Transformational Pleasure

By Melissa Fritchle LMFT Holistic Sex Therapist and Educator

Dear Medical Doctors -

Here are a few ways I wish we could be more in agreement when it comes to sex.

1)The vast majority of your patients are having sex. And it is important to them. At least as important to many of them as their ability to play tennis or go for a jump shot or pick up their grandkids. So, since this is the reality, maybe you could include sexual health and satisfaction as a part of your wellness check? Maybe you could get comfortable talking to people about this aspect of their lives? At least don’t dismiss it or shame your patients for having concerns.

2)Most of the sex people will have in their life is not about procreation. We are having sex for many years of our lives and for many of reasons. Reproducing is a small part of only some of our sex lives. So treating reproductive health as though it is the same a sexual health is severely lacking. Issues such as long term birth control, hormone balance, sexual desire, pleasure and comfort are crucial to address.

3)Most medical concerns and their treatments have some effect on people’s sex lives. The diseases you diagnose take their toll on people’s sexual expression and can create real limitations. The drugs you prescribe can have significant sexual side effects that your patients’ may struggle with. The sexual aspects of Self are not separate from the medical concerns a person has or the journey they may need to take for healing. Please consider these aspects of your patients when you talk to us about treatment.

4)A large percentage of your patients are not heterosexual or monogamously married with children or clearly placed in some simplistic gender binary. For example, consistently statistics suggest that approximately 10% of the population is bisexual, lesbian or gay. I suspect that this number is low and reflects both a narrow categorization of sexual identity and also a long history of repression and fear of discrimination. But even if it was only 10%, denying the unique needs or rights of this group of people in our communities is discrimination plain and simple. And it is medically irresponsible. Get yourself informed.

5)You have blindspots and biases like the rest of us. We don’t expect you to be perfect so please don’t expect that of yourself. You most likely grew up with the same cultural models and mythologies as we did. You probably had very little accurate sex education. You probably have been hurt, betrayed, embarrassed, and confused about things, like the rest of us. So let’s agree that your years of medical school did not erase the limitations to your sexual perspective or understanding. That’s ok. You are allowed to not have all the answers, just acknowledge that and we can work with you from there.

6)Your job is to give us information so that we can make informed choices, not to make choices for us. No matter how much medical experience or training you have, you cannot know more than your patient does about the potential consequences and benefits of a decision in their life. Help us to understand our options, then honor that the personal factors at play on our lives are hugely relevant and frankly, outside of your scope. Respect what we know about our life.

Sincere thanks for all you do. Let’s grow in sexual health together.

Is it No? Is it Maybe?

Have you gotten a sexual invitation or proposal that doesn’t work for you? Here’s some ways to say No:


Red. (or other safe word)

No, thanks I am not interested in that.

That doesn’t sound fun/appealing/exciting/comfortable/etc to me. So No.

That’s not my thing.

I love you but I am not going to do that.

You are going to have to enjoy that without me.

No. But I would love to do ______.

But what if you are kind of intrigued. Not sure yet? Here’s some ways to say Maybe:

I’m not sure, let me think about it.

Let’s talk about this more; I have questions.

Hmm…I might want to. But something is still holding me back. Let’s talk about it more.

Something about that makes me uncomfortable. Tell me what excites you about it and maybe that will change my perspective.

Slow down; I might want to stop. I will let you know.

That might be ok if we avoided ____.

I don’t feel ready for that now but I am willing to revisit it in a few months.

I can’t consider that until we know each other better/until we have our STD results/until we are monogamous/until _____

Not right now, but let’s see how I feel after we …..

Let’s start by watching some porn or reading some erotica like that and I can see how it affects me.

I don’t want to do that physically, but let’s talk about it as a fantasy and see how that feels.

Uncontrolled versus Out of Control

In dance class recently, my teacher invited us to move in a way that was uncontrolled, NOT out of control. This felt like a really important differentiation to me, and one I hadn’t really considered before. To LET our self be uncontrolled is very different from an experience of being out of control.

Being out of control can hurt us. We have no ability to gauge our own limitations and sensations or to do anything to mediate them. We have no choice. Being out of control, for good reason, is scary. Many of us have had experiences of this and want to avoid it. So we try to be in control at all times, moderating our responses and playing it cool.

