Have you granted yourself the sexual freedoms you deserve? How about these aspects of sexual independence:
Do you know how to give yourself a satisfying orgasm (at least most of the time) when you feel like it?
Are you confident stating what you like and don’t like sexually?
Are you informed about how your body works so that you can make educated decisions and advocate on its behalf?
Have you freed yourself from other people’s opinions about who you should be or how you should have sex?
Are you done chasing other people’s reactions to you and your sexuality, whether their reactions are lustful or shocked or anything else?
Can you look at your body clearly as a natural human body without expecting an airbrushed perfection?
Have you let go of that mean thing that your ex or the school mean girl or your brother said to you years ago?
Can you define your own sexuality based on how you feel rather than on who you are partnered with or not partnered with at the moment?
Can you honor and accept that your body is not meant to function like a machine but is affected by many variables and this is ok?
Are you familiar enough with your own values, beliefs and hopes that you can let them guide you, not require them to be reflected in the world around you?
Do you let yourself enjoy fantasies even when you would never want to enact them in real life?
Can you celebrate difference without telling yourself that you have to be different?
Is your open-mind excited about what might come next for you in your own pursuit of happiness?
What other elements make you feel sexually independent? Do you want to get more of this for yourself? You know what I am going to say, right?...Get The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook and claim your sexuality. Start with yourself.
One sexual question for lesbian couples is whether or not to incorporate penetration into their sexual play. This can become a couple’s issue, and sometimes a focus in sex therapy, if one person likes penetration and the other finds it upsetting.
Part of what we want to unpack with these couples is - what does a desire for penetration mean? Many times I find that the partner who doesn’t like penetration is worried that her partner is not happy or satisfied with her body, which does not have a penis to provide penetration. The desire for penetration gets conflated with a desire for men, or a penis. So the first thing to address is sexual identity being different than a list of preferred sexual activities. Craving a feeling of fullness in the vagina, g-spot stimulation, pressure against sensitive vaginal walls, none of these imply a sexual orientation or an attraction to one type of person. After all there are many hetero women out there who do not find penetration to be the thing that gets them off. And there are many lesbian, or other-identified lovers of women, who do. So letting enjoyment of penetration be a sexual attribute rather than a defining feature of sexual orientation is important.
Secondly we want to talk about options for penetrative play. For some lesbian women, a strap on and thrusting style penetration is just too reminiscent of hetero-play and it is a turn-off. But there are lots of other ways to include penetration (for all couples). There are ball style toys that can be inserted and provide internal pressure which can be exciting, but don’t resemble a penis. Toys designed for g-spot stimulation are different than a traditional dildo and can be used with your hand or inserted and then intensified by rocking hips or rubbing against a partner. Of course fingers or hands are great for penetration and can be combined with vibrators, tongues, etc.
As usual, the key is communication. If one person likes something that the other person is uncomfortable with, talk about it. What makes it uncomfortable? What makes it hot for the other person? Go slow and stay connected while you try new things. There are lots of ways to pleasure someone and they have chosen to try them with you. Cheers to that!
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.
I have been doing a lot of radio appearances lately to promote The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook, and a question that keeps coming up is – how can we make it easier to talk about sex? Even radio hosts, who talk for a living, share with me that they start to blush and find it hard to get the words out when it comes to sex. I help people have these conversations every day. Here are some ways to set yourself up to have a better experience.
Acknowledge That This May Be Awkward – Much of our embarrassment about sex comes from an adolescent, and unrealistic, feeling that everyone else seems to have this sex thing all together and if you are not playing it completely cool, you are failing. Give yourself and your partner permission to be awkward, to stutter, to not know the answers. Maybe you even have to stop and take a break for a bit. Don’t feel that you have to play a part, be genuine, even genuinely embarrassed, it takes the pressure off.
Don’t Try to Have a Challenging Conversation Right After Having Sex – Rolling over and relaxing or critiquing what just happened – um, go with relaxing. Even if the experience wasn’t what you hoped, keep in mind that post- sex people tend to be a bit vulnerable, making it a great time to share loving words, less great for problem-solving. Make time to have a conversation when you can feel close, awake, and can really focus on listening to each other.
Start With the Positive – Figure out what has been working for you, what do you like about sex? Asking for something you feel good about sets a tone of excitement and potential. As you start to share about something that isn’t working as well or that you would like to change, continue thinking about what you do want. What do you want more of? What would you like instead? Often people just say, “I don’t like it when you…” leaving their partner feeling like the lists of things they can do just shrunk. Certainly say if something is a clear No to you. But keep sharing your YESs too, they are equally important.
