Sweet Contact...and Separation

by mel22. April 2015 15:36

 

Good sex can make us feel as though the world has stopped and touch and movement and contact is all that exists in the moment. Intertwining physically, we can also feel intertwined as humans, connected like instruments in song, responding to each other’s rhythms, rising and falling together, sharing something without the effort of talking or explaining. It can feel as though veils of appropriate public behavior are lifted and there is an honesty that comes out in privacy. You can feel joined. Witnessing and being witnessed in the trance of pleasure can create a closeness that is unlike any other. It can make you feel connected and seen, basking in what you just created together.

 

And then we need to disentangle and go about our lives. We pull apart, literally and otherwise. It’s necessary, we cannot sustain immediate sensual connection at all times. We humans have the capacity to feel merged and connected, but also the need to function as individual beings. We cannot live on strawberries seductively inserted between our lips by an ardent partner. Nope, we have to have a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal and get on with our day eventually.

 

There is an ongoing discussion out there about how to create this focused erotic trance-like connection with a sexual partner. As a sex therapist, I have plenty to say on that subject and know lots of people are yearning for those moments of intensity. But we don’t often talk about the de-escalation that comes after good sex, the necessary separation. And yet, many people struggle with these true after-the-after-glow moments. How do we experience disconnecting?

 

Some people feel a mild sadness or an unexplained sense of disappointment. Some people feel distrustful of their own intensity and feelings. Some may feel lonely or displaced somehow. Some people feel checked out. And, since we don’t often talk about the separation after the connection, many people may have no idea what they are feeling or why.

 

The ability to come together in sensual intensity requires the ability to be experience being apart. We can be apart but still allied and we can sustain ourselves through difficult times of distance by remembering the deep and earnest closeness that sex can bring. Couples who believe in the potency of that contact, even when separate, have a secret source of desire and intimacy. Remember how open and naked you can let yourself be, even as you dress yourself for your day out in the world, miles apart from those moments of skin to skin contact. Let yourself flush as you think about coming together again. How beautiful it is to be separate so that we can discover each other again and again.

 

Sexual Chemistry - Should You Have to Work at it?

by mel15. April 2015 13:40

 

Most of us have approached our dating lives with an image of sexual chemistry and desire that works like spontaneous combustion. It just suddenly hits without warning or intention and burns hard and fast, without our even trying – and can go out just as quickly. Our adult relationships may be better served by seeing sexual chemistry as a bit more complex and alchemical than that. We may not be able to create sexual chemistry anywhere with anyone, but we can actively engage with elements that build a chemical reaction we are hoping for.

 

Think of it like building a fire. You can sit and wait for lightening to strike and get the fire going. But this is not a great plan. It makes more sense to bring components together that will create fire. The fire will be just as hot, but you do have to put some effort and care into it.

 

You need fuel for the fire to burn strong and steady – Think of this as your body and your health. Are you giving your body what it needs to feel desire? Are you getting sleep, good food, exercise that is energizing not depleting, are you handling your stress? Basically, is your body ready and available to act on sexual chemistry?

 

The fire needs oxygen to stay alive – This relates to giving actual time and space for sexuality. You will not feel desire and chemistry while you are running from one chore to the next. Expecting to feel a lot of sexual chemistry on demand while overbooked and overworked, when you haven’t spoken to your partner in person for 3 days, when your mind is somewhere else, is like expecting lightening to strike – within a 30 minute window that is convenient for you. You need to actively create space, breathing room so to speak, for sex in your life.

 

Tinder will help the fire catch quicker – These are things in your life that you know make you feel more sexual, more connected or drawn to your partner, and sexier in general. Craft reminders of sensual pleasure into your day. Touch your partner as you pass by them, whisper about what you might do later in their ear. Make a point to build these things into your life so that, when the time is right, the spark can quickly catch and turn into a flame.

 

The Spark – Yes, the mysterious element that causes the flame to burst forth. There are many things we do that smother our natural sexual sparks and there are things we can do to encourage them, but who we desire and why remains, in large part, a mystery. There are different kinds of chemistry and there are different kinds of sex and what we want and are drawn to can change over time. One person may cause trembling in your thighs, another may cause you to feel playful and teasing, another warm and giving. Why him? Why her? Enjoy finding out…

 

Myth Busting : Men vs Women Edition

by mel7. April 2015 18:33

 

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.

