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!
Is sex only sacred if it is connected to a religious or spiritual practice? Do I have to believe in transcendent states to have sacred sex? Do I have to light candles and pray? What does God or Goddess have to do with it? Is sacred sex available to me?
The word sacred has most often been used in terms of religious or spiritual value. And forms of sacred sex are often taught in connection with a specific practice, such as Tantra which is from of Hinduism. But the definition of Sacred includes anything that is regarded with reverence and protected. It can also be defined as anything that is approached with dedication and intention. So anything can be made sacred. And anyone can have sex that is sacred to them, without religious or spiritual framework making it so.
How might you make sex sacred for you? *By treating sex as an important and valued part of your life and self *By dedicating time to have sex, excluding outside distractions and interferences and creating space to focus. *By clarifying your intentions for being sexual, whether with yourself or partnered. What is it you seek to offer? What is it you seek to receive? What do you want from sex today? *By keeping your intentions in mind so that you act from them *By being aware, of sensations, feelings, your partner, your desires and giving all of these reverence by allowing them to be fully experienced *By seeing sex as more than a physical act. Perhaps for you it is also a way to learn about yourself, a way to get grounded and relaxed, a way to solidify your bond or express love, a way to express yourself…
Sacred Sex is available to any of us, if that is what you desire. Some sacred sex is seen as a path to enlightenment. But perhaps any of us can be enlightened; the question is what do you want shed light on? What do you want to better understand? Experiencing any element of life in a sacred way is a mindset that has foundations in gratitude, awareness, curiosity, and open discovery. All great things to bring to sexual exploration. See it as sacred or as profane, sexuality has so much to offer us.
Imagine for a moment that when you grew up you went to worship in a place that had on its walls images of people engaging in sex acts, humans with humans, humans with deities, all depicted as sacred.
Imagine being taught in your temple or church that the gift of sexual pleasure is something to be honored and that learning to pleasure your partner is an important adult responsibility.
Imagine in studying your sacred text you openly discussed the section that uses sexual desire and expression as a metaphor for love between humans and God.
Imagine it being common for spaces of worship to have statues and icons of human bodies with exaggerated genitals and breasts, to be celebrated and honored.
Imagine if your worship included dancing - real sweaty, hip shaking, undulating dancing - and your grandma, your baby cousin, and your priest were all there dancing and sweating next to you.
Now I am not suggesting that it should have been this way for you. Each person’s connection to their religious or spiritual practice is unique. And I am not suggesting that these are cultural models that are better than others, I believe life is too complicated to make sweeping statements like that. But these are models that exist and I think it is valuable to consider different perspectives and how they might impact us and our beliefs about our sexual selves. What it might have been like to have your sexuality interconnected with the sacred? Is this something you can imagine? Is it something you want?
Many of us have experienced a disconnection between the body and its sexuality and the spiritual and sacred. And of course, many of us have been wounded by expressions of faith that exclude or deny realities of sexuality. Many people are trying to find ways to reconnect those elements of life. Some people have had transcendent moments while being sexual that have surprised them, moments of feeling deeply connected to something bigger than themselves. Some have felt awe for the human body and for the depth of desire. Some are yearning for something different, even if it is just in the way we feel and experience our self. In yearning, I think it is helpful to engage with wondering. What if? What if I saw this differently? Can I be curious about how other people see it? So what if you let yourself imagine, not to find an answer but just to open up the questions and possibilities? What might that open up in you?
Blondes, Brunettes, Gingers. Bears, Twinks, Dykes, Femmes. Clean Cut, Thick, Skinny, BBW, MILFs, GILFs, Androgynous. Many of us find ourselves drawn sexually to a particular look in partners. Luckily human tastes vary greatly so truly everyone will have a few admirers. But still, the concept of a type can make people uncomfortable. Is it ok to have a type? What does desire consist of? When does a type become a fetish? What about love, can it overcome a type, should it?
It’s probably pretty uncommon for someone to really not have a type at all. If asked to imagine a fantasy partner most people will have some set of attributes that frequently come to mind. But many of us have also found ourselves attracted to someone that at first glance we might not have thought would draw us in and our desire patterns shifted to include this person, maybe the way they move, or smell, or the way we feel when we are with them. There are so many components to desire; it is rare that it can be defined clearly.
And how we become attracted to the people or characteristics we are attracted to is largely a mystery. There are elements that are innate to us, elements that may be based on early memories, partners who imprinted us with positive or negative feelings, tendencies to be attracted to difference or to the familiar, all kinds of factors. It may be important to ask ourselves about our types to clarify if they are based on stereotypes about character –which may largely turn out to not be true about individuals. If you are drawn to bad boys because you think they will show you a secret soft side or asian women because in your fantasies they are submissive, you are probably in for some frustration and some angry partners. The fantasies themselves are not a problem, so long as you are aware that real people in the real world may not play these fantasies out just the way you imagined it.
