There is a lot available to you at your local sex toy store nowadays. Lots of items that will enhance your self pleasuring time and lots that can be added to play with partners. People imagine that these fun little items will increase physical pleasure, up the naughtiness factor, add a fun fantasy component. But what they don’t often think is that these toys can increase the intimacy factor, but they can do that too.
People who take the risk to add some accessories to their sex play build intimacy with each other because of the newness. Couple’s who take a trip to Pure Pleasure together are suddenly talking about sex more explicitly. They are negotiating, “no way that is way too intimidating!...but this looks fun”. When they bring an item home, they know this is new so they don’t have to be experts about it. Now they may have sexual interaction that includes giggling and needing to stop and re-adjust positions and maybe someone saying, “This isn’t really working for me”. The fact that toys can open up that dialogue is great. The fact that they can be beginner’s again is great.
So I see part of the gift of sex toys to be the gift of awkwardness. I think getting comfortable with awkwardness is great, since learning something new is often awkward. Couples who try to avoid feeling uncomfortable at all costs, often end up feeling bored instead. Intimacy builds from experiences of sharing a moment, however flawed or blissful or vulnerable, not from performing without a hitch. So maybe sex toys aren’t your thing. Can you invite a sense of trying something new to your sex play? Can you embrace a little awkwardness as a sign that things are fresh and growing? What will you use as inspiration?
Preparing Kids for Sex Requires a Different Kind of Conversation
I remember so clearly a moment from my Health class in High School – topic Sex. Our teacher, a 60 year old women with orthopedic shoes, lectured us saying, “Next time you are in the back seat of a car with someone you should pull out a flashlight and check their genitals for diseases”. Um…yeah. Not the most helpful sex advice I have gotten in my life. But I sure do remember it! Most of our sex education for kids focuses on the dangers of sex. Sure, we do want to prepare kids to be safe, to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and increasingly from criminal consequences for certain types of sexual expression. But focusing on the negative aspects of sex misses the reality of sex by a lot.
A sad side effect of the well meaning but limited way we generally talk to kids about sex is that it desensitizes kids to the anxiety-provoking aspects of sex. Does that statement surprise you? Here is what I mean by that. When we only talk to kids about the ways that sex is scary or dangerous, when they start to engage in sexual activity, if they feel scared or anxious it is no longer a red flag – that is how they have been taught sexual behavior will feel. When all we have heard about sex is related to the things that can go wrong, our mind creates a link between feeling anxious and worried and sexual behavior. I wonder how many of you out there had early sexual experiences that were uncomfortable, with high levels of nervousness and doubt, that looking back you think, “Man that could have been easier”? Personally, I want kids to learn that if sex feels scary or you are really anxious that is a sign to slow down and reassess. I want them to relate sex to pleasure, not fear and shame.
And that it what we need to be talking to kids about when we talk to them about sex – pleasure. But that scares people. There is a misguided belief that if we suggest to kids that sex is actually fun they will want to have it. I am sure as you see this in print you can also see how ridiculous this is. Kids will want to have sex. What they need to hear from us adults is how to know if they are ready, if the person they are with is a good choice as a sexual partner, if the sex they are considering is within their own values and integrity. And they need to hear from us that if sex hurts, you can stop. If you are too overwhelmed to be able to communicate with your partner, you can stop. If you are scared, you can stop. So what I really wish parents were saying to their kids : “ When it is time for you to start being sexual with someone, I wish for you to feel…”.
The next part is up to each family or adult and their own perspective. But I might suggest some things like, “…like you are good friends with the person you are with, that they respect you, that you have talked about sex and know what to expect from each other, that you are comfortable and confidant, that you have a safe and private place to be, that you focus on pleasure and expressing affection to each other, that you are excited and curious, that you know how to be safe and get the resources and answers you need, that you are ready”. Imagine what a sexual conversation like that might change.
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.
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.
A tattooed sex therapist from one of the most liberal towns in California meets a group of African priests and nuns…does this sound like a set up for a SNL skit? Actually tomorrow I travel to Kenya to do just that. I am meeting a dedicated group of nuns and priests who have been training for 8 months to provide psycho-spiritual counseling to fellow clergy throughout Africa. And we are going to talk about sex.
Sex is more than the behaviors someone enjoys. It is easy to disregard that in our focus on who does what, with whom, and how often. Researching celibacy, as I prepare to work with this group of people committed to celibate life, has taken me back to the roots of sexuality in a sense. It has reminded me that our primary sexual relationship is the one we have with ourselves, full of desires and sensations, longing to connect, fears, physical hungers, questions. Even without actively engaging sexually, we all have full and complex internal sex lives. And we have since we were born.
So can celibacy and sex therapy go together? I believe they can, and should. Sex therapy can allow someone to be more aware of their sexual energy as it moves and changes. It can reduce shame about being a sexual being so that a person has more energy to focus on utilizing sexual energy in a positive way in line with their perspective. It can deepen the conversation with our body and open new possibilities for responding to excitement or discomfort. It can reduce denial and therefore empower future actions. It can allow us to incorporate sexuality into the bigger picture of who a person is and wants to be.
I’ll admit I hadn’t given much thought to celibacy as an aspect of sexuality. I am very happy I have been invited to do so now and look forward to learning more from my students in Kenya. I honor that ultimately a healthy sex life is one in which each person feels they can make choices that are right for them, defined by their own integrity. The richness of any of those life choices comes from being aware and awake to oneself, day by day. There is always so much to learn.
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
While holding a pose in yoga class, time stretching out, muscles quivering, I heard my yoga teacher say, “It takes a lot of courage to be still”. Now, she was talking about physical stillness and staying at the limit of your stretch and the strength it can require to not move out of the sensation, to not run away or say, “I’ve had enough”. But of course I thought about the clients and the people I know who sometimes succumb to the self doubt that comes with those moments in life of being still.