 

Sexy or Just Painful?

by mel26. March 2015 14:18

 

I had the amazing opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Rome this year which is a city of history, art, passion, and appetite. Among the many, many things Italy does well are shoes.

 

The best thing about shoe shopping in Italy was something that actually stunned me. They sell primarily sensible shoes. I realized that in America when I look for shoes most stores have about 70% high heels to 30% shoes the average 40 year old could comfortably walk in for a few hours (excluding trainers or athletic shoes, which are their own category). In Rome, the proportions were flipped – 70% walkable, low heel shoes, 30% high perilous heels. And the walkable shoes were stylish, meaning that all women, young to old, had cool shoes and the I-am-comfortable-moving-through-the-world attitude that went with the actually comfortable shoes.

 

Now sure, Rome has cobblestone streets so ladies in the high heels are taking serous risks with their ankles. But it really struck me, how far we in America have gone down this road of foot torture and high heel extremes. Searching for a “sexy shoe” will have one wading through hundreds of 4 inch heels or higher and it can seem like shoe designers consider 2 inch heels not worth the effort to make look hip in any way. Celebrities are regularly seen in 8 inch, even 11 inch heels. Well designed? Maybe. Comfortable? Doubtful. The idea that beauty or sexiness is something you have to be willing to hurt for seems to be gaining more of a hold.

 

I know for me that wincing while I walk or breaking into a cold sweat while trying not to think about my feet just standing still, is not sexy. I, too, am drawn in by the angle of a foot and tensed leg in a high heel. Sexy to look at. Well suited to being off your feet, which can be sexy. But limiting. It is also sexy to dance for hours, to hop on bikes and go somewhere secluded, to walk for hours and eat gelato after dark (did I mention the gelato? Oh man.) Sexy is being free to move. Sexy feels good.

 

Let’s say that again because I don’t think we hear it enough. Sexy feels good. Hmmm, I feel like dancing.

 

Making it Easier to Talk About Sex

by mel18. March 2015 12:36

 

I have been doing a lot of radio appearances lately to promote The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook, and a question that keeps coming up is – how can we make it easier to talk about sex? Even radio hosts, who talk for a living, share with me that they start to blush and find it hard to get the words out when it comes to sex. I help people have these conversations every day. Here are some ways to set yourself up to have a better experience.

 

Acknowledge That This May Be Awkward – Much of our embarrassment about sex comes from an adolescent, and unrealistic, feeling that everyone else seems to have this sex thing all together and if you are not playing it completely cool, you are failing. Give yourself and your partner permission to be awkward, to stutter, to not know the answers. Maybe you even have to stop and take a break for a bit. Don’t feel that you have to play a part, be genuine, even genuinely embarrassed, it takes the pressure off.

 

Don’t Try to Have a Challenging Conversation Right After Having Sex – Rolling over and relaxing or critiquing what just happened – um, go with relaxing. Even if the experience wasn’t what you hoped, keep in mind that post- sex people tend to be a bit vulnerable, making it a great time to share loving words, less great for problem-solving.  Make time to have a conversation when you can feel close, awake, and can really focus on listening to each other.

 

Start With the Positive – Figure out what has been working for you, what do you like about sex? Asking for something you feel good about sets a tone of excitement and potential. As you start to share about something that isn’t working as well or that you would like to change, continue thinking about what you do want. What do you want more of? What would you like instead? Often people just say, “I don’t like it when you…” leaving their partner feeling like the lists of things they can do just shrunk. Certainly say if something is a clear No to you. But keep sharing your YESs too, they are equally important.

 

Make Contact – Touching your partner is soothing and studies have found that couples report less stress during conversations when they are holding hands. If it feels okay to do so, reach out and touch their leg or arm. Have the conversation cuddled up or while rubbing each other’s feet. Remind yourselves that you are connected by physical contact. This can also help with connection when eye contact feels too intense.

 

Don’t Expect to Figure it All Out at Once – Often sexual conversations open up questions, new invitations that have to be considered, edges that may take some time to approach. Pressuring yourself or a partner to come up with clear answers right away will only led to one level of growth. Embrace, “I am not sure, I need to think about that for awhile”. Then take the time to get to be curious about yourself. And then keep talking.

