Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

This Thing We Call Integrity

 

 I talk to clients a lot about integrity. Since I do not believe I have the right to apply my morality or anyone else’s morality to another person, my goal as a therapist is for my clients to define and find the way for them to live in integrity, sexually and otherwise. But I realize maybe this a word we throw around without really diving in.

 

Integrity can be defined as the fairly ambiguous “having strong moral principles”. Ok, that can mean a lot of things. What I find is that many of us first need to establish –for ourselves – what exactly our moral principles are; then we can perhaps strengthen them. Integrity presupposes that we have come to terms with what is true and right for us and hopefully shed old shames that have been applied to us by others.

 

We use the word to apply to things we have built, implying that they are strong, sound, in good condition. Some people will define integrity as being honest, but I think that falls short.

 

The definition I like is this one – “The state of being whole and undivided’. This touches on the complexity of being a stand up human being, it allows for the fact that we may have differing parts, desires and needs that may sometimes confuse or conflict, but within our personal integrity we find ways to bring these things together, acknowledge them as part of us, and make a choice of what is best. I witness clients struggling with difficult choices prioritizing which value must take precedence at this time – do you honor the new passion you feel or a long-standing precious commitment? Do you honor a valued place in your community or a developing political statement? What you deeply want or what you believe to be right? This moment or a future plan? Integrity is not simple. It often requires that our perspectives change or develop. It can set us off balance as we search for a new balance.

 

This last definition also resonates with me as the feeling I have had when I am standing in integrity. I am not blindly following rules, I am full of awareness and in line with myself. I see that I have choice. And I have freedom in knowing I can simply show up with others because I am ok with my actions.

Consider how you interact and live your life differently when your conscience is clear, when you are at peace with yourself, undivided. How does this resonate within

 

 

 

Sweet Contact...and Separation

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Making it Easier to Talk About Sex

 

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.

 

Fixing Broken Things

 

The other day I was trying to fix a broken figurine that had sentimental value for me. Applying glue, taking the two tiny pieces and fitting them back together, some chips still visible unable to be covered. I found myself pressing the two broken pieces together tightly, as though this would somehow get them to adhere more quickly. Now, I know this contradicts the way I understand glue to work – pressure doesn’t speed dry time. Yet, there I was pressing harder. It became clear quickly that all this was doing for me was causing the pieces to come apart was soon as the pressure was released, meaning I had to start over, more glue. After a few irrational tries, I settled into the realization that slow and steady pressure was the way to go. I needed to hold it gently in place just allowing contact between the two parts. I sat patiently in the sun, for a minute or two, just holding and breathing. Afterward I was unsure why I tried to rush the process.

 

But so often when things feel broken our impulse is to fix them quickly, to push into the problem so that it might yield under pressure. But like the glue, many repairs take their own time and need gentle handling. In therapy I see people come in valiantly committed to healing, getting past something, repairing damage of all kinds. Sometimes their commitment to fixing also includes a willingness to hurt themselves, to push past their own limits, to force something to happen. Meanwhile growth has its own pace. Sometimes healing takes gently holding something broken in our hands or hearts, bringing it out into the sun, and breathing slowly while we wait to feel something adhere, something unseen take hold again.

 

Healing does take courage and a willingness to face painful or frightening aspects of life. But it doesn’t require self harm and it doesn’t respond more quickly under pressure. I struggle with being gentle with myself, so I return again and again to lessons about allowing. When I can be mindful of this, there is a spaciousness that surrounds each problem and a sense that effort is not the answer, understanding is. Healing in a relationship requires gentle contact with one another, without force or rushing. Letting the two separate selves touch, close enough that the mysterious thing that holds them to one another can grow strong again, strong enough to hold them together invisibly. It takes time. Meanwhile things are mending, connecting again, becoming less fragile.

 

What do you need to make time to hold gently today?

 

Getting Comfortable With Uncomfortable

I am dismayed to hear about a trend in higher education in which students are expecting to be given “trigger warnings” if a lecture or piece of literature might be upsetting, or in therapy speak – triggering- to them. This will allow them to opt out of learning from content that emotionality challenges them.  I believe that protection from things that make us uncomfortable limits learning and growth. There is a great big world out there and much of it will make us uncomfortable. And the only way to get more comfortable with all those different or challenging perspectives? Face them, learn about them, try to understand them.

