Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Great Expectations

 

I remember, back in the day, when Martha Stewart was really reaching the peak of popularity. I started hearing people saying, “Damn that Martha Stewart, now we are expected to –fill in the domestic artistry of your choice-“. I was confused by this, since I was pretty happy that Ms Stewart had opened the options up and I liked being invited to be creative. But that is the key, right? How quickly we can turn an invitation into an expectation. And, in so doing, ruin most of the fun and make something into a burden.

 

So speaking of ruining our fun, how was your Valentine’s Day? Did you somehow find yourself turning what could be a perfectly fine night for a date into something fraught with emotional baggage? If you did, you are not alone. Romance struck down again by the great expectations of needing to live up to every possibility presented out there in the world. And I think it is getting worse for us, now not only do we compare ourselves to magazine articles and romantic movies and Hallmark cards, but now we get to compare ourselves to “normal people”, our friends and family on social media everyday. And the expectations grow.

 

And we can get to the point where we are not enjoying because we are wondering how this experience we are having holds up to other people’s experiences. We do this with date nights, we do this with sex.  Until for some of us, a perfectly satisfying sexual experience becomes turned into something like this, “Oh that was nice...But was it exciting enough? Are we too boring, should we be having more oral sex? I never wear lingerie, is that bad? I didn’t fantasize about anything, is that OK? That only took 20 minutes, should there be more? What are we doing wrong?”

 

The benefit of living in a world with readily available information is that – if you want new ideas, they are there for you. There is a vast source of creative, diverse and sometimes helpful options at all times. Your life is yours to shape. The problems come when we forget that it is our life to shape and not a to-do list of how to live the best life/have the best relationship/keep sex hot. The relentless call to self improvement can grab us and pull us away from the life we have now, a life that probably has some pretty sweet moments – even if they don’t warrant a single LIKE. We are never absented from deciding what we want for ourselves so enjoy what is fun/romantic/sexually satisfying/inspiring/etc for you. Enjoy it fully and don’t turn the all the invitations out there into expectations.

 

So here is a Valentine’s Day Re-Do Challenge for you – Consider that no one else will ever know what you chose to do together. Take a day that is yours alone, a secret day with no witnesses or input from others, and decide how you want to spend it. What makes you feel close to each other? What is fun for you? Then enjoy it deeply with no distractions.

 

The Computer Mood Lighting Setting is Not Working

 Imagine this scene…The lights are low. You have just taken a shower and your skin is tingling from the hot water. You smell good. You put on some music and minimal clothing. You are in the mood. You go to find your partner. You walk, no you sexy thing, you strut into the room. Your partner doesn’t look up. They sit slack, eyes glued, face illuminated by the screen. You say, “hey” (very smooth by the way). Their response is barely comprehensible as they are typing and speaking at the same time. You consider throwing something at their head, no, the screen. You are no longer in the mood.

Sound familiar? Maybe a little bit? Possibly you have played both roles in this scenario. Honestly the biggest sexual problem I see couple’s having these days is that they have so many distractions that they let sexual opportunities pass by unnoticed. Let’s just admit it, it is very unappealing to initiate any attempts at seduction when you are competing with the numbing allure of a screen. I am not talking about porn here, which actually might be easier to interrupt with a real life sexual invitation. I am talking about TV shows, video games, Facebook, work emails, Awkward Family Photos and, oh damn you, Pinterest. All great distractions. But we need to be careful that they are not distracting us right out of having an actual vibrant physical  relationship.

It is time to be honest with ourselves that sitting in front of screen entertainment is not us “being available”. Making time for sex requires freeing your attention. It means being aware of your body, your partner, the shifts in energy between you. The best thing you can do for your sex life? Plan to unplug from any distraction besides your partner. Do this regularly and often. Be vigilant about looking up from other things and taking in the person sitting next to you. Remind yourself that sex can be relaxing, rejuvenating, and entertaining too. After all, sexting doesn’t let you feel their breath on your earlobe or see their eyes widen. I promise you Facebook will be there tomorrow. Then you can post with a smile on your face and your partner on your mind.

 

 

Wake up with screen-free week

The last week of April (April 29 – May 5 this year) we are being encouraged to honor National Screen-Free Week by turning off the TV and other screens at home or outside of work hours. This is being announced as a healthy choice for children, but the truth is going screen free for even one week may be the healthiest choice you can make for your relationship and your sex life. If nothing else, it will wake you up again to each other and to what it takes to spend time with an actual, alive, in the flesh other person.

