Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

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!


The People Who Shape You


This time of year we often look around our lives at all the people in it. And we may think about the people who used to be a part of our lives and our now gone. This can be an opportunity to consider the way we have been shaped and the ways we have grown in relation to the people with whom we have shared our lives. Relationships are not always easy. But they do always offer us new information about ourselves and, if we look deeply enough, about the way we want to be in relation to others.

There is a concept from Southern Africa, Ubunto, which can be defined in many ways. But one powerful definition says that a person is a unique person through being with other people. It speaks to the way we are shaped by others in our world; that in fact we are co-creating one another through interaction. This is a dynamic way of seeing who we are, not fixed but in constant change through relationship.

So maybe this year, take some time to look at your relationships through this lens. How has each person shaped who you are and how you move in the world? What did you learn from having each of these people in your circle? What parts of your self does each person bring out? What do you value about each relationship? Think about the fullness of who you are, so many aspects and insights. Our humanity dancing with humanity, so many daily moments of contact and non-contact. Wonder about the ways you avoid being affected by others and why. Wonder about the times you open yourself up to connection and what that asks of you.

And maybe when the people around you are trying your patience (it happens to all of us), you can get curious about who shaped these people and how their humanity is also in response to relationships past and present.  How might your presence have shaped them? Remember that we are all co-creating together, responding, learning, changing. Be thankful.


Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

Let’s bring into the light the persistent saying, “Once a cheater, always a cheater”. I think this knee jerk response does not serve us.

First let’s agree that humans are very complex and varied beings. There are lots of reasons that people have affairs. There are lots of ways affairs play out. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are many good people who love their partner and have cheated. For some of these people, the affair was a breaking point or a wake-up call or an hour of bad judgement. These people may feel horrible about what they did and are exquisitely aware of how it could hurt their partner. Doing something outside of one’s own integrity, crossing one’s own moral boundaries and beliefs, is something all humans are capable of and it can cause us great pain. This is not to excuse the risk taken or the potential damage done. But I think it is important to differentiate this from someone who just doesn’t care about the damage done.

There are people out there who will cheat repeatedly. I actually think they are the minority. In fact, the one study I was able to find that tracked serial infidelity found that only .5% of people who admitted to having affairs had engaged in multiple affairs. Surprised? Just another example of the stories we tell about infidelity being different than many of the realities.

So are you worried about a partner with infidelity in their past? Some things you might want to pay close attention to:

Does this person lie about a lot of things to a lot of people? A casual relationship with lying speaks to a pattern and little lies make big lies easier. And bear in mind, if they lie to others, they are likely to lie to you too.

Does this person treat you insensitively in general? Are they mindful of your feelings and courteous about your needs? Patterns of selfishness or inability to consider your feelings are perhaps larger issues, including personality structures that may be resistant to change.

Does this person genuinely want to be monogamous or do they seem motivated by the social expectations and social privileges that come with monogamy or the appearance of monogamy? How can you tell? You can ask directly but you can also note how they talk about relationships and sex, what benefits they get from being in a romantic partnership and how they deal with their own desires and inhibitions.

Does this person engage in bullying or pressuring to get you to have sex with them? Do they pout or withhold affection if you are not available for sex? These patterns may speak to some compulsivity or entitlement that can affect your relationship.

Is this person very impulsive? Do they love someone one day and then hate them the next? Do they use drugs or alcohol in ways that can lead to bad decisions? Do they seem to always be searching for a new rush or new intensity? None of these things necessarily will lead to infidelity but they can make the stability of long term relationships challenging.

Does this person have a solid understanding of what led them to cheat before? Does this understanding include an attitude of fairness for everyone involved or is it blaming? Has something changed for this person?

In truth, there is no test to tell you if a person will cheat (contrary to the many magazine articles out there). But a past experience with being unfaithful is simply not a clear sign that someone will be unfaithful again. We have great capacity to learn and grow and also great potential to find partners who we love more deeply and with more passion than we could have previously imagined. Look to the patterns you see now in your partner. Don’t rely on generalizations; we all deserve more than that.