Much of our life is structured around the next steps. We go from grade to grade, we go from promotion to promotion. We are expected to go from dating to going steady, to engaged to married, parenthood...We learn to take comfort in knowing the next step, the thing we are supposed to be working toward. So what happens when there is no next step, when instead there is satisfaction? Rather than a happy sigh of relief, many people feel a gnawing sense of disquiet. How can it be ok to relate to friends, “not much has changed, thanks for asking”? Status quo happiness can make us very uncomfortable.
During this post holiday time when your life and schedule return to normal, it can be great to challenge yourself to notice how you respond to stillness in your life. If you focused a little less on changing or progressing would there be more time for enjoying? Does stillness gets labeled as boredom or laziness? What do you do when the project becomes maintaining what is working? Do you ever feel like you have to have something to fix or that you are yearning for the excitement that comes from disrupting the stable? How do you register growth without external milestones?
In long term relationships there will be times of relative stillness. Times when there is little to report, no status updates to be made. In some ways, happy relationships are fairly private because there seems like there is not much to say. “We are great, happy”. It might be interesting to develop new ways to talk about being deeply satisfied. Maybe let a slow and genuine smile communicate for you. Life will be full of change again, no doubt. There will be times when you will have to strive for change, where there are clear mile-markers to hit as you go. If for the moment you are still and content, have the courage to be still and see what subtle lessons are there for you.
What would it mean to really claim your own body? To experience it as truly yours?
Our bodies are our public representation, the first vehicle we have for people to see us. Body image pulls on deep concerns about being seen and accepted in the world. Because of the huge amount of images and commentary about bodies in our culture, (we all know at any given time which actress has gained weight, which actor is buffing up for an action film, and whose vacation was marred by cellulite whether we actively seek out this information or not) it makes sense that we all feel our own bodies are open to criticism and constant evaluation. Fear of criticism, questions about how our body shape relates to our personal value, plague many of us and can cause us to feel like our bodies are not really our own. Judging our body or constantly focusing on trying to change it can cause us to stop feeling our body is a friend. Claiming our body can take the form of deeply feeling into and enjoying our body now – not waiting to engage with our fantasy version of our body that may or may not ever arrive. It means being embodied, using our senses, strength, breath, movement, mass, to interact with the world and other people without shame.
Take a week to experience your body as a guide. Rather than focusing on what it looks like and how clothing looks draped on it, feel with your body from the inside out. Notice what it is telling you about the world around you, the world within you. Be aware that each emotion you feel is coming through your body, through the language of sensation, tension, heat, energy. We only get to engage with the world through our bodies. There is no time to wait for your body to be different, life is going on now. Claim your body, claim your life.
The body’s life is the life of sensations and emotions. The body feels real hunger, real thirst, real joy in the sun or snow, real pleasure in the smell of roses or the look of a lilac bush, real anger, real sorrow, real tenderness, real warmth, real passion, real hate, real grief. All the emotions belong to the body and are only recognized by the mind – DH Lawrence
Stay tuned for information on a upcoming group for women - Your Body is a Sacred Playground
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
Research released this year has shown that instances of sexual coercion among teens are disturbingly high. What was ground-breaking about this study is that it focused on self reports of perpetration. It asked questions about sexual coercion- verbally intimidating, pressuring, using guilt, getting someone drunk, or harassing behaviors- as well as forced sexual contact. Teenagers were asked if they “had tried to make someone have sex with me when I knew they didn’t want to”, or “made someone have sex with me when I knew they didn’t want to”. And based on their own responses – nearly 10% of teens have been sexually coercive. Also disturbing are patterns around personal responsibility. Fully 50% of the perpetrators said that the victim was completely responsible for what happened. And by the way, by the age of 18 perpetrators were equally boys and girls.
A 2008 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy looked at teens’ behaviors around sharing sexual content online. They found that 25% of girl and 33% of boys reported that they had been shown naked pictures intended to have been sent privately to someone else. Add this to what we have seen in the news about patterns of sexual harassment and bullying among teens and children.
I have believed for a long time that we should to be providing better and more comprehensive sexual education. Now it is clear to me that not only do we need to talk about sexual health and safety, but we need to be talking about sexual respect. It is time to define polite sexual conduct. And to erase once and for all the insidious idea that if someone is behaving sexually, they no longer deserve respect.
If kids are learning just by observing what is going on around them, then I can understand how they would be confused about how to treat others respectfully. In this era of decreased privacy and people’s personal lives as public entertainment, it is critical to teach about personal privacy and choice. Maybe the ever- intensifying ramp up from afternoon talks shows featuring humiliations, have numbed us to other people’s shame and turned us into virtual perpetrators, invited to laugh at someone falling down drunk and flashing their underwear. Humiliation has become entertainment. In this environment, how do we talk to kids about vulnerability? How do we help them to separate how we relate to the “real lives” on TV from how we relate to real people in our lives? How, in a world of selfies and sex tapes, do we talk about the fact that many people want their sex life to be private and that beginning a sexual relationship with someone can be a tender, trusting act? We need to explain why it is ok to laugh at the sexual behavior of “Carlos Danger” but not at the girl in your class who sent a topless pic to the person she has a crush on. And while we are at it, we need to talk about handling frustration and that you will not get to satisfy every desire you have the moment you have it, regardless of what the constant availability of nearly everything else may imply.
Maybe we can tell ourselves that as adults we that we are clear on where to draw the line between harmless amusement at other’s expense and actual harm, or who has abdicated their right to sexual choice or privacy. But it is time to admit that kids aren’t clear about that.