Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Resistance to Consent

 

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.

 

Myth Busting : Men vs Women Edition

 

Okay everybody, here are some myths it is time to bust …

 

Men like porn, women don’t. Turns out, just not true. First of all, porn or erotic art has been around since humans have been carving on walls and while the artists didn’t sign their names, it seems unlikely that this was just for men. Currently, stats tell us that in 2007 over the course of a month’s monitoring 1 in 3 visitors to the selected porn site was a woman. And plenty of women enjoy porn. A 2006 study from McGill University found that women watching porn reached physical arousal in an average of 12 minutes while for men is took 11 minutes. Visuals work for lots of people and the excitement of watching sex is probably deeply rooted in human desire maps. And the biggest problem many women report having with porn? Feeling bad about their bodies in comparison to the unrealistic expectations created in porn. Talking to men, you might hear about painful body or performance comparisons too. If only we were talking to each other about real life sex…

 

Oxytocin is a women’s hormone – Oxytocin, significantly released during childbirth and breast feeding, has been studied for its effect on women and often is talked about as though it is a women’s hormone exclusively and as though women have some lock on bonding because of it. But men’s bodies receive a surge of oxytocin after orgasm, and yes, it also helps them to feel trusting and bonded. It also can make all of us more relaxed and sleepy (touching on another gender sexual stereotype). Oxytocin can also be triggered through relaxed touch or hand holding, so cuddle up, it’s good for all of us.

 

Women have lower desire than men – Not true, not true, not true. Gosh, why is this one still hanging in there? Both men and women have desire patterns that will vary throughout a lifetime, some periods being hotter than others. And there are so many factors that affect sexual desire for everyone, from stress, relationship conflict, hormones (yes, testosterone fluctuates too), children in the house, shame, body image concerns, and on and on. A man’s desire is just as complex as a woman’s. And a woman can be full of desire at any age.

 

Men are the ones who cheatCurrent research, and my experience as a couple’s therapist, are showing that rates of infidelity among women and men are actually pretty similar. Both men and women can struggle with monogamy and can be tempted by new sexual partners. Even with equal opportunity infidelity out there, we still hear more about men’s cheating behavior, in large part because there are still more men in power for the press to report on. Sexual stereotypes weigh heavy here and can damage relationships and trust before they even start.

 

Women need to feel connected to have sex, men need to have sex to feel connected – Human beings are each unique with a life’s worth of experiences, patterns, beliefs, and emotions that go into our emotional needs and sexual needs. What any one of us needs to feel connected is different. What any one of us needs to feel sexual is different too. There are lots of men who talk to me about wishing their partner would give them some focused emotional attention before expecting sex and many women who say they would like to have sex and then bask in the connectedness that creates for them. We are each different.

 

Desire in a pill?

 

The FDA is holding open meetings in October to obtain patient and doctor input on female sexual dysfunctions, specifically low desire. Now since it is the FDA, they are hoping to gain momentum on developing a medication that can treat lack of sexual desire. Which makes those of us who work with people struggling with sexual concerns sigh with frustration, “As though it is that simple.”

 

Sexual desire is complex. So much so that we can also say it is mysterious. Why we crave what we crave, why we crave it sometimes and not other times, why we are drawn to certain people, all questions without clear answers. And why we can’t just convince ourselves to want sex when it the person, place or time are convenient? That is a question that many people ask themselves. Low sexual desire is only a clinical issue when someone wants to want sex. But wanting to be sexual is not the same thing as desiring sex in that moment. And so many people are seeking their sexual desire spark to reignite.

 

There are physical issues that come into play with low desire, certainly. Hormones, brain chemistry, stress levels, exhaustion, side effects from drugs, general health and more should be considered. But so should emotional stressors, lifestyle, religious or spiritual conflicts, body awareness and acceptance, beliefs about sex and pleasure, traumas and fears, self image, lack of sex education, ability to enjoy sexual stimulation, and on and on. And I haven’t even started listing all the ways the relationship the person is in may affect their level of sexual desire. An issue that starts from one stimulus, say back pain, can lead to a pattern of saying no to sex, which leads to distance and resentment in a partner, which leads to less desire to be with them, which leads to less positive thoughts about sex…You can see how things interplay.

 

Even if the FDA can create a pill that motivates sexual desire would we want to take it? There is a creepy factor in feeling as though your sexual desire is manufactured. What invites us to ask ourselves, what is “real” desire. Desire is not just physical, nor just emotional, or relational. Our sexuality is interlaced with all aspects of our lives; that is one reason it is so potent. Sexual happiness can heal us on many levels and sexual unhappiness can trouble us on many levels.  Desire draws on multiple aspects of Self, and my sense is that many of us want it that way.