But choosing to be uncontrolled - Well, that is a beautiful thing. Letting go of control, temporarily, means we have assessed that we are safe. That we can trust the environment, our body, our own capacity to feel and respond. Being uncontrolled means we can see what happens, without needing to shape it or prescreen the ending. We open our self to sensation; we allow our response.

In this state our body can let the involuntary impulses come through, shudders and twitches and slowly rolling undulations and sighs. We shake it all out. Or more accurately, we let it all shake out because we are not doing it, we are letting it happen. There is a moment, now and then, that you can reach in dance or sport or sex or breathing that it feels effortless, like the movement is arising, simply taking you along with it. But you are there, awake to it, saying “Yes”. Uncontrolled. Not out of control.

I think we have been taught to equate the two states as the same. We have been invited to fear the feeling of being uncontrolled, to avoid it and see it as a state of weakness. But really, the ability to choose to step in and out of being uncontrolled is a source of so much strength. It is a way we learn to trust our self and to know that we can be flexible enough to move in the way that calls us in the moment. The more I dance that way, the more I know my body has an innate ability to take care of me. The more I open to that impulse or orgasm, when I have created safe space to do so, the more I understand the powerful energy that is available to me, inside of me.

You don’t have to be afraid of your ability to let yourself be uncontrolled. You can be proud of it. You are not losing control in those moments, you are learning about the dimensions of it. You are releasing the burden of constant control. It’s significant when you understand the difference. Feel it in your body. Let it take you there.

My Breasts Are Not Telling You Anything About Me

The first time I was called a slut I was 11 years old. I had never been kissed, never made out with anyone, never even considered having intercourse. I had never held hands with anyone. But I had C cup breasts in sixth grade. So I was a slut.

Having large breasts makes people see you and think “Breasts”. It is as simple as that. I learned early on that my body would always have a sexual connotation for other people. That I would be seen as showing my breasts off, even when wearing a simple T.shirt like the rest of my friends. And by the way, women are just as guilty of this judgement as men, in some ways even more so. I recently had a very intelligent adult friend admit that  as a teenager he had unconsciously told himself, if she didn’t want attention for her breasts then why did she grow them so big? Irrational, yep. Maybe you are scoffing at this. But I invite you to look a bit deeper at your own irrational mind and question who you might have labeled “slutty” in your mind and why.

Of course the reality of breast implants does allow for people to imagine I picked my breasts out of a catalog. But I didn’t. I actually had no say in the matter. And that certainly should be clear with a young girl with large breasts. So we can’t dismiss the judgments based on that fact that some women do choose to have very large breasts for their own reasons, some of whom may imagine it will be fun to have people constantly looking at their breasts.

There are also theories that float out there, usually where there is little understanding of biology, that women with big breasts must be more sexual because their body is full of extra estrogen or something. (Same sorts of theories have been floating around recently regarding big butts.) I am not even going to address this. My breasts did not and do not predispose me to any sort of sexuality. Period.

Then there is the “you could just dress to hide them if you weren’t so slutty” camp. For them, I propose some logic. My breasts are the biggest point on my body, so fabric drapes from them. The only way to really hide them is to craft clothing with internal structures to hold the clothing away from my body, like a hoop skirt but around my chest. Not very practical. I can hide my waist, thereby diminishing the impact of my breasts a bit, by dressing like Mrs. Doubtfire, that is true. Less sexy, but here’s the thing – WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO?!

Maybe we could begin talking about these things in a practical way. Maybe we could finally understand that just because someone’s body or look makes you think about sex, doesn’t necessarily mean they want you to be thinking about sex. Your sexual thoughts and responses are yours. The bodies you label sexual are a cultural construct and about the beholder, not the person in the body.

My body does not tell you all you need to know about me, not even close. It is not sending you a silent message about my availability or interest. But your response to my body does tell you some things about you. Be careful about the leaps your mind can make. That girl over there is not a slut. She is a unique girl who was born into a body with its own attributes and deficits, just like you.

Time to Grieve

This week, like too many others in the past few years, I have been in stunned grief. My heart is broken. Not for me personally, but for us as a whole. I have say here for over an hour trying to write something meaningful, Trying to craft a response, a suggestion, something helpful. But really all I want to do is cry. I want to say, “This is not right”, for so many reasons. I want to wail and protest and I want to blame. I want to sidestep the pain this all too familiar outrage brings up in me.