 

One reason this makes me very concerned is that we know from studies (recent ones focusing on attitudes about gay marriage) that exposure to difference is the best thing to reduce discrimination and negative beliefs about a different group. It is easy to hold on irrational beliefs about something you have no first hand knowledge of. Being exposed to that which makes us uncomfortable is a huge component of growth, without it we stagnate quickly. The education system should be a series of uncomfortable events, each designed to open us to new ideas and perspectives. We need to face the realities of the world we live in, much of which we might prefer to blissfully ignore.

 

And that is another reason I don’t support trigger warnings, the world is full of triggers. Getting stronger in the face of them is empowering. Hiding from them is not. I work with clients who struggle with PTSD and part of treatment is to identify triggers, things that send messages to their brain that they are in danger. Once they are identified, we can talk about ways to avoid some of those triggers, sure. And that can be helpful in reducing stress in the short term. But I never guarantee to a client that they will be able to arrange their life such that they can avoid all triggers. That would most likely be a very limited life. Instead we work to build up strength and new responses to triggers, so that they have less power to through someone into fear.

 

I see the affects, big and small, of people believing they cannot handle things that make them uncomfortable. And I know that the healing for that is, almost always, facing those things and finding that they do not have to damage you. I see the arguments for discrimination and reducing our rights being made on the basis of “I shouldn’t have to be witness to their life/behavior/art/ideas/sexual expression/choices/religious beliefs/ and on and on”. I have seen people not say something that was true and important to them for fear of upsetting a partner and the ways that reduces intimacy and connection. I have seen my own biases and blindspots change as I find myself in brand new territory, even as it scares me.

 

So let’s commit as conscious sexual selves to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let’s let it strengthen us and inspire us. Let’s understand our own ability to honor and accept difference without having to let go of our own self. Let’s get excited about the stuff that makes us go, “what the X#*?” or “ick” because it means there is more out there than we can fully grasp, and that is ok. And let’s never let the world convince us that we are not strong enough to face it. 

 

 

Creating What We Expect

 

I recently heard about a great study. Researcher psychologist Bob Rosenthal took a group of average rats and put signs on their cages saying that some of the rats were very smart and some of the rats were dumb. He then assigned people to work with the rats, getting the rats to run a timed maze. So… some of the people believed that they had special smart rats and some believed that their rats were dumb. The effects were intense – the rats assigned to people who believed them to be smart ran the maze nearly twice as fast as the rats who had been labeled dumb.

 

Rosenthal’s speculation is that the people assigned to the rats touched them differently, more gently if they were proud of their smart little rat, and that affected the rats’ performance. So, if subtleties of our touch can affect rats this drastically – a species with little incentive to care what we think about them -imagine what it might do for our human partners.

 

What messages are you sending to your partner as you touch them in bed? What expectations can be transmitted through your skin? What patterns have you come to expect, so much so that your body unconsciously reacts in anticipation of them?  

 

As a sex therapist I work with people as they make changes to the way they interact sexually, changing patterns and expectations. Often we have to address the subtle, even unconscious, ways we are reacting to one another. While it is freeing to imagine that anything can happen, that we don’t know what to expect, with longer term partners we rarely have that mindset. And so we co-create a dance, feeling each other’s lead through our bodies and responding, feeling and responding, expecting and responding.  People who do partner-dancing know that if the person following begins to anticipate the lead’s move too early, it will throw off the rhythm. Moving together means responding in the moment, not forecasting the moments ahead.

 

So how can you drop expectation and truly see what you and your partner can co-create sexually? Approach touch and sexual play from a blank slate perspective. Imagine that you can ask for anything. Try not to brace for a YES or a NO. Expect fun and connection and pleasure and see what happens.

 

And, we know from our maze-running rat friends, that touch which broadcasts loving support, excitement, pride in your partner (what a smart rat, you are!) may bring out the best in them. Touch mindfully.

 

Commiting to Monogamy - What does it Take?

 

 

This is an old-y but a goody. Originally published by YourTango.com

 

Committing to Monogamy : What does it take?