 

Fixing Broken Things

by mel11. March 2015 09:06

 

The other day I was trying to fix a broken figurine that had sentimental value for me. Applying glue, taking the two tiny pieces and fitting them back together, some chips still visible unable to be covered. I found myself pressing the two broken pieces together tightly, as though this would somehow get them to adhere more quickly. Now, I know this contradicts the way I understand glue to work – pressure doesn’t speed dry time. Yet, there I was pressing harder. It became clear quickly that all this was doing for me was causing the pieces to come apart was soon as the pressure was released, meaning I had to start over, more glue. After a few irrational tries, I settled into the realization that slow and steady pressure was the way to go. I needed to hold it gently in place just allowing contact between the two parts. I sat patiently in the sun, for a minute or two, just holding and breathing. Afterward I was unsure why I tried to rush the process.

 

But so often when things feel broken our impulse is to fix them quickly, to push into the problem so that it might yield under pressure. But like the glue, many repairs take their own time and need gentle handling. In therapy I see people come in valiantly committed to healing, getting past something, repairing damage of all kinds. Sometimes their commitment to fixing also includes a willingness to hurt themselves, to push past their own limits, to force something to happen. Meanwhile growth has its own pace. Sometimes healing takes gently holding something broken in our hands or hearts, bringing it out into the sun, and breathing slowly while we wait to feel something adhere, something unseen take hold again.

 

Healing does take courage and a willingness to face painful or frightening aspects of life. But it doesn’t require self harm and it doesn’t respond more quickly under pressure. I struggle with being gentle with myself, so I return again and again to lessons about allowing. When I can be mindful of this, there is a spaciousness that surrounds each problem and a sense that effort is not the answer, understanding is. Healing in a relationship requires gentle contact with one another, without force or rushing. Letting the two separate selves touch, close enough that the mysterious thing that holds them to one another can grow strong again, strong enough to hold them together invisibly. It takes time. Meanwhile things are mending, connecting again, becoming less fragile.

 

What do you need to make time to hold gently today?

 

Creating a Body-Positive Home For Your Kids

by mel24. February 2015 16:03

 

Every day we are teaching kids what to think about their bodies and how to treat them. Some might say our society is a hostile environment for bodies with so many encouragements to view our body from the outside, rather than to experience and listen to it from the inside. Here are a few tips for helping kids have a more body-positive time at home.

 

* Teach attention to and identification of body sensations, such as tired, hungry, etc.  Help your children to identify what they are experiencing in their bodies. It is so easy for us to just think, “Man, you are cranky today” or “He is whiny because he is tired”. It can be really helpful for kids to focus on what their body is telling them. Have a conversation with your child – How do you feel when you are getting sleepy? Maybe give them some ideas. For example, “When I get sleepy, things that are normally easy for me can start to seem hard and sometimes my body feels really slow and heavy”. Once your child learns that their body gives them important information, they can also learn that they can take action to take care of it. What helps you when you are feeling sleepy? Have these kinds of little conversations about feeling hungry, needing attention or love, being scared, all kinds of experiences that we can feel in our bodies. Here’s the tough part, parents – In teaching your children to take care of their own bodies sensations and needs, you need to model taking care of your own. So, are you feeling tired? What could you do to help you to recover a little bit?

 

* Encourage exploration of individual strengths, rather than pushing a mold   The family sport may be baseball, but if your child’s hand eye coordination isn’t where it may need to be for them to enjoy and feel successful at baseball, allow them to explore other sports or activities that might help them find a sense of accomplishment. Encourage all your children, but especially those under 10 years old, to experiment with different activities and have fun discovering all the varied ways to be active. Invite family play that includes touch, stretching, silly non-choreographed movement or dancing, or exploration of their senses, all ways for your children to discover their own bodies and what it can do and feel. Think of movement at fun, not work, and you may be amazed at what changes.

 

* Focus on eating for energy and pleasure  Food tastes good and food fuels us to live our lives, but so often we talk about food and the way we eat it as though it says something about our value or ethics as a person. How often have you said, in front of your kids, “Oh I shouldn’t eat that” or “I was so bad for eating that ice cream”. Help your children focus on food choices with as little shaming as possible. And the best way to do this is to model that attitude with yourself and your choices. For example, saying “Cookies sound good, but I know I have a busy afternoon ahead of me so I am going to have something that will give me more energy” or “I would love one of your brownies and I am going to sit here and really enjoy it”. These responses are not shame based and they show food as an ally to support you in feeling good and functioning the way you want to.