So here I am. Right here. Right now. And I can see how I am thinking, not consciously a minute ago but consciously now, righteous anger will feel better than this pain. Removed intellectualizing about this will feel better than this pain. Problem-solving and politicizing will feel better than this pain. Compartmentalizing it into another historical mark on the timeline of human violence will feel better than this pain.

But I need to feel this pain. I need to feel this pain to keep myself fully in my humanity. Right here, right now. I need to breathe it in and not sidestep it. Don’t jump ahead; there is action to take later. Now, feel this pain. Look at the pictures of the murdered, young people will lives ahead of them. People that I might have loved had I met them.

Don’t diminish this grief. It is not the grief of the people who knew them. That is a much harsher and personal grief, I know. Think about the thousands of grieving friends and family members who don’t know how to face today without the person they loved. Imagine how it is to know your loved one died afraid. Let yourself feel this pain, let your heart break for them. Don’t turn away.

Right here, right now, watch how you get angry. How your mind goes to Why? and How? and Whose fault is this? and What the fuck is wrong with us?!! Feel that. Don’t shy away. Breathe it in. Feel it. Don’t shy away.

Let the tears come. Let them be helpless, hopeless, frightened, devastated, angry, sad, empty. Take this time. Grieve. Be human.

At this moment, this is what I can do. I can be strong enough to recognize that I need to grieve to stay a part of this human community. I cannot send these feelings underground, where they will hide and I can pretend that we can go on as usual. I owe us all that much. Right here, right now, feel this pain. Don’t shy away. Breathe it in. Feel it. Feel it. Don’t turn away. Stay human.

"Twenty Minutes of Action"

No doubt many of you have heard, and been outraged by, the outcome of the recent rape trial of Brock Turner here in Northern California. This case has highlighted rape culture and the ways in which we as a society disregard the damage done to victims and criminality of the perpetrators.

 In a letter to the judge the father of the perpetrator is quoted as saying that his son shouldn’t face harsh punishment for “twenty minutes of action”. This statement hit me harder than all the rest that has gone wrong in the course of this case. “Twenty minutes of action”???!! This is so offensive I can barely breathe.

The decision to sexually assault a person does not happen in 20 minutes. It must take a lifetime of missed lessons about human kindness and decency. It must take years of ugly ideas about women and their rights to safety and respect. It must take years of warped impressions why we have sex and a blindness to the potential and humanity of shared sexual experiences. It must take a learned sense of entitlement and dismissal of others people’s rights or feelings.

To suggest that anyone of us could get drunk enough that it would suddenly seem like a reasonable idea to assault an unconscious person is reprehensible. This is not a miscommunication about sex! This woman did not regain consciousness for 2 hours after being taken to the hospital. This was not even common consensual sexual interactions! The woman had abrasions to her vagina from having sticks and dirt inserted, not something one could reasonably assume would be okay with someone. This was violence. You do not become the person who would do this in twenty minutes.

Documents state that one of the two men who stopped the assault was crying when he talked to the police about what he witnessed. That is a natural human response to seeing someone violated. Most people in our world would not have the impulse to rape, or sexually violate an unconscious person, even in their worst twenty minutes. Young men do not need to be protected from their worst impulses because most of them grow up without a desire to hurt other people. I believe this. It is important to me to believe this.

We grow up together, with years of being shown how to treat one another. Years of playing, communicating, collaborating and seeing each other as worthy of dignity. Years to develop sexuality that kind and interactive and vastly different from perpetration. And yes, years of learning that there are consequences for hurting one another.

We as a society have to stop making excuses for sexual perpetration and to start taking responsibility for raising people for whom perpetration is simply incompatible with desire. It never comes down to twenty minutes. It comes down to what one person believes is okay to do to another person. And they will have spent their whole life learning that. We are teaching them. Which is why this court’s decision is so devastating.

Gestures of Peace When You Are Angry

Oh you will fight. If you are in a partnership of any kind for any length of time, you will fight. This is normal. You will fight about ridiculous things and important things, things long gone and things that haven’t happened yet. Some of you will fight loud and some of you will fight with closed lips and a few cold words. Some of you will get a rush from it and some of you will hate every minute.

It isn’t how you fight or how often you fight that will necessarily damage your relationship; it is how you stay connected when you do fight. Relationship researcher extraordinaire, John Gottman calls these gestures during conflict repair attempts.