It is just too easy to entertain ourselves with immediate constantly available screen content. Playing words with friends, or window shopping on Pinterest, checking online sports stats or stock changes, even posting to Facebook all require less from us in the moment than many other options for filling our time. At the end of a long day, we have learned to crave the anonymity and low stakes of turning to our computers, cell phones, and TVs. But that time spent staring into a screen is unlikely to feature in your end of life memory review. You are probably not going to reminisce with your long-term partner or friends about, “remember the hours we spent together, you beating your high score while I planned imaginary vacations…” Ah those were the days”.

For most of us, it is not that we actually enjoy our online time more than time doing other things. It is that we forget how to spend time more creatively as mindlessly turning to screen-time becomes more and more of a habit. Give yourself one week away from that easy distraction and you will need to engage yourself with the life around your differently. What might you do with several hours together in the evening, instead of the 15 minute you seem to have after catching up on 3 hours of TV? Maybe doing the same things you have been doing sexually and then finding you still have an hour before bedtime may be just the thing you need to try something new. Maybe you will let yourself be interrupted while cooking dinner by kisses or feel inspired to do a spontaneous slow dance after breakfast. Maybe you will just sit in the backyard and realize the tree next door is blooming and let yourself get just a bit bored so that you dig deeper to talk about things you haven’t shared in a long time. Maybe you will go out and strike up a conversation with someone new.

As a couples therapist, the thing most likely to make me feel a couple has little chance of improving their relationship is when they come back each week and tell me they didn’t make any time to be together without distrations.  Our minds need time to slow down without outside stimulation to see who we are today. Our hearts need it too. Take next week to go screen-free. Turn your face towards each other, or to your self, rather than towards a screen and see what is there.

 

Are we forgetting how to really know another person - on virtual relationships

 

I am sure there is a lot unknown and unclear about the Manti Te’o virtual girlfriend situation. If you haven’t read about this already, a synopsis is; football player Manti Te’o was hoaxed by a friend, who had unrequited romantic feeling for Manti Te’o, into having an online and phone relationship with a fictional woman. This relationship apparently went on for 3 years. After this time, the friend had the fake girlfriend die of leukemia. Manti Te’o went public with his grief and the hoax was revealed.

Now I feel sad for the suffering of everyone in this story and am unwilling to speculate about how this all unfolded. As a couple’s therapist however, it does bring up some fascinating questions about our current cultural models of relationship and intimacy and how social media and technology are re-shaping what it means to be connected. I have seen priorities change and more of more of the meat of communication happening through text or online sites. And while I recognize the convenience of being virtually connected, I worry about some of the deeper impacts on our relationships. I think it is important to ask ourselves some questions as we navigate these cultural changes.

Do we now think it is reasonable to have a significant relationship with someone that we cannot make time to see in person in over 3 years? Have we developed a cultural model in which we are all so busy that actually being physically together is negotiable? A 3 year romantic relationship is an extreme example, no doubt, but I encourage you to think about your friendships and how often you now prioritize updating posts so that people are “caught up with your life” versus making plans to see someone live and in person. How much time do you spend with romantic partners that doesn’t involve looking into screens? How many relationships are you willing to spend energy on when the thought of actually doing something with that person is unappealing?

Do we believe that people’s words are the core of who they are and the primary way to get to know them? As a therapist, I see every day the difference between what people say and what they feel, in fact this is much of what couples therapy is meant to reveal – the truth functioning underneath all the words. Now that most everyone has an online profile (or two), are we relying on that manufactured information to get to know someone? I recently read that people no longer know what to talk about on first dates because they have already read a basic bio of the person, which leads me to wonder – have we forgotten how to talk about our lives, the things we like, the dreams we have? Are we losing the gift of reading subtle cues from people, body language, eye contact, even the way we respond to the world around us? I remember when I was dating we learned a lot from observing how a person treated the waitstaff. Is this kind of social interaction irrelevant now? Is how someone literally moves through the world - how they drive, how much patience they show in doing tasks, if they move out of the way for other people in a crowded space- no longer considered part of who they are? Do we know the difference between persona and personality? Do we care?

And, of course, I do not know what kind of sexuality was or was not being expressed in Manti Te’o’s virtual relationship, but I worry for us all about the beautiful, awkward, sweaty, intimate, vulnerable, bonding experience of human sexuality being squeezed out by a reliance on the ease of words and pictures, fictional stories and our own minds. Virtual sex can be a fun addition but I hope we never lose sight of our desire for the astounding, risky experience of being physical with another person, and what it asks of us.

I have my own “connections” to celebrities, writers, artists, even politicians, that I will never meet in person. And I will grieve for them when they are gone and no longer playing an active part in my world. I believe it is good for us to learn from strangers, to allow ourselves to feel love for people far apart from us, to even develop stories about what they are like in person. But I hope I never lose sight of the fact that I do not know these people – that, in fact, they are a mystery to me, no matter how much written material I read about them. I hope I never forget to value the subtlety and fragility in the ongoing process of really getting to know someone.