 

* Do not allow teasing about bodies in your house  Very often I hear dads say that they used to bond with their kids through playful teasing and then when puberty hit their kids suddenly starting taking it so seriously. Yes, part of teen development is to be very worried about being “normal” and living up to external standards. For several years it becomes very hard for teens to joke about themselves. This does not mean that they have permanently lost their sense of humor, although it may feel like that. However, teasing through this time in their lives or any other can be very painful and can shut down lines of communication between you. I also hear teens, and adults, say that teasing from siblings was an incredibly painful part of growing up and often still stings. So have family ground rules set in place that no one (including parents) gets teased about how their body looks or works. Find other ways to joke and be playful that are non-critical.

 

* Teach children to look at media and fads with a critical eye  Here’s the thing about this one – I say with a critical eye, not with your critical eye. You cannot force your children to see things your way, although many have tried. What you can teach them is to ask questions about what they see, to think about unseen consequences or motivations, to know that they have the right to disagree even with things that are hugely popular. Watch TV or listen to the radio with your children, and invite conversation about what is happening. Ask your children what they think about something at least as often as you share what you think. Have a night when TV watching is a game and you have to yell out every time someone talks about being on a diet or every time you see a woman in underwear (this happens often even during children’s’ programming hours). Have fun, be loud, and then talk about what they think about seeing those things on TV so often. Nominate other things to look for in TV that you want to start a conversation about.

 

* Walk Your Talk Do you want to raise kids who are proud and comfortable in their bodies? How are you doing with that for yourself? Kids hear the way you talk. They notice when you delete every photo of yourself. Heck, they notice when you grimace at the mirror. Take care of yourself. Model being kind and treating your body with respect. Its not too late to create a body-positive place for yourself.

 

Getting Comfortable With Uncomfortable

by mel4. February 2015 15:26

I am dismayed to hear about a trend in higher education in which students are expecting to be given “trigger warnings” if a lecture or piece of literature might be upsetting, or in therapy speak – triggering- to them. This will allow them to opt out of learning from content that emotionality challenges them.  I believe that protection from things that make us uncomfortable limits learning and growth. There is a great big world out there and much of it will make us uncomfortable. And the only way to get more comfortable with all those different or challenging perspectives? Face them, learn about them, try to understand them.

 

One reason this makes me very concerned is that we know from studies (recent ones focusing on attitudes about gay marriage) that exposure to difference is the best thing to reduce discrimination and negative beliefs about a different group. It is easy to hold on irrational beliefs about something you have no first hand knowledge of. Being exposed to that which makes us uncomfortable is a huge component of growth, without it we stagnate quickly. The education system should be a series of uncomfortable events, each designed to open us to new ideas and perspectives. We need to face the realities of the world we live in, much of which we might prefer to blissfully ignore.

 

And that is another reason I don’t support trigger warnings, the world is full of triggers. Getting stronger in the face of them is empowering. Hiding from them is not. I work with clients who struggle with PTSD and part of treatment is to identify triggers, things that send messages to their brain that they are in danger. Once they are identified, we can talk about ways to avoid some of those triggers, sure. And that can be helpful in reducing stress in the short term. But I never guarantee to a client that they will be able to arrange their life such that they can avoid all triggers. That would most likely be a very limited life. Instead we work to build up strength and new responses to triggers, so that they have less power to through someone into fear.

 

I see the affects, big and small, of people believing they cannot handle things that make them uncomfortable. And I know that the healing for that is, almost always, facing those things and finding that they do not have to damage you. I see the arguments for discrimination and reducing our rights being made on the basis of “I shouldn’t have to be witness to their life/behavior/art/ideas/sexual expression/choices/religious beliefs/ and on and on”. I have seen people not say something that was true and important to them for fear of upsetting a partner and the ways that reduces intimacy and connection. I have seen my own biases and blindspots change as I find myself in brand new territory, even as it scares me.