 

 

 

I admit to being shocked that TV series The Bachelor, and its sister show, The Bachelorette, are still going with season 19! But it speaks to how focused we are on the dating portion of romance – the getting the partner to choose us and, so the story goes, commit. As a culture we have turned the search for love into a competition, a game, entertainment, something we can critique and, maybe sometimes, even learn from at a distance. But what we need are stories and examples of what happens after you have found each other. We need to watch people who can show us what it takes to be in love for the long term, how they wrap their mind around commitment, and how they are able to grow and thrive within successful monogamy way beyond the ring or the rose. I know some people who are doing that and here are a few foundational pieces they have in place.

 The ability to see monogamy as a choice you make : You can’t do monogamy for your parents, or your friends, or you partner. You have to decide that this is what you want, for you. Identify your own reasons for wanting to be monogamous long-term. Maybe for you it is a religious or spiritual choice, maybe you value loyalty, maybe you see commitment as a path to personal growth, maybe you want to see what can happen if you focus your romantic energy on one person. Whatever your reasons, to be successful at long-term monogamy it is crucial to take responsibility for your choice and to let go of any resentments about other people “making” you do it. Monogamy is not the only choice. If you chose it, do it because you can own it.

A partner who rocks your world : This may seem obvious, but I see people again and again who say that they want to be in a committed relationship now and the person that they are with feels an ok match, so…This is a hard setup for long term monogamy. If you want to feel inspired to stay committed, you need to find a person who inspires you, a person who shares your sense of humor and adventure, a person who turns your body, mind and heart on in a variety of ways, the person who you want to leave the party with again and again. If you start out comparing your partner to others and wishing your partner could be different in this way or that, you may eventually find yourself just wishing for a different partner.

Understanding and familiarity with your own sexual desire : We live in a world of attractive people and no matter how appealing your partner is, you will still notice the other people out there. The romantic saying, “I only have eyes for you” is not realistic. Our culture makes sure you see and encourages you to be seen. Committing to monogamy requires you to be honest with yourself about this and to be prepared to shift the desire stirred up in the world back to your partner. You must learn how to respond to your own desires in ways that feel in integrity to you and this can only be learned by acknowledging that desire and attraction for others will not go away even when you find the one person you want to commit to.

Confidence to be yourself and to ask for what you want : Long-term commitment will be difficult at best if you go into it by trying to shape yourself into the person you think your partner wants. A fun part of early dating can be trying out new things, being introduced to your partner’s new world. But it is one thing to go to MMA fights a few times and another to pretend that you will be happy doing this every weekend for the next 5 years. If you feel that you are subtly dismissing the things you want and slowly letting your life or yourself be reshaped into your partner’s idea of the ideal, be cautious. You want to be sure your partner is committing to you - the self you want to be, not the self you can be if you have to. And you want to be sure you are committing to a life you can happily embrace, not one with creeping resentment.

We may not have a lot of TV shows about it, but long term relationships are hardly boring. They ask a lot of the people involved. So whether you are searching for a partner or have found someone but are wondering how to keep it going into the future, I invite you to think about these traits. You can develop them and they will help to have a strong foundation for the evolving adventure that is love between two people.

 

You as a Sexual Partner

 

Excerpted from The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook:

 

I want you to fuck me. I want you to inspire me. I want you to tease me. I want you to notice me. I want you to love me. I want you to be with me even if you shouldn’t. I want you to punish me. I want you to be a reflection of me. I want you to initiate me. I want you to plunder me. I want you to slowly unwrap me. I want you to let me. I want you to deny yourself for me. I want you to scare me. I want you to nourish me. I want you to treat me like a child. I want you to dissolve into me. I want you to impregnate me. I want you to reduce me to instinct. I want you to cry out for me. I want you to dream of me. I want you to taste every part of me. I want you to be naughty with me. I want you to do something you have never done before with me. I want you…

 

The depth of what we want from our sexual relationships is wondrous. We open ourselves to our own hungers in relation to other people, other people who could give us something we are, in their presence, discovering that we want. Oh, and that wanting is intense. Sometimes we hardly know how to contain it. Partners become muses for us. And what we get back from our sexual interactions is often more and different from we initially thought we wanted.

 

Our relationships incite growth in us. It is true they open new worlds to us and require us to get creative in very good ways. Keeping a relationship alive and growing is a practice that asks us to stay dedicated and keep working at it. Periods of inertia often are leading us to periods of significant transformation. Relationships help us discover our limits and sometimes to stretch them. They break our hearts and heal us, sometimes, vexingly, at the same time. The person you are now was developed in part in relationships with other people, and I invite you to be fascinated by this.

