Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Advice Overload Won't Help

Here's a reprint from an article I did for YourTango.com :

 

More and more women are talking to each other about their sex lives. If not in open Sex and the City style confessionals over brunch, then in hushed tones over a glass of wine or huddled on the sidelines at a soccer match. Increased comfort talking about sex and desire is a good thing. But it can create advice overload, advice that just may not apply to us. Difficulty orgasming is one of those concerns for which one size solutions do not fit all. So if you have been comparing yourself to your friends and confidants and wondering why what works for them hasn’t worked for you, don’t worry. There is a solution for you; it just may be different than hers.

There are a lot of reasons why you may be having trouble with orgasm. Figuring out what is going on for you uniquely is key to getting your orgasms back, or finding them if you have not yet experienced them. A sex therapist or sex coach may be the best support in helping you assess what is impacting you, but here are a few common causes to consider. Which do you think might apply to you?

Ineffective Sex : Lack of sexual variety, skills, and experience, combined with rushed sex, are a common reason for difficulty with orgasms. Maybe you need more time for your body to get warmed up or sex that is frankly more fun for you. Since the sexual revolution of the 70s and the new focus on women’s sexual arousal , this is often the assumed problem. But I also see many couples who are having playful, arousing, exciting sexual interaction and orgasm is still missing. Go and explore new ways to be sexual but also trust yourself. Maybe there is another reason.

Your Mind is Busy Working : It may be difficult for you to turn your mind down or switch focus from the daily to-do lists to feel physical pleasure. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, it will be hard to orgasm. You could be thinking about the laundry that needs to get done for tomorrow or the deadline at work or the cellulite on your thighs. In any case, you are not thinking about how good it feels to be touched. It is important to find ways to reduce your stress, transition from the daily grind to make time for pleasure, and to learn how to train your mind to let go of things temporarily and be in the moment. Most of us can use some help with this!

Hormones Are Not There for You : We hear a fair amount about how hormones impact sexual desire and libido, but hormones also play key roles in our ability to orgasm.  Low estrogen in particular reducing blood flow to genitals which may make orgasm more difficult. If you used to have no trouble reaching orgasm and that has changed dramatically or if you feel like you have desire for sex and that the sex you are having is arousing but you never quite reach the peak of orgasm, maybe hormones are to blame. The frustration for a lot of women with this issue is that they have talked to their doctor and been dismissed. Keep in mind that most gynecologists are trained to care for your reproductive health, which is different than your sexual health or satisfaction. Seek out a doctor who specializes in sexual health or a naturopath who works with hormones.

 Low Tone or Awareness in Pelvic Floor Muscles : If you feel like you have low sensation with penetration or that you are just not feeling much, maybe you have weakness in your pelvic floor muscles which help with intensity of pleasure and orgasm. Childbirth, lack of use, and menopause can all affect the health of these muscles, but you can always train them to be stronger. You can even get to the point that you have control over contracting them which is a great way to increase sexual pleasure. You can learn about pelvic exercises called Kegels on your own and practice them. You can also find a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor health and get an assessment and support from them.

You Believe Orgasms are Bad, Dirty or Dangerous : There are lots of deeply held beliefs, sometimes so deep that we are only mildly aware of them, that impact our sexual pleasure. You may be able to identify the beliefs that are getting in the way; you may even want to stop having those beliefs. But changing our minds can be harder than we imagine. You can get support by reading books or seeing movies that support they way you want to see sex, talking to friends, and of course talking with a sex therapist or coach.

Sexual Pain: Sex doesn’t have to be painful and if you have been living with this, I strongly encourage you to seek help from a doctor specializing in sexual pain. Even if the pain comes and goes, the eventual anxiety about having pain will get in the way of experiencing pleasure. You are not alone in having sexual pain and you are not doomed to live with it. But you may have to do some searching to find an experienced doctor or clinician who can help.

Your trouble reaching orgasm may be related to one of these causes or several of them. You may have another reason all together. If orgasm feels important to you seek out your own solutions and support. Don’t get overwhelmed by advice overload; let your friends do what works for them. Listen to your body and you will find what works for you.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Kegels are for Everyone!

 

These muscles could use a workout

 

I am writing in praise of Kegels, the pelvic floor “exercises” that can improve just about anyone’s sex life. When we think of our sexual body parts, mostly people think of the penis, vagina, vulva. But in actuality our genitals are surrounded and supported by the very important pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles contract as a part of orgasm in both men and women. Strong contractions of these muscles can be felt by partners if you are engaging in penetrative sex and a taut vaginal canal can improve sensation for both people involved. Men who want to have multiple orgasms train themselves to contract their pelvic floor muscles on command. And people say that their orgasms become more intense as they strengthen these muscles.