 

So let’s commit as conscious sexual selves to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let’s let it strengthen us and inspire us. Let’s understand our own ability to honor and accept difference without having to let go of our own self. Let’s get excited about the stuff that makes us go, “what the X#*?” or “ick” because it means there is more out there than we can fully grasp, and that is ok. And let’s never let the world convince us that we are not strong enough to face it. 

 

 

GroundHog's Day in the Bedroom?

by mel28. January 2015 14:23

 

 

Be honest, are you feeling like each sexual experience is a repeat of the last? Do you know exactly where your partner will touch you next and for how long? If you feel like you can sleepwalk your way through sex, you are missing out on a lot. Just because you and your partner are familiar with each other doesn’t mean each experience needs to be the same as the last. But, like Bill Murray’s character in the movie, you may have to let go of some old habits and really get invested in what is happening.

 

What’s it going to take the break the pattern? Are you ready to wake up to a brand new day with new sexual potential? I hate to break it to you, but it is going to take some discomfort. Or as I warn my therapy clients, things are going to get awkward. Why should it be awkward? Isn’t that a bad thing?! you ask. Actually, no it is not a bad thing.

 

Trying new things often feels a bit uncomfortable. The reason we fall into habits is because that routine becomes the easiest thing to do; we don’t even have to think about it. It can be efficient and even effective to half sleepwalk our way through some tasks. But sex is not like that. Like pizza, a mediocre serving of sex can still be pretty good, it true. But if that is what you are having all the time, boredom will set in.

 

What risks will you take to break the pattern? I don’t know. But I am sure they will make you feel more alive. Like Phil in Groundhog’s Day, everything you try will not necessarily bring you closer to what you want. But it will make your day more interesting. And like Phil, you will need to try harder, to show up more genuinely, to get curious about the people you are with, and maybe to plan ahead. Get excited again. Wonder what might happen if you did this. It’s possible. It’s just also vulnerable. But you can do it. Wake up, it’s a new day.

 

 

 

Rita: This day was perfect. You couldn't have planned a day like this.

 

 

 

Phil: Well, you can. It just takes an awful lot of work.

 

 

Creating What We Expect

by mel21. January 2015 16:19

 

I recently heard about a great study. Researcher psychologist Bob Rosenthal took a group of average rats and put signs on their cages saying that some of the rats were very smart and some of the rats were dumb. He then assigned people to work with the rats, getting the rats to run a timed maze. So… some of the people believed that they had special smart rats and some believed that their rats were dumb. The effects were intense – the rats assigned to people who believed them to be smart ran the maze nearly twice as fast as the rats who had been labeled dumb.

 

Rosenthal’s speculation is that the people assigned to the rats touched them differently, more gently if they were proud of their smart little rat, and that affected the rats’ performance. So, if subtleties of our touch can affect rats this drastically – a species with little incentive to care what we think about them -imagine what it might do for our human partners.

 

What messages are you sending to your partner as you touch them in bed? What expectations can be transmitted through your skin? What patterns have you come to expect, so much so that your body unconsciously reacts in anticipation of them?  

 

As a sex therapist I work with people as they make changes to the way they interact sexually, changing patterns and expectations. Often we have to address the subtle, even unconscious, ways we are reacting to one another. While it is freeing to imagine that anything can happen, that we don’t know what to expect, with longer term partners we rarely have that mindset. And so we co-create a dance, feeling each other’s lead through our bodies and responding, feeling and responding, expecting and responding.  People who do partner-dancing know that if the person following begins to anticipate the lead’s move too early, it will throw off the rhythm. Moving together means responding in the moment, not forecasting the moments ahead.

 

So how can you drop expectation and truly see what you and your partner can co-create sexually? Approach touch and sexual play from a blank slate perspective. Imagine that you can ask for anything. Try not to brace for a YES or a NO. Expect fun and connection and pleasure and see what happens.

 

And, we know from our maze-running rat friends, that touch which broadcasts loving support, excitement, pride in your partner (what a smart rat, you are!) may bring out the best in them. Touch mindfully.

 

Melissa Fritchle

Melissa Fritchle is the author of The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook and  a Holistic Psychotherapist, licensed in California as a Marriage and Family Therapist (Lic#48627). She has a private practice specializing in Sex Therapy and Couples Therapy. She travels far and wide,  internationally and on the internet, to spread compassionate, sex positive, diverse, realistic sex education.

Contact Melissa for therapy or to book her for a workshop or presentation

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