 

As distracting as your partners may be, it is worthwhile to stay interested in who you are while you are with them. In the hustle to find or keep a partner, have you asked yourself what kind of partner you are? It is disturbingly easy to give responsibility away to a partner. But you are shaping your relationships as much as anyone else. And you are shaping yourself. What kind of sexual moments are you inviting? What levels of satisfaction are you willing to reach for? How much intimacy do you want?

 

Do you want more? Buy The Conscious Sexual Self Workbookavailable now on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Chasing Happiness

 

Probably all of us can relate to the nagging letdown after an event you had been looking forward to for days, or weeks, or months. The times when nothing went especially wrong but the experience just didn’t meet the internal hype you has created. This is a special kind of disappointment. And now researchers have something to say about this unpleasant aspect of chasing happiness.

 

In a 2003 experiment by Schooler and colleagues, people were asked to listen to a piece of music (selected for them) and some of them were instructed to  “try to make themselves as happy as possible” from listening. They found that the people who tried to be happy reported being made less happy from the experience. The people who just listened to the music without TRYING to be happy, got greater happiness from it. Hmmmm…

 

 

 

A more recent study looked at women who said they thought it was very important to be happy and their perceived rates of happiness while under low stress. They found that the women who said it was more important to be happy reported less happiness than women who “valued” happiness less. So, this does suggest that we can set ourselves up for disappointment when we expect happiness as a crucial outcome.

 

But it is good for us to be happy!?! Absolutely it is. It just seems that chasing happiness as an expectation may not be the best way to get it. In the music study, the people who listened and just let themselves be open to whatever the experience offered reported more of a happiness boost. Being present, without needing the experience to be anything in particular actually helps with enjoyment.  

 

Maybe you can apply this non-striving approach to the upcoming holiday season. Rather than setting yourself (or a partner) up by building towards an imagined happiness, how about going into things with a curiosity about how it might make you feel? Happiness will come and bless us, if we are open to it. Focusing on an experience itself, in all its joys and imperfections, will bring you there more quickly than mentally trying to get to a treasured happiness finish line.

 

Reminds me of orgasm…the more we chase, the farther away it can seem to get. But when we focus on the actual moment and sensations for their own sake… wow, that’s when a big juicy burst of happiness arrives like an unexpected gift. Be ready for it.

 

Life Envy

 

Philosopher Nietzsche had a term Lebensneid representing “life envy”. I think most of us are familiar to some degree with the nagging feeling that if only your life was more like that life over there, you would be so much more content. I wonder if we are feeling more and more life envy as we become more and more exposed to others lives, constantly bombarded with images and stories of how other people live. I mean we even have news stories about tiffs over who gets to claim the title of lifestyle guru, and who is just a faker. The power to feed our life envy in a job title.

 

Life envy does seem to be connected to the plethora of life choices we have available to us. In her wonderful book, Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a Hmong community she visits in Vietnam and how few choices the people there have in how their life will unfold. The surprise is that because of this they actually seem to have less angst about the state of their life. Choice brings with it doubt. There is always another option not chosen. There is always a “what if?” Perhaps life envy is an externalized version of “what if?” turned into dull but distracting coveting.

 

What can we do when we are caught in Lebensneid, convinced that our life is lacking in comparison, that they are having better sex, better relationships, a better body, a better orgasm…? We can recognize that these things are incomparable. Trying to reduce the seductive call of all those things out there that we cannot actually do anything with or about will allow us to feel more empowered. Really Gwyneth Paltrow or Jay Cutler do not have something you want. What will make you happy is totally unique to you, shaped by interconnected elements of who you are. It will involve choices and sacrifices that only you can judge. It will also involve joys and satisfactions that are only for you.

 

We all have our moments of the grass looking greener over there out of reach. It seems to be human nature to feel longing. And we are invited by our consumer culture, where happiness is just one purchase away, to ask ourselves, “Am I fulfilled? Is this as good as it gets?” Look around you, not at what others have, but at what you have. Some of it may be pretty amazing as is. Some of what you have may be raw material to work with in creating something amazing. Don’t fall into the passive disengagement that goes hand in hand with life envy. Be inspired by what is possible but know that happiness will only be found in your own life, not in the imagined life of someone else.