 

Like in other areas of the body, muscles that are too tense limit us and limit sensation, muscles that are too weak limit our control and movement and, in the case of pelvic floor muscles, limit our orgasmic ability. If a muscle stays weak for too long it can atrophy. But, again as with other muscles in our body, we can always train the muscles to make them healthier.  What we want is a balanced healthy set of muscles that we feel we have some control of and connection to. Note that balance includes being able to relax these muscles as well. Sometimes chronic tension in the pelvic floor muscles can contribute to sexual pain and learning to release the muscles brings relief.

 

So how do we do Kegels? The great thing is you can do them anytime, anywhere. No one will notice. One way people can get familiar with these muscles is to try and stop your stream of urine. You will instinctually use your pelvic floor muscles to clamp down on the flow. That isn’t am especially fun way to practice, but try it if you feel unsure about how to access these muscles. To practice Kegels, you think about the floor of your pelvis – the area between the vaginal open and the anus or between the scrotum and the anus – and imagine pulling that area upward into your body. It is a small movement. Try doing several small pulses and then hold the contraction for a longer time. As you get more control you can play with contracting more to the front of your body, then more to the back or contracting in time to music. Always remember the release portion too though. And ideally you want to not use your buttocks or thigh muscles to do this, so work on keeping those areas of your body relaxed.

 

Still wondering if you are doing it right? You can see the muscles contract. Those of you with a vulva will need a handmirror or you can insert a finger and feel the muscles contract if they are strong enough. Those of you with a penis can make the penis twitch, easier to see with an erection, or you can insert a finger into your rectum to feel a contraction. Keep trying, you will get it.

 

Each time you do a Kegel, contract and release, a rush of blood flows into the tissue. This will keep the tissue healthy and in women it will also increase lubrication, so Kegels are also a great way to warm your body up for sex. Fair warning, doing Kegels will increase your sex drive. They can be a great way to use commuting time but you may arrive at your destination with sex on your mind. Enjoy.

 

 

Can I Ruin Myself?

 

Tom is not meeting my eyes as he sits in my office. He quickly blurts out that he has been looking at porn online, pretty often, and is worried that he has changed his desires and that now he will never be satisfied with the sex he and his wife have.

 

Sarah says she is frustrated with sex with her partner and practically whispers, “Could my using a vibrator have made it so I can’t orgasm without it anymore?”

 

Both these people are asking a similar question, “Has something I have done changed my sexual responses permanently?  Am I still normal?” And of course, the really unspoken question, “Is sex dangerous? Can I ruin myself in some way?” The thing is we have been led to believe that sex is dangerous, that there are bad behaviors, that we are all just one misstep from being a damaged sexual being. But the truth is, we, as humans, are a lot more adaptable than that. And now we are finding brain science to back that up.

 

There are two brain concepts that are helpful here. One is the principle of learned disuse. This is not a complicated thing to understand and we are all familiar with it. If you stop trying to do something, you will more quickly lose the ability to do that thing. Pretty simple. This is true for all kinds of behaviors or skills. But what we know from the frankly amazing extents of human recovery, and now from brain scans, if people work at regaining a skill, even if that skill has atrophied and it is now very hard to do, people can rewire their brain to recover that ability. It may not be easy, it may in fact be quite frustrating especially if you have developed an easier way to meet a similar need, but it can be done. Which bring us to the concept of neural plasticity. Science-y sounding words, yes, but again fairly easy to understand. Our brains our fundamentally flexible, they are ready to learn patterns. In the brain’s readiness to learn patterns we train our brain; it is efficient and designed to respond quickly. So if we do a behavior a certain way several times we are programming our brain to that behavior. That pattern will become the default program for us. Neuroscience researcher, Norman Doidge MD, explains this beautifully with a snow analogy. Think if walking through fresh snow, the first pass through you set down a trail of slightly packed snow. When you walk that way again, it will be easiest to step into the track that is already laid down. Each pass makes that track more efficient for you and in fact, it will be difficult to walk to either side of it; your feet will be pulled into the track already laid down. But you can choose to walk outside that track. It will take more effort but you can eventually lay down a new path in the snow. The same is true for our mind and our behaviors.

 

So this is true of our sexual behaviors too. Sarah and Tom may have laid down some patterns for themselves that now are holding them back from experiencing other sexual elements that they want. But they can retrain themselves to have new patterns. It may be frustrating at first. It may involve avoiding the easy path that has been working for them in other ways, doing things differently. But the flexibility is there. So, no you are not ruined. You are a creature of habit in ways that go deeper than we imagined, but also a creature of continuous change and growth. If you are willing to be frustrated for awhile, you can make changes, to your sex life and to other aspects of yourself.