And what if you have a distinctive feature that some people are searching out sexually? Does that change the nature of how you think of their bond with you? For example, if you are visibly disabled, there are people who specifically are looking for disabled partners. Does this feel ok to you? How do you assess if someone is fetishing an element of your look or body? Would you feel differently if the person is looking specifically for someone with large breasts? Why or why not? I believe some of our concern about distinctive types that people may be drawn to is based in discrimination against variations to the “normal” sexual model. If a big beautiful woman wonders how anyone can be attracted to her because she believes she is not the right kind of sexy, then she will question partners who openly seek out women with large bodies.
But even if we have come to peace with our own characteristics that people see initially, not many people want to feel that their partner picked them strictly for a physical characteristic, especially for one they have no control over. And some of these attributes we may age out of or may change over the course of our life. So people looking for long-term partnerships may be worried that sexual desire will disappear with changes in the way they look. We want people to be strongly attracted to us sexually, to love our attributes, but we also want to be seen as unique. Some flexibility in our attraction patterns will probably serve us well. Fine tuning our ability to recognize our own signs of physical desire is important too and may allow us to be surprised about who or what turns us on. So many beautiful people out there, keep your eyes and mind open.
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.
As a kink-friendly therapist I often get clients who come in kind of wide-eyed and shy who say, “I am into something kinky”. The underlying questions often attached to this is, “Does this have to change who I am/how I see myself? Are my relationship going to change? What does this mean about me?” As though we are not all some kind of shade of kinky. But I think we are.
Here’s the thing. It may seem like kinky is some category we slip into when we pass an invisible line in the bedsheets (or the costume store or phone line or backseat of the car…) But really most kinky behaviors have really mild forms that appeal to a lot of people. Where we draw a line and say something has slipped over into kinky now is completely subjective to the point of irrelevance. Who gets to decide where the kink line is? Is it going to be another of those, “kink is anything I don’t want to do” situations?
Have you ever included a blindfold in your sex life? Maybe you are a little bit into sensory deprivation, which is an element of some BDSM. Ever had sex in your car in a dark parking lot for fun? Maybe you are just a little bit into exhibitionism. Ever included whip cream or chocolate syrup in your sexual play? Maybe you are slightly into messy fun. Ever gotten turned on while watching a sex scene in a movie? Maybe you are a tiny bit of a voyeur. These are not scary suggestions. If we imagine kink as a spectrum where there is a range of less extreme and more extreme behaviors, we can see that we are all not so different from each other after all. The roots of these desires are in a lot of us. We each get to decide how far we each want to take it, what is the range of your turn-on before it becomes a turn-off. Kink is not a scary abyss that we fall off of, it is a spectrum of play and possibility. And where you land can mean about you whatever you decide it means.
If kinky is an identity that you want to embrace – go for it. There is a lot of empowerment to be had there and a lot of de-shaming, de-stigmatizing that you can do by claiming kinky as a part of your self. But let’s all be clear on some rules, we are all on the same spectrum and no one gets to set the line for someone else.
The other day I was sitting at a food stand waiting for my lunch, when a little boy came up to show me his superhero outfit. It was quite nice and so I appreciated it, watched him run up and down a ramp superhero fast. He let me know right away however that he was not a superhero, he was just a boy. Followed by, “I am a boy, not a girl”. His mom seemed a bit embarrassed about this and she said, almost apologetically, that she wasn’t sure why but he had been stating this lately – that he is a boy and not a girl.
As someone who has studied developmental psychology, I knew right away why he has been saying this lately and it is not necessarily that he had been getting any external pressure or flack about gender roles. He was probably about 4 or 5, exactly the age when our minds are rapidly figuring out how to be safe and competent in the world around us. One of the first ways it does this is to categorize. Our minds ability to put things into categories quickly is a critical survival mechanism, and one we share with animals although our categories go much wider. We need to remember quickly how to assess edible/not edible, friend/foe, safe/dangerous. As this little guy showed, we also assess for other categories, adult/child, superhero/regular human, girl/boy. So a focus on binary categories at pre-school age is very common. It is not a sign of future discrimination or rigid thinking. It is a way this little human is trying to protect himself, where do I fit in? What is expected of me? What can and can’t I do?
What is not normal or necessary is to expect ourselves to stay in this categorizing mindset. As we grow and develop we are able to expand containers of categories, add new and more complex options, and even to see and think outside these boxes all together. Even at 5 years old, children are able to grasp diversity within people and things. They can understand that the categories don’t always fit neatly, just as they can understand and are actively learning that the rules are different in different settings. They get exposed to people and things that contradict what they learned before and their definitions and options expand. The human mind is able to contain vast diversity, almost unlimited options – just as humanity does. So why are we so often relying on old containers that we could have outgrown in elementary school? Why are we still talking about people as though there are only two options for gender? Why is our language for the way we represent who we are still limited to “I am a boy, I am not a girl”? Why don’t we use the full limits of our minds more often?
So I appreciate the developmental place this little boy (self identified) was in. I see how we need to think this way for a period of time as we grow. But I also look forward to the time when he is able and encouraged to think outside those boxes. When he realizes he can define himself in any number of ways - maybe he needs to make up a new word to fully represent a gender or other aspects of who he is. I look forward to the time we all can do this. Who knows, maybe he will also figure out soon the ways in which he can be a superhero while also just a boy.