Make Contact – Touching your partner is soothing and studies have found that couples report less stress during conversations when they are holding hands. If it feels okay to do so, reach out and touch their leg or arm. Have the conversation cuddled up or while rubbing each other’s feet. Remind yourselves that you are connected by physical contact. This can also help with connection when eye contact feels too intense.
Don’t Expect to Figure it All Out at Once – Often sexual conversations open up questions, new invitations that have to be considered, edges that may take some time to approach. Pressuring yourself or a partner to come up with clear answers right away will only led to one level of growth. Embrace, “I am not sure, I need to think about that for awhile”. Then take the time to get to be curious about yourself. And then keep talking.
There is a lot available to you at your local sex toy store nowadays. Lots of items that will enhance your self pleasuring time and lots that can be added to play with partners. People imagine that these fun little items will increase physical pleasure, up the naughtiness factor, add a fun fantasy component. But what they don’t often think is that these toys can increase the intimacy factor, but they can do that too.
People who take the risk to add some accessories to their sex play build intimacy with each other because of the newness. Couple’s who take a trip to Pure Pleasure together are suddenly talking about sex more explicitly. They are negotiating, “no way that is way too intimidating!...but this looks fun”. When they bring an item home, they know this is new so they don’t have to be experts about it. Now they may have sexual interaction that includes giggling and needing to stop and re-adjust positions and maybe someone saying, “This isn’t really working for me”. The fact that toys can open up that dialogue is great. The fact that they can be beginner’s again is great.
So I see part of the gift of sex toys to be the gift of awkwardness. I think getting comfortable with awkwardness is great, since learning something new is often awkward. Couples who try to avoid feeling uncomfortable at all costs, often end up feeling bored instead. Intimacy builds from experiences of sharing a moment, however flawed or blissful or vulnerable, not from performing without a hitch. So maybe sex toys aren’t your thing. Can you invite a sense of trying something new to your sex play? Can you embrace a little awkwardness as a sign that things are fresh and growing? What will you use as inspiration?
A Special Gift List from Conscious Sexual Self:
I hope you get...
A conversation about sexual fantasies that turn you on
A day in which you don’t have to leave the bedroom
A lube that you like the taste of
To experience 20 different ways of touching a nipple
A chance to do something out of character for you
The relief of not having to be a sexual rockstar all the time, or at all
An elder who will talk to you honestly about their sexual life lessons
A completely satisfying sexual experience that doesn’t involve your genitals
A completely satisfying sexual experience involving your genitals
A moment of transcendence
A sexual partner you can laugh uncontrollably with
Time to be outside and feel the air on your bare skin
A definition of sexy that goes beyond body parts and sizes
The ability to surprise yourself –and not be freaked out by that
Peace with the parts of you that jiggle, droop, disobey, wrinkle, or in general are not under your control
Freedom from the shame, fear, doubt that you have been encouraged to feel
Excitement from seeing your own hands on your body
Conscious, fully alive sexuality
Here is a not at all uncommon couple’s therapy moment : I am discussing with a couple agreements that they want to have in their relationship, something that they want to do differently. They have just hit on something they are excited about, and they look at me and say, “We can do that?” It is a fun moment for me as a therapist to be able to give people permission to define their relationship for themselves. Do your relationship the way you two want to? Yes, you can do that.
What I mean by this is, your relationship is between the two of you so you set the rules. If something works for you, it doesn’t matter if it works for your friends, parents, neighbors or your therapist. Each relationship is unique and trying to live by the rules established by other couples will not serve you. You can get ideas from Phil and Claire each week, but please don’t feel that every couple is doing thing their way. When it comes to being a couple, there really is no “norm”.
So if you and your partner decide you want to define watching porn as cheating, then that is your rule. If you want to open your relationship to other sexual partners, then that is your agreement. If you want to never go to sleep angry or always take a night to cool down before deciding, either is fine. You can always text several times a day from work or not be in contact during the work day. You can agree that Tuesdays are wear blue underwear day. You can shape your relationship any way – so long as both of you agree and find it to be a good fit. Making sure your agreements or rules are explicit and you both know what to expect is key.
Be honest about what you want and about what you can agree to, re-evaluate if it ends up not feeling good for either one of you, and keep communicating. And you will have a relationship that is the unique fit for you.
Recently I was out with a new friend and I felt like I might be getting the vibe that this person was interested in me sexually. Since I am not available for a new sex partner at the moment, I wanted to address this clearly and quickly so there was no confusion, so I said something along the lines of, “just so you know I am only available to be non-sexual friends”. Now here’s where it got interesting. My friend became really flustered and started apologizing for offending me. Now I am fairly certain I did not appear offended, I wasn’t even blushing. Because I didn’t think anything bad had happened here.