 

 

There is a group specifically challenging the medicalization of sex, called the New View Campaign. Let’s keep our approach to sexual health diverse and multi-dimensional.

 

Things We Shouldn't Talk About

 

YourTango.com asked me to write an article addressed to women who were having affairs with married men. This was considered controversial since usually the “mistress” and her motivations or feelings are left in the dark background in the cultural unpacking of infidelity. We talk a lot about affairs, why they happen, what motivates someone to cheat, whether to repair your marriage or not, etc. But we don’t talk about the “other woman” or man and their experience. The fear is, if I write in a compassionate way about the complicated emotions in affairs, I will be seen as promoting infidelity. I think it is time we all got more nuanced than this.

 

The article has been picked up by Huffington Post and what has been interesting is the commentary and attention it has gotten. I am not surprised by the amount of responses that are full of hatred and condemnation of the mistress, presenting her as someone out on the fringes of society, someone we don’t need to consider or try to understand. The basic thread being: only a terrible person would do that. It reminds me of people’s approach to premarital sex in the 1950’s, “those bad people” doing that are different from us, not worth discussing at any depth. Well, that approach didn’t stop pre-marital sex and shaming hasn’t stopped infidelity. Based on the stats we can safely assume that each of us knows someone (probably several someones) who has played one role, or more, in the infidelity triangle. These are not bad others out there, these are people like the rest of us. I understand that it feels safer to pretend we can isolate “mistresses” or “cheaters” in some moral ghetto. I understand that is feels comforting to profess bravado and threats of violence if this happened to you. I understand that it feels emotionally less complicated to believe that love is something we can own and that can be “stolen”.  But the reality for many, many people is that affairs are complicated, emotionally confusing, and deeply personal. It doesn’t serve us to demonize and shut down the conversation. And everyone, deserves a place to explore their motivations and choices. In fact, this open conversation may be the thing that eventually helps us to reduce the pain that infidelity causes.

 

If you are interested in reading the article you can find it here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/30/mistress-questions_n_3977492.html?utm_hp_ref=divorce&ir=Divorce

 

A Lifetime of Sexy?

You all know I am pro-sex. Pro-sexuality, pro expressing your sexuality, pro feeling sexy. But I am getting more and more disgusted with the pressure that is now being put on young girls to fit into an adult model of sexy – which is hardly adult, but rather to try to look as much like a 20 year old as possible, but that is another post.

What am I talking about, in case you have missed this trend. Most recently Walmart has begun advertising for their make-up line for tweens (8-12 year olds). Now playing with make-up is one thing. I have memories of glittery blue eyeshadow and borrowing grandma’s lipstick and all that. But this line is clearly more for everyday makeup and – it includes anti-aging ingredients!!! What?! That line is not overtly sexualized, just your average invitation to not feel good enough about yourself. But it comes on the heels of several companies controversial panty lines for tweens.  And let’s not forget Abercrombie & Fitch’s 2011 line of push-up, padded bikini tops for girls age 7- 12. Yuck. So now girls can feel bad about their breast size before they are even growing breasts.

Doing just a tiny bit of internet searching I have now discovered the booming business of marketing bikini waxes to teens & pre-teens. I found a few waxing professionals that were quoted as saying that in the past few years 20% of their waxing was for tween or younger. If this is accurate, it boggles my mind. One well known spa catering to teen and younger waxing’s advertising line is “If a teenager has never been waxed before, hair growth can be stopped in just 2 to 6 sessions. Save your teenager a lifetime of waxing... and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!”  Ugh, or maybe teach her that waxing isn’t compulsory and she can choose how to spend her money? The owner of this salon also apparently told the New York Post that children should begin waxing at age 6. Am I missing something? Does this make sense? Again, I am not opposed to waxing. If you want the no hair look, wax away. I am opposed to us all pretending that waxing is a necessity in life – and selling this idea to kids.

There is more madness out there of course, such as Tesco’s Peek-a-Boo Pole Dancing kit, advertised  as “suitable for participants of 11 years old and upwards”. It included fake money and a garter belt to put it in. Not a Saturday Night Live skit, real life, sorry to say. http://www.cracked.com/article_19288_8-weirdly-sexual-products-you-wont-believe-are-kids.html#ixzz2arCsWjFJ) But this is so over the top ridiculous it actually worries me less than the more subtle everyday pressures that are building for kids and the way it shapes their future sexuality and self esteem.