Repair attempts are the ways in which people remember their connection in this midst of a conflict. It can be a little gesture that says, “I know we love each other, even now”. It is a moment of outwardly slowing down the escalation to show I am staying in this with you, I am being careful with you and me, I care about what happens here. Repair attempts are gestures of peace that make all the difference if they are received by your partner.

Here are some things to try :

Say how you feel. Not the surface, “I am pissed off” feeling, but the other ones a bit under the surface. This will require that you slow yourself down for a minute and get vulnerable. Be honest with your partner about what is being stirred in you in this moment. Could be, “I am feeling judged and ashamed.”, “I am feeling scared of losing you.” “I am feeling like a little kid being scolded and I want to rebel.” “I feel defensive”. This grounds the conversation in an emotional reality and makes it easier to be gentle with one another. Take a breath and be brave.

Say that you can see their side of things. Valuing their perspective doesn’t mean they are all right and you are wrong. It means hearing one another and being reasonable. You might repeat back what you have heard them say to make sure you understand. You might say, “I see your point…” or “I dan’t thought of it that way.” Also it is good to acknowledge the things that are working even while addressing a problem between you. Tell them something you appreciate about them or something they are doing that is helpful to the situation. Nothing is black and white here.

Say how you messed up. Sorry to tell you but most likely there is some small way in which you misspoke or responded less than ideally.  And the thing is you probably know it; you just are using that frustration with self to fuel your frustration for the argument. Try defusing that. You don’t have to make it heavy; you can say, “Duh, that was the wrong thing to say, sorry.” Or you can say, “Let me try that again” or simply, “ I don’t like how I responded there.” Its ok, we all play our part.

Say that you need to calm down. Once we hit a certain emotional frequency, it is nearly impossible to think clearly. Let your partner see that you are taking care of yourself as a way to stay present. You can say, “Hang on. I need to slow down and take a breath.” Or “I am feeling overwhelmed and am having trouble taking this in. Can we slow down?” Or maybe you need to stop the conversation right now and come back to it later when you are clearer. Saying this now can save you a lot of wasted arguing.

Say that you trust your bond. This is more subtle than the rest but it can be the strongest kind of repair attempt. It relies more on your relationship style and history. Many people use humor for this. They crack a little joke to lighten the mood a little. Some people might use a private reference point or something like, “Well, I guess we have to have our quarterly fight sometime.” Or some people just reach out a touch their partners hand or shoulder, silently saying “I do love you, you know.” The key is that these are delivered with a smile and from a genuine place of good will and trust.

Say that you love them. Remember it and say it. And if you see a repair attempt coming your way, honor that for what it is – a way to stay connected. Take in the gesture of good will by responding in kind. Take a deep breath, slow your roll, and remember why you love this person enough to bother arguing with them.

May All Beings Have Pleasure

Last night in my yoga class, we were led in Metta or Loving-Kindness prayer practice. For those of you not familiar with this, overly-simplified, it involves repeating short statements of blessings for oneself, then for another, then for all beings. This allows you to mindfully cultivate loving kindness towards yourself and others. The statements themselves can vary a lot from traditional to more personal. For example, “May I be happy. May I be free from suffering. May I be at peace.”

Last night our teacher encouraged us to design our own blessings, for something we wish for ourselves and others. I immediately thought, “May I have pleasure.” Yes, pleasure! Imagine that as a sacred wish for ourselves and others. At once I felt the rightness of this blessing, but I was also aware of the many ways that pleasure has been pushed out of our sacred spaces.

I believe that pleasure is healing and transformative. I know our bodies are masterful systems that are clearly build for pleasures of many kinds. Pleasure can bring awe and compassion and transpersonal awareness and deep peace. It soothes us and inspires us. Pleasure can feel like a gift from god/spirit/universe/goddess/all that is. It is a message to our bodies and souls that we are going to be ok, that life is full and rich, and that we are capable of astounding feeling. Good stuff.

But generation after generation, people were afraid of pleasure. Afraid that it would distract, distort, create selfishness and laziness and gluttony and immorality. Those who were spiritual were supposed to be above such things, removed from the petty satisfactions and pleasures of this life. How sad this has been for us to turn away from this gift, which comes freely with our body and our senses, available to all regardless of social station or luck. And so we lose our chances for pleasure, just as we lose our chances for peace or happiness or release from suffering.