More of What Makes My Head Explode


I was meeting with a new client who is concerned because she is not feeling much in the way of sexual desire and it is causing problems with her husband. As we are talking and I am getting the bigger picture of her life, she mentions that she brought up her lack of desire with her psychiatrist and the psychiatrist told her to “drink a glass of wine” and that should help. HEAD EXPLODING. Now aside from this being pathetic advice and not related to increasing desire in any way (more on that in a bit), I should mention that the client in this story is 5 years sober. So I can only imagine that this psychiatrist was so thrown by the topic of sexuality that she gave this knee-jerk inappropriate, if not unprofessional, piece of advice.

So for those of you reading, let’s clarify why this was bad advice, for anyone, not just a client in sobriety. Alcohol – in small amounts! - can lower our inhibitions and help us relax. True enough. But sexual desire is not equivalent to low inhibitions. If someone is not feeling sexual, it is just as likely that a glass of wine will only make them uninhibited enough to say, “no way, I just want to watch the game”. Supporting someone who wants sex but feels inhibited or ashamed about it is totally different than helping someone who wants to want sex but just currently doesn’t.

There is so much to explore and consider when you are working with someone with desire issues and so many deep and insightful places that conversation can go. What a waste to stop the exploration with a throw away, impersonal “solution”. Desire is mysterious. It can require us to look deeply and with compassion at the intersections of our needs, identities, life phases, and relationships that all pull and draw us in sometimes conflicting directions.

Bottom line : We can do so much better than this. We should be doing so much better than this. For therapists and other professionals out there, the time is now. You don’t all have to be sex therapists. Hey I want to keep my job. But it is part of your responsibility to be sexually aware enough to provide someone with a clear-headed space to bring up sexual concerns without getting shut down. If you feel lacking in this area, be compassionate with your own place in a sexually uninformed culture and then seek out good training and education. Have good referrals; take sex seriously as the nuanced and valuable thing that it is in our lives.

And if you are someone looking for sexual support or exploration, there are people who are able to be supportive of you as a unique person. They are out there. I promise. Keep looking.

___________________________________________

Interested in trainings on sexuality and relationships? Get on the mailing list for Melissa’s upcoming trainings, follow along on the Facebook page or bring Melissa to your area or organization by coordinating a training. Send Melissa an email to connect - melissa@mf-therapy.com


Shadow Impulses


Taboos, depictions of extreme sensations, themes of losing control, hidden urges and desires unleashed, body parts exposed, gasps and screams…

 

Am I writing about sex? Not exactly. I am writing about the blend of fear and horror with sexuality and why we might like it – or at least fantastical performances of it. One of the famous places that this dynamic was played out for eager crowds was the Grand Guignal Theatre in Paris. Known for its naturalistic horror plays, the theatre ran from 1897 to 1962. Similar to our more current slasher films, the Grand Guignal blended sexual titillation with terror, and like our drive-ins, it had private booths for audience members who might be overcome with excitement.

 

So why do sex and fear get mixed together for entertainment throughout human history? All the way back to Oedipus we have enjoyed horrific tales of passion and punishment. Let’s be clear, real situations of human cruelty or violence are not entertaining to most of us who have empathy (however much the news media currently packages it as entertainment). But the fantastical and extreme offers something to our psyches that we humans seem to yearn for – a way to face and engage with the Shadow safely.

 

Sexual impulses and violent impulses have both been seen as outside our rational mind and been repressed by society, left to be explored in the dark without much guidance. And yet they both continue to feature prominently in human history. Both involve the body and witnessing the body in ways that are outside of the normal day to day experience. Sensations and reactions to pain and pleasure can be surprisingly close, both can sweep us away, take us over. Excitement and mild fear can feel very similar in the body too and make us feel deeply alive.

 

We are drawn to the Shadow, the risky edges of human existence. We have things to learn there and by engaging safely with the extremes of human experience we can bit more aware. Maybe for audience members, at Oedipus or the Grand Guignal, it was simply a matter of breaking one taboo, so we may as well break another. But maybe we all get something more out of visiting our edges. At least we keep doing it…Time to see what horror movie is on tonight.