I think it is natural and healthy for kids to play at being adults. They will dress-up, play house, play with make-up, even stuff their tops or bellies to match grown women’s bodies. This kind of self-motivated exploration is one thing. Moving into marketing that manufactures desire and, even worse, fear that you need these things to be “normal” is something entirely different.

When I get past my initial gut disgust response, I see that this is really about creating dedicated consumers early. The sooner we can market to young children to get them to feel that they have to be thinner, less hairy, more tan, etc, the more money they will spend on products in a lifetime. It is not news that the marketing mechanisms will happily ask us to sacrifice our self confidence, sexual comfort, and dignity so that we buy more. Why would their approach to children be different? I don’t believe that the intent behind these products and marketing schemes is really to sexualize children, although that is a side-effect, the intention is to turn them into insecure, desperate consumers.

My rage comes from the fact that we are supporting campaigns that tell children they are not beautiful unless they conform to a Victoria’s Secret Model look. I am sad that we are becoming jaded to the natural beauty that children are born with. I am angry that we continue to infringe upon children’s natural sexual development, either by stifling and shaming or now by defining it so narrowly as a product to buy to keep up with others. After all, if we feel good about who we are, at any point in our lives, what do we need to buy?

 

Happy Distractions

Recently there was a tiny article in the news about a middle school principal banning girls from wearing strapless dresses to the school dance because they “distract boys”. Parents at the school are protesting and I think they should, for several reasons. I also think this story says a lot about the ways we as a society go wrong in addressing adolescent sexuality.

First question of course is – what are the boys supposed to be focusing on at a school dance? I mean truly, what are they distracted from that is so important? Should they be finely honing their dance moves? Memorizing song lyrics? Part of what is maddening about this story, is that the principal seems to have missed the point of a school dance in the first place. We are supposed to be distracted by our fellow students, we are supposed to learn to dance and flirt and get flustered by mutual and not so mutual attractions. This is not about troublesome distractions, this is about pretending that adolescents are not going to actually be interested in each other’s bodies or sex.

The next piece of this that disturbs me is this: if boys are not supposed to be distracted in this way, how will they ever learn to handle the sexual  distractions that are around them all the time? I believe that one of the important tasks we (all of us, boy and girls) are to learn in adolescence is how to handle our own sexual energy and desires, while respecting others boundaries and appropriate social settings. Even if adults could manage to create an environment in which teenage boys were not distracted by people they were attracted to, who would this serve? Certainly not their future partners. Not the boys themselves. We need to learn that our sexual energy and desire is not an overwhelming force over which we have no control. We have to learn to be distracted and still function. And we have to learn to not blame our distraction on the externals, other people, cute girls, etc, but to own that we have choices in the way we behave and to some extent in where we focus our mind and thoughts.

And then there is the piece that many parents at this school complained about, which is the implication that girls, by the way they dress, behave, look, should mediate the boys’ sexuality. This is a dangerous implication that has shown its ugly head in rape cases and sexual harassment cases for years. If only women can carry the burden of repressing our sexual natures, then we would be safe from the consequences, and perhaps the freedoms, of sexuality. This outdated sexist model has got to go. Now.

We are all responsible for our own sexual behaviors. It can be a challenge sometimes, no doubt. We are surrounded by a big juicy, sexy world with lots of distractions. Learning how to navigate in that world is valuable and we need to support kids, and adults, in how to do that with grace, respect, and also excitement and passion. Invite sexual distraction – without it the world would be a much less alive place.

 

Good News for Global Queer Community

The United Nations Human Rights office recently released a publication calling for international human rights protections for LGBT people. The 60 page publication, titled Born Free and Equal, outlines five core obligations requiring national attention: protecting people from homophobic violence, preventing torture, decriminalizing homosexuality, prohibiting discrimination, and safeguarding LGBT people's freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. If these recommendations are taken seriously it could protect and change lives for many people.

 

Some of the recommendations I am especially excited to see:

 

- Asylum laws and policies should recognize that persecution on account of one's sexual orientation or gender identity may be a valid basis for an asylum claim

 

- Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality, including all laws that prohibit private sexual conduct between consenting adults of the same sex.

 

- Protect individuals who exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and freedom of assembly from acts of violence and intimidation by private parties.

 

This statement is a huge sign of progress for human rights. The tides, they are a changing…

 

You can read and download Born Free and Equal: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity booklet here.

 

http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/BornFreeAndEqualLowRes.pdf