So last might I reclaimed pleasure as a blessing, for myself and for all beings. “May I have pleasure. May all beings have pleasure”. Try it out yourself. How does it feel to bring pleasure into your prayers or intentions? Do you feel guilty asking for this? Does it feel indulgent? Why is this? What if this was a beautiful blessing that we all deserved?

May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you find peace. May you have pleasure.

Rock That Muumuu!

Recently I was at a friend’s house for brunch and there, on the TV, was a Love Boat marathon. This was very compelling. (Hey, don’t judge) Not only because of the nostalgia factor and memories of elementary school sleep overs, but because of the striking contrast to what we see on TV today.

There were elderly people with fully developed romantic story lines! Not played for laughs! And not played by actors who looked like they could still do 5 hours of step aerobics (My mind is in the 80s, stay with me here). On episode after episode, there were senior citizens enjoying love, flirtation, and sexy storylines with multiple suitors vying for their affection.

Now sure, The Love Boat format was largely about the guest stars who were famous years ago. But seeing it again made me realize how much our media has changed and the images of people we see have changed. Remember TV used to be primarily targeted towards adults, including adults in their elder years. This has changed as our marketing focus has slide younger and younger. And of course we are meant to look younger and younger as well. It’s all about anti-aging these days.

It is one thing to see more older actors being celebrated as sexy now. Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren – super inspiring and SEXY as hell. And that is good to see. But it is also intimidating and has attached to it the additional message that we have to look like a 40 year old to be an attractive 70 year old. It is something else entirely to see someone who actually looks like my grandma, strutting her stuff in a fluffy turquoise muumuu with attached cape that gently flows over her noticeably large belly and hips, having someone be hit with love at first sight of her. That sends a different message about who is worthy of a love story, doesn’t it?

Now I am not claiming that The Love Boat did great things for my developing mind or sense of what love had in store. But I do think that seeing storylines involving people my grandparents age hooking up for some vacation love and for some spontaneous weddings was probably good for me, setting a foundation I was unaware of that romance stays with us throughout our entire life.

What I think is important to remember is the insidious way our image of the world gets edited by who is not represented. We should always take time to ask ourselves - who is missing from this crafted-for-my-entertainment world? For all the vastness of available media at this point in time, the people we see are in some ways more edited than ever. We need to see people of all colors, ages, sizes, gender representations, orientations, physical capacities, … and we need to see just plain old average looking people, living their lives and loving one another. We need to see ourselves represented. All aboard!

What is Passion?

Sex therapists are often asked to comment on how to increase passion or how to keep passion going. But today, I am thinking about - What is passion exactly? What makes someone passionate about something? What is this state like for us?

The dictionary says simply that passion is a strong feeling of enthusiasm.  I think most of us would say that feels like an understated definition of a deeply motivating intensity of feeling.

Passion can feel like a deep well, where other interests are shallow. Passion feeds itself instead of quickly burning out. Passion is felt in the body, whether it is for a person or sex or a calling or an artistic endeavor, it is felt. Some people describe a quickening of pulse or breath, or a fluttering in the belly, or a rush of energy or heat in the core.

Something you are passionate about awakens you in some way. I read a quote suggesting that passion comes from things that bring us closer to our true selves and I think this is true. We are passionate in the now, we want to be there, we want to experience. We are called to show up. Passion stirs something in us that must feel real, that must invite a part of our self that is authentic and wants to come out to play. Passion invites us into our life.

Passion often feels new and edgy. There has to be something to learn there, something to remain curious about. Passion pulls us to dig deeper, go further, to create and keep creating. If we feel we have it all figured out, no surprises, I doubt passion will remain. Passion provokes us and stimulates risk.

Passion can scare us. In fact, the second dictionary statement on passion reads, “a strong feeling that causes you to act in a dangerous way.” And when talking to a friend about this, his first response was to question the difference between passion and obsession. Interesting. Passion grabs hold of us and feels outside of reason. Passion is not entirely a choice. But to me, passion is kind. It motivates us and channels us but doesn’t own us. Passion is a flow fed by our elation.

Passion says “it is worth it” and reflectively I think we create passion by saying “this is worth it”. We want to give to that which draws our passion. And in giving, we receive more, and this feels good. When we are unwilling to give or invest or risk, we will be without passion. So making space for this driving force in our life means first believing we have the energy to give. Do you?