Seduction Techniques Not Working For You?


This one is inspired by the classic horror film, The Bride of Frankenstein, and that epic scream face Elsa Lancaster made famous. The story is a sad one. Poor Frankenstein monster was lonely and the doctor created a bride for him. But once she was made and brought to life, seeing Frankie stumble and mumble at her apparently didn’t appeal. Cue, Scream. And classic horror movie destruction.

 

For us human folk, happily not in a horror movie, this dynamic can play out in more subtle ways. Sometimes our seduction skills are lacking or just in hiding. Like Frankie we attempt an awkward hand pat or grunt, “want to do it?”. And like the Bride, we can respond in less than kind ways. Rejection hurts, whether you are the only 2 monsters on the planet or not, and like Frankie rejection can make us feel, “she hates me”. So what can we learn from their sad tale?

 

It can be important to let our partner know that they may be appealing but the lackluster seduction routine is not. Talk about how you like sex to be initiated. I am not suggesting you expect flowers covering the bed or a striptease each time you have sex, but there may be some things that help to get your mind on sex and some things that hinder it. Be specific. Share with your partner what words turn you on and which ones don’t. What types of touch feel arousing? And, equally important, what types of touch turn you off? Do you need a bit of conversation before you engage sexually or maybe you prefer your partner to not be wearing the sweatshirt with baby spit up on it. Speak up, focus on what you like, while being upfront and non-blaming about what you don’t like so much.

 

And if you are just not in the mood, that is ok. But don’t’ scream or hiss in your partner’s general direction. Try saying something that lets them know you do want to connect with them sometime soon, just not right now. Really ask yourself, what would help me get in the mood? Could it be as simple as, “I think I need an hour to soak in the tub and relax and then we can connect”. Or maybe you know a night later this week will be better. Think of trying to include an addendum to each No. Try for a “Not now, but maybe…?”

 

If we can learn from the bride and avoid being unfriendly about it all and learn from Frankie and try just a little harder to be seductive, it will help keep everyone happy and connected.


Being Out...

This week we celebrated National Coming Out Day. This holiday was established in 1988 when the Gay Rights movement was very focused on the need for visibility. You may remember the slogan, “The Personal is Political”. It is true that the more people recognize the gay people in their lives, the more they see gay people as part of their community, the less prejudice we should see. I see positive changes here in my lifetime, for sure. But you may note how many years it really took for us to have openly gay celebrities, politicians, and public figures in the media on a regular basis. A lot of time has passed since 1988 and we are still growing our awareness. We are still developing safe space for sexual minorities to “come out”.

The conversation I would really love to see happen around National Coming Out Day is about how much coming out is actually a daily process. Yes, daily. Not at all a one time finish line one crosses. There are significant coming out moments in one’s life, with family or a potential romantic interest. But in truth, coming out has to be a constant choice involving assessment of whether or not one is in a safe place to show this aspect of one’s self. At each new class or job, will I mention my orientation here? Walking down a street, will I show my love for my partner here? Standing in a checkout line, will I get bad service or a bad attitude of we hold hands? Meeting a new landlord, neighbor, teacher, student… in many cases, a decision to share or not. A choice that can feel like protection, but can also feel like a burden.

In the past the metaphor of being in the closet was more relevant as many people had to live nearly entire lives hiding this piece of who they were, with few moments of getting to step out into the light so to speak. Now for many people the metaphor of armor may be more relevant, something that one must put on at certain times, heavy and constricting but also providing protection. The armor will not stop the pain of impact, but it may curtail severe damage. And it can be exhausting to have to carry it with you, heartbreaking and restricting to have to fit yourself into it yet again.

So in honor of National Coming Out Day this year, let’s acknowledge the ongoing nature of the risk taking that coming out involves and  the subtleties of sharing who we are and the relationships that are important to us. Let’s come together to send energy to our friends and neighbors or ourselves for staying strong while having to continually assess if it is safe to be open. Let’s do our part by not assuming heterosexuality and thereby quietly crowding out other relationships and perspectives. Let’s be sure to honor that coming out is a part of a life, not an event that can be encompassed in a day. And let’s hope that by National Coming Out Day next year, things are even better and there are less and less days when the armor is needed.