But that is their reason I am writing about this – our culture has engrained in us beliefs that 1) sexual desire is bad and makes the recipient of it feel bad or dirty 2) unreturned sexual desire is offensive and embarrassing 3) the only reason to reject a sexual invitations is because the person doesn’t desire us and 4) if we can’t avoid feeling sexual desire we should at least pretend we don’t feel sexual desire for other people. But at the same time, we are somehow expected to find a partner out there in the world. It is just unclear how we are supposed to assess each other’s interest since we are certainly not supposed to talk about it directly. This is especially true between men and women where we have been shamed into an illusion that women are the unwilling victims of men’s sexual desire, incapable of speaking up or being proactive about what they do and do not want. So we play these games and we are all confused and feel unsafe and unsure.
It is important that we have a way to talk to each other directly about our yeses and nos. These conversations do not need to be embarrassing or demeaning – we have made them that way by pretending that sexual desire is not a part of normal life. We have made it that way by telling women that to assume someone is sexually attracted to you makes you egotistical and prideful which sets her up to wait quietly until a line is crossed so that she can then address it. And then we have made it so that men are made to feel that if they receive a “No thanks” they have already crossed a line and should feel bad and apologize while set them up with the burden that their desire has to be the firestarter; they have to take the lead. This is unfair to all of us.
So what if we had a belief that sexual desire and attraction are natural? What if it was not offensive for someone to express desire for you, what if it was a sweet thing, a compliment, a reflection of you in another’s eyes? What if we admitted, even celebrated, that we live in a world of attractive vibrant people and we will be drawn to many of them , some of whom we will engage with and many of whom we will not? What if we saw sex drives and attractions as an expression of vitality and life force rather than something dirty and demeaning? What if we could say Yes or No without any apologies necessary? I would like that better. In the meantime, good luck out there navigating the seas of sexual desire.
A common confession/concern that people share with me at public talks, usually talking in a hushed voice, is this, “I had the most amazing lover but for various reasons we broke up. How do I enjoy sex now after being with someone so good? I feel like the best sex of my life is behind me”. I have a lot of compassion for the yearning and nostalgia in this question. Sexual memories can be incredibly precious and they also make us want more – more of that passion, pleasure, closeness, riskiness, whatever felt magical in that moment.
The sad thing is that we have been taught to think about sex this way, as something that someone does to us or for us. We have been given the idea of the “great lover” who can play our bodies like an instrument and single-handedly (although most likely utilizing both hands, I would guess) creating an amazing sex experience. Now I agree, there are people that have sexual presence, sexual intelligence and, yes, sexual skills. And it can be really fun to share a sexual experience with these people. However, a good sexual experience between two or more people is co-created. We have to give ourselves credit – “wow, I had this amazing sexual relationship and learned new things about my body and pleasure. Now I am sexually on fire and know what I want and desire”.
So how do you enjoy sex now, after the best sex ever? Not by recreating it or giving all the credit to your past lover. You enjoy sex now by owning your part in the pleasure you have. You introduce new partners to your body, saying what you like and what feels good. You let fantasies feed you and you also let yourself be open to new surprises. But most of all, you look to yourself – who were you when you were with that past partner? How did you interact – were you more free, more naughty, more trusting? Did you express yourself in a new way? Did you move differently? Did you stop critiquing and give yourself over to the experience since you believed they would make it good? Do those things now, with new lovers. Practice by yourself by remembering what it was like and focusing on you. Bring that side of you to sex in the future. It may take time to open up to new partners; it may even feel awkward at first. But the best sex you ever had was when you became the person having mindblowing sex. That person is still there. It was your creation, not a past lover’s.
March 14th has been declared Steak and Blowjob Day, according to a group of men who are obviously comfortable asking for what they want. This holiday is being presented as a counterbalance to Valentine's Day being traditionally more focused on women's ideas how someone should show their love. I personally find the idea of creating a holiday that really addresses your wishes charming and invite all of you to think more creatively about how the world, and your partners, could best show their love and appreciation for you.
So before any of you turn this in to a gender battle of what men want versus what women want or think "oh how dare they!", imagine this - what if it was totally okay to ask for elaborate celebrations of you? What if everyone got to design a day full of things that make them happy? What if there was enough affection to go around and so we could all say what we want without feeling guilty? What if we felt a sense of freedom and generosity about doing things for our partners and inviting them to do things for us? What if asking for sexual pleasure was embraced as part of building joy in our lives? And once you have pondered that ask yourself, why isn' t it like that?
So in honor of Steak and Blowjob Day (aside from the more obvious ways to celebrate, if those appeal) I suggest this - design a holiday for yourself. Be extravagant. What is it that would really make a day feel like it was all about you? If you have a partner or partners share it with them. Maybe you can pick a date for National ______________ day. If you feel at a loss or too shy to have a day all to yourself, may I suggest Ask For What You Want Day. That should get you started.