, the more forceful friction of penetrative sex can sometimes cause a bit of tearing at the base of the foreskin. In either case, you should only feel a little brief pain, not a lot. If either of you are feeling significant pain, enough to disrupt all pleasurable feelings,  stop and relax and agree to try again later and take it slower.

And of course – Yes, you can get STDs your first time. Yes, a girl can get pregnant the first time. And if either one of you is unable to directly say “Yes, I want this.”, Stop. Otherwise, enjoy this part of your evolving relationship with your sexuality.


Making It New

It is rumored that Picasso, arguably one of the most innovative artists of his time, said after seeing ancient cave paintings in France, “We have invented nothing new.” Now, he was musing on his field, artistic expression. But I wonder if the same thing cannot be said for my field, human sexuality.

Clearly we love the headlines that blare, “THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED LIKE THIS BEFORE.” We behave as though we have just discovered BDSM because a popular book features it, that sex toys are a new obsession, that gender-bending is modern. We get worked up and fear-based around the availability of porn and the “new” trend of open relationships. Um, sorry but this is not new. None of this is really as new and innovative as we seem to like to think.

People have been gay, bi, transgender, into being dominated, into looking at images of other people having sex, and by a majority, into multiple sex partners in a lifetime, since humans have been around. Does this disappoint you? I know we get turned on by the new, by a sense that we are transgressing. I don’t want to take the naughty away from you. But…Ah well. Your ancestors shared your interests and desires.

Don’t worry, you can still keep your sex cutting edge. How do you make it feel new? By doing whatever you are doing completely in the present moment. Sure you may have been tied to the bedposts 20 times before, but this time is different. It is different because you are different in this moment. But you have to pay attention, real mindful attention. Don’t picture your Victorian great, great grandpa getting pegged (or maybe do, if that is part of the thrill), it doesn’t matter who has done this before, this time is yours. Each shiver, each throb, each time you catch you partner’s eye, is new to you. It only feels old if you generalize and lose track of the here and now. Don’t just go through the motions getting it done. This is not a check list kind of scenario. Slow down and indulge the details, the unique little aspects that will never happen quite like that ever again.

So enjoy getting nasty out there, if you like. Remember to enjoy it for YOU not for the shock you think it would cause great aunt Matilda. You never know what she got up to. It may not be new, but it can be new to you, and that is enough – in fact, that can be fabulous.


Keep the Holidays Sexy!


You Can Fit Sex Into Your Holidays!

Yes, even you parents. I know it can be overwhelming this time of year, with even more social obligations and things on the to-do list. But it can also be a time of year when we can shake up the day to day and be creative about the way we spend our time. Still thinking, not me I am just too darn busy for my own pleasure? It’s all about prioritizing. Here are some ideas:

Single? Email the office HR coordinator and suggest that all the single folks bring another single date to the holiday party. OK, maybe this won’t result in sex that night, but it will at last increase the sexual energy and flirtation. I mean, how exciting is it to see the same people from the cubicle down the hall? Much more exciting to meet their single friend. And this year, include in your errands a trip to a good sex toy store, maybe online. There are some pretty amazing ways to treat yourself to some solo pleasure. Set a date with yourself for one of those long nights, and explore.

Are you a parent? Arrange to trade babysitting time with another family so that you parents can shop or run errands without the little ones. Any parent will be on board for this, since trying to run errands with the kids is ten times as hard. Then get your shopping done an hour or two early and use the time for a sensual date with your sweetie. Or heck, do all your shopping online and use the entire time for sex, who will know? Also, if you are getting a sitter for a holiday party consider getting a hotel room for the end of the night. You can leave the party early (believe me no one will remember a month from now), have some private time and still get home in time for the sitter. Grandparents, aunties and uncles in town? Give them some one on one time with the kids while you get one on one time with your sweetie. For you, asking other people to give you some time is key. And remember, you don’t have to tell anyone what you were doing while they watched the kids.

Family visits in the plans? Enjoy some frustration. No, I mean sexually, try playing with sexual limits and the pleasurable kind of frustration from sexual energy building. Pull your partner into the bathroom or a hidden corner in the yard and make out for a few minutes. Return flushed and happier. Practice quiet sex in your old childhood bedroom; stifle your moans and let your breath tell the story. It can be fun when you don’t have to do it all the time. These ideas feel too risky? No problem, keep a text conversation going in which you describe what you hope to do together when you get some privacy or whisper in each other’s ears now and then.

Get creative! You don’t need to let sex fade into the forgotten background of everything else you think you have to do. I promise you it is possible to carve out time for something good for you and good for your relationship. Added bonus, orgasms boost our immune system so you may just avoid the dreaded holiday cold. Good luck out there and keep it sexy!


Noisy Opinionated Ghosts

As I write this I am 2 weeks away from having a hysterectomy. I was going to write “my first” but that goes without saying; it is a once in a lifetime experience. This decision comes after 5 years of struggle with endometriosis. I have had a previous surgery, monthly hormone injections, and a huge gamut of alternative treatments chosen from states of stubbornness, desperation, and hope. I have read and researched. I feel very good about my decision to have a hysterectomy now. In fact, I am even looking forward to the new start it should give me healthwise.

And yet…there is this lingering shame. In writing my yearly holiday letter I found myself avoiding saying what kind of surgery I am having, something I would not do if I were having back, knee, heart surgery or if they were removing my appendix. I hesitate to tell people. Since I am therapy minded and not embarrassed about body parts in general, I have been curious. What is this shame about?

There are the ghosts of the medical establishment past in my head. Old messages, from generations back (although still lingering around the world no doubt), saying horrid things about “female troubles” and the weakness of the female mind and body. The idea that somehow I am unable to handle the potency of the female body, that the female organs themselves are sources of neurosis and weakness, are haunting me. This is surprising, since I rationally disagree with these old men who perpetrated crimes against women through the guise of healthcare back in the day. I rationally resist. I know better. I probably initially read these ideas in a state of indignant, feminist rage, critically minded, thinking of the words as a piece of history. But they got in my head.

And then I realize, there are ghosts whispering from the other side of the aisle too, although these ghosts are a bit more fleshy and contemporary. These are the ghosts of feminist theory past that tell me that women have just been pawns in the patriarchal rush to remove our female organs, as though this can remove our female power. That the uterus is a sacred part of who we are and should be preserved like some internal icon. They shame me too and make me doubt that I know what is best for me. Even as I am encouraged to be empowered, they whisper, “Are you just another woman giving in, giving up a piece of themselves?”

So I am writing this now because I know I am not the only one haunted by these extremes. I know I am not the only one who feels like everyone has a say about how I should care for my body. And I am not the only one who has been taught that her body defines who she is. No more. Not for me. I am a grown up, wise women, who has a unique body with unique needs. I know what is best for me. I know who I am. And that is what I have to remind myself as I stand in the face of so many invitations to doubt my own mind and to feel like my body belongs to a larger cultural conversation that doesn’t regard the individual that I am.

So if you relate, even a little, for reasons of your own, feel me joining you in solidarity. It is important to acknowledge how insidious these old messages can be, even when we have consciously rejected them. It is an ongoing process to ignore their whispers in our heads. We can get rid of the ghosts if we trust ourselves. We can do more if we trust and encourage each other to make our own choices. Wish me luck!