 

Sex While Skinny

 

What would the media like us to believe about women’s sexual confidence? I see a lot of messaging out there designed to convince us that American women are getting more and more sexually bold, empowered, and creative. Call it the Sex & the City affect or the Miley Cyrus affect, if you like. What we see are stories about how we are increasingly more sexually liberated and daring. We see feminist empowerment portrayed as the right to be unabashedly sexy (you can twerk if you want to!).  But, in reality, for many people these public displays of sex seem to be making them feel more inhibited rather than less.

 

Take for example a recent comparison of sex questionnaires, from 2 very mainstream media publications, Glamour and Mademoiselle, looking at people’s answers from 1993 and 2013. Sure, there was some great news about women receiving more oral sex than before and more women have used a sex toy. But it also showed that 48% of the women questioned felt that men enjoy sex more than women, a sharp rise from the 33% who said that in 1993. So, all the talk about women’s increasing sexual ownership and desire are not translating to people’s actual bedrooms. And here is one potential reason, the surveys also showed that 73% of women now said that they would enjoy sex more if they lost weight! This number is staggeringly sad on its own, but even more dismaying in relation to the survey results from 1993 in which only 39% of women said this. Suggesting, in relation to body image empowerment is declining.

 

It is a good thing to like the way you look and to feel comfortable in your own body. But let’s be clear, there is not a lot that 20 extra pounds of fat can do to decrease your sexual pleasure – except for what your mind does with it. Sure being obese may limit some positions. Being out of shape may limit your endurance. But sex can still be fun. Orgasms will still feel good. And, the part that is clearly the hardest for people to accept – your partner can still desire you, think you are hot, and enjoy the privilege of interacting with your body. The fact that so many women are linking weight loss to their ability to enjoy sex speaks to the cruelty and arbitrariness of our minds. You can decide that you only have the right to enjoy sultry, uninhibited sex if you look like an airbrushed advertisement. You can turn off desire by allowing critical voices free rein in your head. You can doubt your partner’s touch or belittle their passion while with you. You can hold out for impossible standards while your body does its natural thing and ages. But it is such a waste.

 

I share with the mass media a desire to tell a story of sexual liberation. I just acknowledge that there is still a battle people need to fight in their own minds to really liberate themselves, and so many of us are losing it. And the cost is denying something that is natural, that we don’t have to purchase or earn, that always belongs to us – the pleasure our body can take in sexual stimulation.

 

Does this topic hit a nerve? Consider joining Melissa’s upcoming women’s group, Aligning With Your Body

 

 

Not so Fast - Think Twice About Products for Early Ejaculation

There are two new products on the market to treat early ejaculation in men, and sadly, I think they reflect the limitations in the way we view sex. Both products are spray numbing agents designed to reduce sensitivity in the penis. In truth men have been trying numbing agents of various sorts in hopes of lasting longer for years, so the real invention now is that the spray apparently doesn’t transfer to the partner. I have no doubt that by reducing pleasure they allow a man to last longer, but I have to ask – is that an acceptable trade?

First as a sex therapist, I think it is sad to settle for a solution which requires one person to enjoy sex less so the other can enjoy sex more. And, in most cases, it is not necessary. Many times early ejaculation happens because the man is unaware of his level of arousal, so he is tipped over the edge into orgasm before he wanted to be. Often times he is distracted by thinking about his performance, worrying about when he will come, or wondering if his partner is close.  Actually learning to become MORE aware of his sensation and messages from his body can help him to pace his arousal, change the level of intensity for himself,  and possibly feel more in control as well. Becoming numb will not help to build a relationship to his arousal, it will just help him last longer, as long as he is numb.

The other sad aspect of this is how it encourages us to limit our sexual scripts. One approach to dealing with early ejaculation is to expand your sexual play to include a variety of things that feel good and give pleasure, using hands, mouths, skin, toys, etc, so that penetrative intercourse is only one possible aspect of a sexual experience. That way orgasm for either partner can happen at any time and both know that there are still many ways to be satisfied. Penetration may still be the preference, but we might question the impulse to numb someone’s genitals if we didn’t see intercourse as the only “right way” to have sex.

And speaking of numbing genitals – can we for a moment imagine the outrage if a company was marketing a product to numb women’s vaginas so they could have sex longer? Think that would be considered an acceptable solution? No, women would be angry about being treated like objects and insulted that their sexual pleasure was considered irrelevant to the sex act. Maybe we could give men the same respect and see their ability to have intense, fully sensate sexual pleasure as important. Let's shoot for the stars - everyone's pleasure is important!

 

popular video - who is responsible for your orgasm?

Here is a link to a video I did for YourTango's Experts. In it, I talk about who is responsible for getting a partner to orgasm and how sharing the responsibility will make for a happier sexual relationship.

I hope you enjoy the video and share it with online friends !  

http://www.yourtango.com/2013174722/who-is-responsible-for-your-orgasm?utm_source=YourTango+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=4c8affab15-YTNewsletter_A_B_02201302_202013&utm_medium=email