Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

What I Want, What You Want, What We Want

 

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Turned On To Touch

 

Hands running up and down the slopes of bodies, thighs touching, torsos pressing into each other….Touch is the sense most commonly linked to sexuality. We touch and are touched. For some of us, sexual interactions are the main, or only, time we engage in extended touch with another person.

 

When we talk of touch in sex, we often hear about ways to touch another person. Often the advice centers around finding the “right” places to touch. Maybe there will be some input on whether to touch lightly there or firmly. We also hear about how to receive touch, how to relax and experience the sensation of someone else, hopefully, pleasing you.

 

I am going to invite another aspect of enjoying touch – the ability to track sensation and take pleasure in the act of touching itself. What do I mean by this? We can touch in such a way that touching turns us on. Try it now with yourself; use your hand to touch your opposite arm. Close your eyes and notice what your hand is feeling, heat, softness of skin, crinkly quality of hair. Now slowly move your hand and feel sensation under your fingertips, different than the sensation under your palm. Now you are engaging in the act of touching.

 

It is harder to focus on this when you touch yourself because, as you probably noticed, the sensation in your arm being touched is pretty distracting too. That is not a bad thing! Let’s have pleasure from multiple channels. With a partner though, it can be a fun practice to experiment with touching for your own sensation of pleasure. Rather than focusing on tweaking spot A, then brushing spot B, then vigorously rubbing spot C, in hopes that this will feel good to your partner, try something different and touch according to what feels good underneath your hands. It helps to close your eyes at first so that you can focus on what you feel. Then slowly explore.

 

Engaging in this way you may find that you love parts of your partner’s body that you didn’t appreciate before. You may get aroused by slickness, folds and hills, roughness tingling against tender fingertips, warm hidden spots. Think of your own hands as erotic zones in their own right. They are just as sensitive as nearly anywhere you are going to be touched.

 

There is a great likelihood that your partner is going to like this too. Slow sensual touch from someone who is enjoying themselves is a pretty big turn on. This practice is not to replace the other ways of engaging with touch; take time to give purposeful touches and to receive. This opens up a new way to explore and enjoy sexual play and new channels for pleasure.

 

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.

 

Ode to Lube

 

One of those sex myths out there that are holding people back from having better sex is a simple one – the belief that lube is for old people. I get a lot of people, of the younger variety, who look at me blankly when I mention using lube as part of their sex play. I can almost hear their thought process, “Isn’t that for post menopausal women’s sex?” No, adding lube to your sexual tool kit can benefit a lot of people.

 

Lube is for anyone who wants to have a lot of sex at one time or sex that lasts long time. It is for people who want to have quickies. It is for people who want to have sex when they are feeling a bit stressed and their body may be slower to respond. It is for people who want to use toys as part of their sex play or include parts of their body that don’t self lubricate. Lube is for people who chose to use condoms or other barrier methods for safe sex. Lube is for anyone who wants to have genital sex while using antihistamines, blood pressure medications, or many other varieties of medications people commonly take that impact natural lubrication. Lube is for people who want to add some new flavor to their oral sex. Lube is for people who want to play in wet environments like showers, hot tubs, heavy rain storms. Lube is for anyone who likes the sensation of slippery.

 

 

So lube is pretty sexy stuff. And now there are so many types, flavored, organic, kinds that heat up, kinds designed for use with toys or for anal sex… It’s a good thing to have in your night stand. So go to your local sex friendly store and see what is available to you. Soon you may write your own ode to lube.

 

What I Hope You Get This Year

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

 

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!

 

Remember the thrill of "second base"?

Ah the forgotten nipple – so important in the early teenage years of sexual exploration but overlooked once penetration comes in to the picture. Don’t let this happen to you. I encourage you to not forget that nipples have serious pleasure potential. Include them in your sexual play.

Nipples may not be the most effusive body part or the most dramatic, but they are often asking for attention. Both men and women’s nipples are sensitive and responsive erogenous zones. Everyone’s nipples are different; actually they are like fingerprints, each unique. So the type of stimulation that feels good will vary a lot. Some people like a gentle touch, some people are excited by fairly rough play with their nipples. Nipples are more sensitive when they are hard, but erect nipples occur for several reasons so they are not necessarily a sign of sexual arousal.

Studies suggest that women’s nipples are more enervated, and therefore more sensitive, than men’s.  A 2011 MRI study found that when women’s nipples were self –stimulated it lit up the area of their brain associated with genital sensation, (Komisaruk, B. R., Wise, N., Frangos, E., Liu, W.-C., Allen, K. and Brody, S), giving scientific background for many women’s reports that they orgasm more easily when their nipples are being touched.  Many women can achieve orgasm from nipple stimulation alone. Women’s nipple sensitivity is also very affected by hormonal fluctuations throughout the month, so they are great teachers for us in the need to vary the way we approach our partner’s bodies and our own. What feels great today may not do it for you tomorrow, best to have some variety in your approach.

So touch them with a feather, your lips, your tongue, fingers or the tines of a comb. Touch your partners when you are together, touch you own nipples when you masturbate. Just don’t ignore them!

 

Practice to be... as you are

I got to go and see Natalie Goldberg speak recently. She is a teacher and artist who has linked creative writing into a Zen practice. Her guidance has been a gift to writers around the world who need to be reminded to just sit down and write, to release editing and judgment, and to actually observe the world around you and write what is present and real to you.

She said something about the concept of having a “practice” that really struck a bell inside of me. She said the Zen concept of having a practice is not about improving. You actually don’t sit down to practice to get better. It is not about striving to be at the next level. You practice because you committed to practice. She said – and this really shook me – you practice to just feel and be where you are NOW because you believe what you are doing is valuable in itself. I started thinking about all the things I had been encouraged to practice throughout my life and how it always seemed that the reason I was doing it was so that I would get better. And I thought about the pressure of that kind of practice and how it so often stopped me from really appreciating and settling in to what I was doing at the moment.

It is the American way to strive. We are a self-improvement minded (some could say obsessed) nation. We are rarely encouraged to do something just for fun anymore; things almost always have to include a reason why something is good for us. We are a country of people who deeply believe we can and should do better.

 What does this have to do with sex? Well, I was thinking about this constant focus on doing better, doing more, reaching the next level and I realized this is something people do to their sexuality as well. If the expectation is that our sex lives – with one partner, multiple partners or ourselves - will get progressively hotter, more intense, with better performances each time, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. Even worse though, if we are focusing on taking it to some new level, we are often missing what is actually happening in the moment. “Practicing” so we can perform better can take us away from pleasure. Sometimes it could be helpful to just have the sex we are actually having in an awake and accepting frame of mind.

We are not taught to think in terms of “good enough” in America. And some of you are probably feeling a bit betrayed for me to even suggest that we not strive for better sex all of the time. To be clear, I think people’s sex lives can get more and more satisfying as we grow and I think we can try new things, learn new skills, and have more fun and more orgasms. I wouldn’t be in the field unless I believed in those things. However, I also believe that a lot of people are dismissing good sexual experiences because they think they should be having some other kind of sexual experience. And a lot of couples feel like they are failing because they haven’t tried something new lately. So how about this as an experiment – What if you approached sex and/or masturbation like a zen-practice just one time? Make a commitment to be present for it, to let go of trying to increase the velocity or intensity, to really try and be aware of where you are at that time. What if you engaged in sex this one time because you believe it is important and valuable, even if it never reaches some new level? What if you believed that the sexual experience, just as you are having it, had something valuable to show you?

 

Best Sex You Ever Had

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.