Pain or Intense Sensation?

When I am teaching professionals about being open to and aware of the broad spectrum of the kink community, I often feel people’s discomfort or struggle to understand pain play in sex. For those not so inclined, this can seem contrary to what they are hoping for in their sex experiences. But for others, the sweet intensity of being taken to a physical edge is incredibly exciting.

Most of our experiences of pain come without our consent, with lots of unknowns attached. These experiences of pain involve fear as well, fear of what is happening to us, fear of how long the pain will last, fear of the pain getting worse, fear of our lives changing because of this pain, fear of losing control. This type of pain feels like damage is being done to us. And it is out of our control, something that is happening to us and all we can do is try to tolerate it as we wish for it to stop.

Pain without fear is something else entirely. Within a sexual exploration, if done appropriately, everything is done completely within the context of choice. In receiving pain or intense sensation, you first choose a partner you can trust to stop if you ask, to go slow enough for you to take in the sensation and track your responses and edges, and who is there to give you something you want. You know sensation will stop of fade when you need it to and so have a freedom to experience it differently.

Let me put it in a sensual, but non-sexual context. When I studied deep tissue massage, I got to experience people digging in to just about every part of my body. Sometimes this caused pain, more pain than I had yet experienced at that point in my life. Strong fingers reaching in to get underneath your Achilles tendon – this is a special kind of pain, trust me. But I was never afraid, so I was able to feel the intensity, breathe, and open to it. And I knew that if it got too intense I could say, “stop” and it would. This ability to open to the sensation without fear blew my mind. And I learned to love the clear focus this provided me, totally in the moment, and the shift in my mood, energy, and awareness that came with it.

Some of you may have experiences of intense sensation that appeal to you, times when you could note the difference between fearful pain and exciting intensity. You may never choose to bring this into your sexual exploration, or maybe you will. Either way, maybe this understanding will help you be more aware of a range of sensation play, including pain, that can be available to each of us.


Passion Wanted, Apply Within

If you are like a lot of people, you want to know “What is the one thing people most want in a lover?”  So I will answer, based on the many hours I have spent as a sex therapist talking to people about their wishes and desires, and it may surprise you.

The most common thing I hear people wanting from a sex partner, of any gender variation, age, commitment history…, is for their partner to be enthusiastic and to want to be having sex with them. That’s right, enthusiasm, happy willingness, passion. Seems simple enough. We want to feel wanted. We want to share something with someone who is enjoying themselves. I hear many sexual details and accoutrements that people want as well, more anal, less anal, a spanking now and then, to keep the heels on …lots of variations of things that would be nice to try. But the foundational piece for most people is to feel that their partner is into it, into them, and happy to spend time being sexual together.

Sadly, there are lots of ways our individual enthusiasm for sex can wane. Dissatisfactions, arguments, frustrations, new body pains, exhaustion, shame, self doubt, and on and on. And lack of enthusiasm will kill passion in a relationship fast than anything else (unless you are with a bully and that is no good). These externals can decrease enthusiasm, sure. But truly, passion is an internal job.

You can find your passionate person inside at any point in life. It involves listening to yourself, feeling your body sensations, giving yourself time and space to relax and enjoy many aspects of life without rushing on to the next thing. It involves being curious and communicating your curiosity, ideas, fantasies, and discoveries, just to see where they might take you. It involves tending to what is inside of you, which is where you will find lots of important information, not least of which being - what excites you. Oh, and also important…clear out any old stuff telling you that you have to play it cool, that passion is disgraceful, that you should be ashamed to want. Clear it out! Make room to be passionate.

Then show it. This is key. Don t assume your partner knows you like that. Appreciate them by giving them some solid clues. You don’t have to perform porn style, just be genuinely enthusiastic. What might happen, is you turn yourself on even more. Enthusiasm feeds itself. Imagine with each touch and kiss and thrust, saying with your body (or your words, that’s fun too), “Yes”. That’s how your blow your lover’s mind. And your own.